My son's stuffed green frog and my church
Something can be dirty, misshapen...and beloved!

Harold N. Miller

One September our family minivan was climbing the Ithaca hill toward Corning and the 3-year old son burst into tears--"I lost Kermit." Kermit is (of course) a stuffed green frog, his inseparable pal, taken that summer to Oregon and back and, most recently, into the Ithaca McDonalds...and not back.

As we retraced our way down the hill, my wife wondered aloud if someone else might have taken Kermit--a busload of junior high girls had followed us into the restaurant. But he was safe, waiting for us.

I watched as my wife deposited Kermit into our son's outstretched arms, and instantly I knew that no one but us would ever take him--he was dirty, ugly, and flat. Only we would want to take him home. Only we knew how many conversations and adventures--both make-believe and real--Kermit had shared with our son, how many naps and nighttimes his softness had given comfort. Only we who "understand" love him.

The church is like Kermit: dear and precious...and dirty and unattractive. We are aware of high-profile church leaders tarred by scandal. Many of us personally have been wounded or disappointed by the church. I have. But because I know the church's dear-ness, I look past its dirtiness.

The church moves my life closer to the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the one most acclaimed as winsome and wise. The church is a group of people gathering around him, seeking to obey his teaching and model themselves by his lifestyle. He is their Lord.

A sort of "reverse mob psychology" happens in the church. When individuals form together in a mob, qualities and tendencies of those individuals are heightened and they do things they would never have done alone. The same process happens when individuals join as a church. Only this time the tendency magnified can be that of living like Jesus.

A sermon by an unknown first-century church leader encouraged those following Jesus to meet together to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24).

The dirtiness of the church is because often purely human tendencies are the ones magnified when we meet together. Many times our petty emotions drown out the divine voice. Christ must shudder at things done in his name. Dorothy Sayers (I believe) noted the two humiliations of Christ: the incarnation and the church.

But Christ's mercy extends to us his followers in our failings; we only claim to be forgiven, not perfect. Occasionally we get it right--we do some higher act of love that brings wholeness to our world and was motivated by the Spirit of Christ in our midst. I yearn for those times even more than my son longs for the green softness of his beloved, ugly Kermit.

This column appeared in the Corning Leader January 7, 1992

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