Western Church, Is There Space in Our Circles?


Tasha Burgoyne -Church Circles3

When I was little, seeing a back-to-back circle of chairs made my heart beat fast and put my stomach on edge. I don’t remember the first time I played the game; however, after having played it a number of times, I remember how I would study the chairs and look for the one I would run to once the music began, as if I could claim it with my mind before the flurry of arms, legs and squeaky sneakers.

It never went how I imagined it would go. The music was always loud and on the edge of each teasing beat. I ran towards another open chair in a panic, temporarily safe for a few short seconds. My fear of fitting into the circle after each round kept me moving quickly.

I hated when the music turned off and there was one person still running and looking, hoping there was still a spot left. But I also didn’t want to give up my seat.

I don’t have anything against the good fun of games like Musical Chairs or other games like the one that leaves someone running in circles after having been named the lone, out-of-place bird.

Maybe I am too sensitive. I’ve heard that before. Maybe I am bitter because I can’t remember ever winning at either of those games. But maybe it’s more than sensitivity or remnants of being a sore loser. Maybe I draw connections between childhood games and problems I see in the world, because I have seen one too many social circles that are small and tight, and one too many people left out, running around in circles, searching for somewhere to land. Closed in tight, one homogenous chair smashed against another chair just like it, there are too many circles with no space for anyone named as “other.”

The English word amplify is used for sound, but an online dictionary definition gives further meaning to the word by its roots: “Amplify comes from the Old French word amplifier meaning “to enlarge or expand.”

I dream of circles in the church being enlarged and expanded, not only for the sake of inclusion, but because many of us are missing out. We aren’t just missing out the way we might in a childhood game, but when our circles are too tight and too much of the same, we are missing out on Jesus himself. There are important voices missing and many of us don’t even realize it. Look honestly at the circles you know.

Western church, church that I love, is there space in our circles for a dark brown-skinned, Middle Eastern, formally uneducated, poor, young Jewish man whose first language isn’t English?

Will you and I recognize, admit and lament the ways we have assimilated Jesus in our minds for the sake of our own comfort and cowardice? Will you and I admit that if we have assimilated Jesus in our minds, we have required the assimilation of others before they sit in our circles and worship beside us?

I am convinced there is more of Jesus to know than our “no vacancy” for the “other” circles have led us to believe. What if we all admit we have narrow vision and commit to figuring out how to open the circles we are involved in so there’s more room? Some of us may need to get up and give our seats away. Others of us need to build more chairs. Some of us need to join a circle that’s completely unfamiliar and see what it’s like to be the forever-goose among ducks.

All of us can read through the gospels for the first time or the millionth and look for the ways Jesus amplified the voices of those who couldn’t find a seat in social circles. Look for the ways he opened circles and renewed minds that were hardened with generations of prejudice and fear for the sake of his Kingdom come. Minority, majority or mixed, we can all do this. I will be doing this afresh and I am inviting you to do it with me.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wrote: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

What if one of the most important ways we push against the darkness and evil of racism and hatred is by teaching one another to yearn for all of Jesus and inviting him–unfiltered and unassimilated–into our circles along with everyone he would bring with him? He is found in every skin color and culture on earth.

When we reject any other skin color or culture, whether blatantly like the outright atrocious evil and sin of white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, or by simply continuing to snicker about another culture’s food or scent or otherness of any kind, we are rejecting Jesus. He made all of us in His image and until we are ready to not only accept that, but learn to embrace it honestly, we risk truly knowing and loving Him like we were made to do.