My daughter has a big heart; particularly when it comes to animals. Even now, at 6 years of age, she has declared herself a vegetarian because she doesn’t want to eat animals. And this doesn’t just apply to her dietary habits either. I’m afraid our house may eventually be declared a state refuge or sanctuary as any animal she comes into contact with gets “adopted” into the Arp household. Her most recent acquisition is a lizard, named Lizzy of course, that she and a friend rescued from the sink at their home while we were having lunch earlier this week. Of course, although it is my daughter who “rescues” these animals, it is most often yours truly who gets to care for them. But I think I may have the same love for all God’s creatures great and small. One of my favorite stories I like to tell people is from the time my wife and I got to visit an animal sanctuary in Florida called White Oak Conservation.* One of the members of our church worked there and so we got to get a VIP tour…which was amazing.
I love the idea of animal sanctuaries. Who knows…maybe our house may be declared one someday (With four kids it already feels like a zoo most of the time). But the use of the term sanctuary as being a safe place developed almost as quickly the use for it being a place of worship in the English language. The term was derived from the Latin term sanctus which meant holy, but the usage for sanctuary as being a refuge or a safe place derived from the church early providing a safe place for those who sought shelter from oppressive authorities or city-states from as early as the time of Constantine. So now today you find the term being used for wildlife sanctuaries and even sometimes in correlation with political places of refuge. But I wonder how often our own church sanctuaries are actually safe places for people. How often do people come into our churches discouraged, beat-up, labeled, slandered, disenfranchised, alienated, etc. and feel more of the same?
When God was in flesh on earth his main hangup with the way things were going was with the religious folk. If you struggle with this idea, just read through the Gospels again. In Matthew 23 you can kind of tell that Jesus has reached his boiling point and before he launches into what we call the Seven Woes against the religious experts we read this, “They (the religious teachers) tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” – Matthew 23:4 I wonder how often our churches do much of the same. When broken and hurting and abused and different people come into your church do they feel much of the same? Are we quick to continue to pile upon them burdens and labels and restrictions and separations and more ways of making them feel unloved? Or, when people come into our sanctuaries do they feel safe?
Maybe my daughter has a point as a 6-yr-old vegetarian. She lives this way because she loves animals. Maybe our churches could/should create more space where people don’t keep getting devoured but where they feel safe and can truly come to experience what life in Christ is all about.
*You can check out this amazing place here: https://www.whiteoakwildlife.org/