Church Pew, Bar Stool and the Broad Place

For whatever reason the Holy Spirit has moved my thoughts recently from the Word to music-lyric expressions of a biblical idea.  And many in the past few weeks have landed in the country music realm.  I listen to a lot of country music – three different Pandora stations, actually.  I find the combination of music and lyrics pretty powerful and a variety of artists and songs can speak to me.

Yesterday on one of my longer walks I heard a new one and when I arrived home, I noted in my files the song to use at some point to illustrate my understanding of the biblical word about the “broad place.”  And praise the Lord, the readings this morning kicked off with Psalm 31 reminding me of God lifting us and out and into the broad place:

7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,

because you have seen my affliction;

you have taken heed of my adversities,

8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;

you have set my feet in a broad place

The “broad place,” found in Job 36:16; 2 Sam. 22:20; Pss. 18:19; 31:8; 118:5, has always been a compelling thought to me.  It has captured my kingdom-living imagination as much as any of the biblical images. I have found its application in everything from the designs in Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes – how compression and boundaries are released and eliminated when one steps into God territory – to a comparison of how two theologians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rowan Williams, describe the nature of the Christian life. I introduced that seminary paper with an image of a narrow, sheep’s gate this way:

sheep_gateI landed upon an image of a narrow sheep gate leading into a broad place. The gate – narrow just as Jesus warns in Matthew – representing the way to life everlasting where Christians find themselves in a beyond-their-imagination broad place, populated by ‘dwelling places’ (Jn 14:2: In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?).

In this particular image, I imagine both Williams and Bonheoffer having gone through the narrow gate. Once inside the broad place, Bonhoeffer bee-lined to a specific place, moved in, settled down. Williams? I think of him as taking his time, wondering around and peeking into all the windows, not terribly inclined to set up shop in any one place quite yet. Both are realm-living, but one a bit more attached to a specific space – explicit and discrete – and the other preferring access to all the options at any given time.

God’s broad place is not some open-ended free-for-all territory, but it is one without human-made constructions.  That is what is so compelling about the image to me – the breaking through of human-made boundaries, walls, barriers to entry – be them constructions of the mind or tangible constructions of buildings, fences, rooms – all of which originate in the mind.

The idea of the broad place has helped me look at God’s church in new, hopeful ways. God’s church is not a denomination.  It is not a building.  It is not a particular way of worshiping or preaching or teaching.  God’s church is best imaged, I think, in Paul’s body of Christ imagery.  The body of Christ is God’s ‘church’ and that is a mighty broad place.

The broad place in God’s church is not found on one side of a fence or another. God’s Word – the bible – is not territorial – it doesn’t belong to only Christians – it doesn’t speak to only Christians. God’s broad place to which we are each and all called, is not either-or, but both-and.

Jason Aldean’s song, Church Pew or Bar Stool,  wrestles with this idea.  Here are the lyrics to read as you listen:

Not a whole lot going on, a small town Friday night
Revving up at a red light, on your mark get set go
Past a mom and pop restaurant
Same four trucks parked out front
I guess you gotta make your own fun
When you’re stuck in a place this slow

There’s only two means of salvation
around here that seem to work
Whiskey or the Bible, a shot glass or revival

*chorus*
When you don’t seem to run on either side of the fence
People act like you don’t make sense
These big town dreams that I’ve been chasing
Will never come true if I wind up staying
And I don’t want to fall in, the same rut
That everybody here seems to be stuck in now
Why do I hang around
In this church pew or bar stool kind of town

I’m like that AM station, that never comes in right
Till you pass the city limit sign, that’s the only time it
all gets clear
Well it’s crystal clear that I, just need to find
A place where there is no lines
And nothing like it is around here

Someplace where it don’t feel like this
world revolves around
Whiskey or the Bible, a shot glass or revival

*chorus*

Here it sometimes feels just like this
world revolves around
Whiskey or the Bible, a shot glass or revival

*chorus*

Yeah I need to get out, of this church pew or bar stool kind of town
yeah yeah

Either or.  The place the singer seeks is God’s broad place.  The bible – God’s word – is not bound up or owned by any church pew.  We don’t have a small-town God.  We have a God beyond our imagination – beyond our human-made constructions of boundaries. Aldean’s song images a small-town moralistic, God.  Just too small.  He needs to break out and away.  He is sought.  Restless.  The restlessness won’t rest until it lands in the Lord, God, as St. Augustine wrote. The broad place – “a place where there are no lines” – is a place where you, where all of us do make sense.

Praise God.  Our big ‘ol God through whom all the world revolves.

Lectionary Readings: Psalm 31; PM Psalm 35
Job 19:1-7,14-27; Acts 13:13-25; John 9:18-41

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