I really like David’s posts because they often get me thinking—and this one’s no different. This time, it brought to mind a conversation I had recently with a friend who grew up on a farm in one of the northern Midwestern states. She mused on the difference between the church her folks attend (and the one she grew up in) and the ones that exist in much of the suburbs and cities across America. In particular, she ruminated on the deep, underlying community present there that isn't at hand in most churches today. Our conversation reminded me a lot of similar talks I’ve had with my mom, who also grew up in a rural farm area.
Why the difference? In my own head, I attribute some of this difference to the ways we used to live. We lived in the same place for most of our lives and we needed each other to survive—and that seemed to act like a fertilizer in building Kingdom communities. (Of course, in a lot of places this didn't happen; but still, it seems walking together in the same place helps grow Kingdom-ness.) This seems to reinforce the idea that one characteristic of kingdom living is a deep community—a sharing of lives, tears, laughter, food and drink. People in the areas in which my mom grew up (and still present in places like my friend's folks) were far from perfect manifestations of the Kingdom. But these folks lived next to each other, depended on each other, shared each other’s lives and each other’s tables—and the Kingdom life there was closer than many of us encounter in modern churches.
Another attribute of some of these communities was the absence of professional ministry. Often, church pastors were shepherds who lived as farmers or tradesmen themselves. In this time and space, the church was more of a place to gather and organize folks who lived and shared the Kingdom life together the rest of the week. (That’s different than today, where the church is often the only place in which we meet--the only place we "live together.")
So, perhaps when we encounter a structure like these—the building David periodically visits or the ones my mom and friend recall—we are recalling that community, a place where the Kingdom breathed. And that makes us more aware of God and his Kingdom. And that makes them “thin places”: an impression of points in time and space where God seems to break through more vividly, where the Kingdom breathes (or, at least, once breathed). For those of us coming across them today, they are almost like altars built in remembrance of “what God did here.”
And that makes me wonder if perhaps part of the reason we continue to build and emphasize buildings is that we think we can create (or recreate) the same kind of Kingdom breathing that occurred in those structures. But that approach gets it backwards. The Kingdom doesn’t breathe in buildings—it breathes in people. And we can’t recreate a certain time and place; our time and space is different. And the Kingdom’s skin, by its very nature, changes.
Perhaps then, these thin places that are altars to a certain time and space call us not only to remember where and how the Kingdom breathed but also to here-and-now Kingdom living. To seek out and walk with those in our own time and space. To live together where we are now (which, 99% of the time, is outside a church building). To seek what God is doing here-and-now.
Sometimes, that might entail leaving behind a structure in which others will encounter a “thin space” in the future. But I don’t think that’s the norm. When we seek what God is doing here-and-now and live together in that journey, we ourselves become thin places—those spaces where God is more vivid and the Kingdom breathes. And that calls others to God and the Kingdom here-and-now. And that’s the point, don't you think?