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Church and Union

The Sunday before last, I had the opportunity to enjoy a little southern hospitality in one of the most beautiful cities in our nation- Charleston, South Carolina. Affectionately called “the Holy City,” Charleston is home not only to historic landmarks and amazing restaurants, but also to over 400 churches, some dating back to the founding of Charles Towne in 1670. One of those churches has been de-sanctified. Once a Baptist church, now it is open for business as a high-end eating establishment. Church and Union Charleston has sister restaurants in Nashville, TN and Charlette, NC. The original restaurant in Nashville sits on the corner of Church and Union streets, but only Charleston is in an actual church building. At this ‘church’, Sunday is celebrated with mimosas and praline French toast. I wish I could say we ate there, but their brunch buffet costs $70 per person- a bit too rich for my tastes!

We did pop in to take a few pictures… looking like the rude tourists. The owners have preserved many of the features of the original building- the red brick exterior, the steeple, the vaulted ceiling with exposed beams that crisscross over what once was a sanctuary. Stunning stainedglass windows line the outer wall casting a soft glow over the patrons as they enjoy their meals. A bar sits across from those windows backed by a wall of liquors so colorful they rival the windows. But the feature that catches the eye is the art inscribed on the panels of that vaulted ceiling. Graffiti artist Jon Norris was commissioned to write the full text of The Art of War by Sun Tzu, all 12,035 words on the ceiling. For those not familiar with this author and book, Sun Tzu was a military general, strategist, philosopher and writer who lived 500 years before Christ in what we now know as the country of China during the Han dynasty. His teachings and strategies have formed the basis of advanced military training throughout the world for thousands of years. West Point uses Sun Tzu’s writings in their course on Military Strategy. General Colin Powel was known to quote Sun Tzu at the beginning of meetings at the Pentagon, and General MacArthur always had a copy on his desk. Sun Tzu’s strategies for outsmarting one’s opponents have also been used in business and athletics. Bill Belichick, former coach of the NE Patriots, and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft reportedly studied the Art of War.

The patrons at Church and Union, however, did not seem to be studying the text. One would have to lie on your back for hours to read the full narrative. But there is a message that one cannot miss- written in large, bold lettering- “There Is Only We.” This quote from Sun Tzu’s writing has been claimed as the company mantra. There is only WE… Last week I wrote about the importance of the WE- the importance of community. I bemoaned the increasing isolation of our culture… how technology and the general busyness of our lives have stolen away our time for community. I quoted an agnostic Jew who described our digital life as “disembodied, asynchronous, shallow and solitary.” With that challenge to the quality of life in America these days, you would think that I would welcome a restaurant that declares from the rafters a call to community- There is only WE. Such an egalitarian sentiment! Yet, let us not forget that the WE at this ‘church’ are those who can afford a Cowboy Ribeye steak-for-two for $150- definitely too rich for my tastes!

There is only WE… The challenge to any call to community is the definition of WE. Often the WE is not only defined by who is ‘in’ but also by who is ‘out.’ I am a proud Penn State alumnus. I am told that the Penn State alumni association is the largest in the nation, arguably in the world. I know from experience that PSU alumni are loyal to their own. On our cruise I noticed every Penn State logo- from the grandmother proud of the grandchild who is a freshman on main campus to the young father who hopes someday his baby boy will throw a frisbee in front of Old Main. “We Are!” is the rally cry of those who came of age on that hallowed ground. I met a Veteran on our cruise- 31 years in the Navy- 1 tour in Viet Nam. He sat in the solarium every day making macrame American flags. When people would stop by to ask about his craft they would learn about his service to our nation. Word spread quickly, and Veterans started to come to share their experiences. Listening to those conversations, I learned that there is a WE Are that Veterans say to one another because of their shared experience. Even as a child of a veteran, who grew up in the military, I am still just an observer of a club that I will never join. Most WE communities have a definition of ‘in’ and ‘out’.

Last night our Jewish brothers and sisters began their 7-day celebration of Passover- the remembrance of God saving Israel from slavery in Egypt. For 3000 years the rituals of Passover have reminded the Jews of their identity. They are not defined by geographical boundaries or ethnicities… they are not defined by a nation state or a war. They are God’s people, chosen since the time of Abraham to be a “blessing to the nations.” But in our charged political atmosphere being Jew or Arab has become a ‘for’ or ‘against’ proposition. Does our stand ‘for’ always require a choice to be ‘against’? Does our ‘in’ always have an ‘out’?

But then I am reminded of Colossians 3:11- “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” In one verse, Paul reminds us that Jesus destroys the boundaries. Here there is no… He’s the One who offers a Y’all Come. He’s the One who sends us out to be ambassadors (II Cor. 5)… to be His mission of grace… to be light and salt (Matt. 5)… to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12)… He tells us to go to Jerusalem (hometown), Judea (neighbors), Samaria (enemies), and the ends of the earth. (Acts 1) We are called to find the lost sheep and bring them home. This WE is inclusive, welcoming, grace-filled, life-giving, hopeful. Easter opens heaven’s door with a radical welcome of grace.

May we be God’s ambassadors of reconciliation in a war-torn world,
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1 Comment

Peter Gregory - May 14th, 2024 at 7:25am

In the last pandemic the institutional church primarily the older mainline Protestants were the first to close and last to re open in many cases. Two knock off affects. The corporate “we” or community was replaced by the remote cyber Me or I or singularity on how many consumed religion church Christ and community. And habits and behaviors formed that now year 4 post crises are hard to break if not impossible. It’s like stopping a patients heart or brain function for a year. Shocking it back to life and expecting the same outcomes or same functions. Not going to happen.


nOne can blame culture media or a host of external factors why the church in a national sense is in its current state but we have to admit many times we have self inflicted ourselves. Next pandemic next Covid and it will come would we have leaned our lessons. Human beings need touch human beings need physical real presence in times of crises and trauma. Shame

nOn all or us if we forgot that for the sake of our own comfort of supposed security and safety. Jesus calls the believer to do many things. Risk and sacrifice not only required but mandated by the faith.