New York Times’ Religion-in-Evolution Correspondent, Jessica Mathews, interviews Adi, an Interfaith Community Services Trustee, in the East Village, in Manhattan.
Jessica: “Adi, What’s happening here on the streets? What exactly is a Church Without Walls?”
Adi: “In one sense, it’s nothing new. Jesus traveled and preached for years without endeavoring to construct buildings. Jesus said: “ Foxes have their dens and birds have their nests. But the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Jesus was homeless. Jesus established the perfect foundations of Christianity without building any walls. Yet, thousands of years later, we find the words of Christ effectively distributed to every town and village in the world.
Buddha’s original followers met in fields and bamboo groves to learn a path to enlightenment.
Native American medicine-men and women see pristine forests, and silent mountaintops as a setting where unspoiled nature fosters enhanced appreciation of the majesty of the Great Spirit.
Powerful yogis, sages, and ascetics retreat to Himalayan high mountain ranges far from the distractions and passions of big cities. Their pure spiritual cultivation thrives nicely in forest hermitages or mountain caves.
The Essene sects compiled the Dead Sea Scrolls and lived deep in the desert.
John the Baptist preached in the wilderness.
Gosh, even Robin Hood lived in the forest."
Adi: "On one hand, there is nothing wrong with using exquisitely beautiful buildings for worship. In any traditional synagogue, church, mosque, or temple there is a tranquil atmosphere where preaching, music, and religious ceremonies go on. Hundreds of generations of people found solid inspiration there. It’s amazing and good to see how people of faith channel their God-given, artistic talents into earth’s most precious, and beautiful materials (like marble,and stained-glass) to create church buildings.. Gorgeous paintings, fine sculpture, and architectural marvels all effectively broadcast the Word of God. These are wonderful, loving offerings to the Lord of Creation.
But it’s also interesting to remember that there are two radically-distinct definitions of the word: “church”. One definition is: “A building used for worship”. But it’s also said: “The Church is the Bride of Christ” “The Church is the Bride of Christ” In those contexts, the term church refers to a congregation of believers. In other words: For all practical purposes, a church is not merely a stone building with stained glass windows. A church is a group of people who love each other and who are trying to encourage each other in faith and in the service of the Lord. For some people, the process of building and maintaining a place of worship is a valid expression of faith.
But there are also other kinds of people in this world. There are unusual people who have “precipitated-out-of-the-liquid” of “normal" society. Due to emotional breakdowns, substance abuse problems, physical disabilities, or because of not being blessed with very highly developed social skills, some people lack the ability to obtain possession of a piece of real estate. Other people consciously choose not to endeavor to build or possess buildings. There are many free spirits, counter-culture personalities, main-stream-dropouts, Bohemian-intellectuals, poets, musicians, artists, and light-hearted, meandering saints without homes.
Saint Francis, began the Franciscan Religious Order by voluntarily leaving the comfort of his father’s opulent home for life as a mendicant. Actually members of most religious orders freely choose to vow obedience, chastity, and poverty.
The Hare Krsna sannyasi vows not to stay in one place for more than three days. A sanyassi’s traditional “home” is on-the-road as a constantly-traveling preacher.
The classic “American Dream" includes the idea of being a home-owner. Many people are satisfied to work very hard to maintain their household and to support a church building. This is all well and good.
But there is another class of people who don’t feel moved to endeavor to maintain four walls and a roof. We often see them sleeping in doorways, and under bridges. Sometimes they rest at night in cardboard boxes. In daytime, they linger on park benches. They drift from one soup kitchen to another. They arrive at the doors of psychiatric facilities. They move in and out of de-tox and re-hab centers. They spend time in prisons. They wiggle into abandon buildings. Some gather in homeless shelters and inner-city missions.
Jessica: “Ok, Adi,we have one more question for you: In relating to this kind of congregation, how can we distinguish between those who are materially-dysfunctional, those who are criminally-inclined and those who are genuine saints?”
Adi: “That’s not important. We don’t try to do that. We don’t go there at all. We just try to love them all.”