• Tom Cleary

Redefining Scared & Profane

Updated: Mar 14


In the post last week I made a vigorous argument in defense of the corner bar as a valuable human community. This post generated quite a bit of response. Mostly it was favorable, but some questioned the propriety of considering the corner bar worthy or proper of defense by a Christian. I take no offense at disagreement; I appreciate the feedback and am satisfied at being able to provoke some thought about issues of the day.

Those who disagreed with me bring up legitimate concerns. Much of their point of view was to focus on the negative aspects of a corner bar; the drunkenness and promiscuity that occurs in such institutions, and so on. Some likened it to defending a crack house or a brothel. A fair reading of what I wrote would recognize that I acknowledged the downsides. I know firsthand, as I cleaned up more than a few of the messes that occur in such an environment. Nonetheless, there seems to be a general orientation among those who objected to the post that these places and the things that occur in them are profane.

First, I would like to point out that philandering and fornication, even drunkenness and generally miscreant behavior are in no way limited to the corner bar. Wretched behavior occurs everywhere. This happens in workplaces, other entertainment venues and as we have sadly seen, even in houses of worship and during faith activities. If you think you have never sat next to a philandering, fornicating, perhaps drunk individual at church, think again. It is likely that you have, you just did not realize it.

Second, and more importantly, we need to radically redefine our notion of the sacred and the profane. I visited this topic previously, but more needs to be said. There is, I believe such a thing as the profane. I am certainly not arguing for the abandonment of all standards. There would be no point to this blog if there were no standards. If there is a profane, then it stands to reason that there is a sacred. The problem lies in determining where this line is drawn and/or crossed.

It seems to me that any activity that builds one another up, that includes others, particularly the marginalized, that creates community, that, in short loves one another the way God loves us, is a sacred activity. If we do this in God's name, we are well within the bounds of the sacred. Therefore, any place that these activities take place is in fact sacred. This can be anywhere. This can be in a formal church sanctuary, or out in a field or on top of a mountain or at the bottom of the sea. It can even occur in a corner bar. Some of Jesus’ most notably sacred moments occurred outside of a formal worship space.

Conversely, any activity that divides, that breaks down community, that tears people apart and denigrates or marginalizes them is profane. This too can occur anywhere, even in a church and yes in a corner bar. The issue is not where this activity is taking place but what is the substance of the activity. God put us here to love one another and to serve one another. Not only can we do that anywhere, but we are called to do that EVERYWHERE.

Obviously, faith in Jesus as Risen Lord and Savior undergirds all that we do. Salvation, we believe is manifest in such faith (while admitting that we do not know all whom God will save; that’s God’s business). However, the applied reaction to this free gift of Grace upon Grace is to go out and live a different kind of life, to serve, to love and to proclaim the Good News, in thought, word and deed. We do what we do because God has given us the gift of salvation, not in order to earn it (as if we could possibly earn something this amazing). This becomes our sacred trust, which makes all that we do and wherever we do it potentially sacred, or if we turn away, potentially profane.

It should be seen now that concurrently with any time and place being sacred, that this attempt to live a sacred life is all encompassing. Our faith walk is not just a Sunday thing, it's an everyday thing. Yes, we will face plant often. God knows this and will forgive us. The point is not to be perfect but to persevere in the effort to be sacred. All our lives are to be considered as held in sacred trust for the one who owns us, God. We are but stewards of all that we are and do.

I am reminded of a discipline that the Jesuits of my high school years implemented; this was to place the Latin acronym AMDG in the top right corner of every paper we worked on. This meant not just theology work but math, science, history...everything. The acronym means Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, which translated means To the Greater Glory of God. This is a good discipline as it reminds us that all we do is to be done for God’s glory, even math and science. We are not to compartmentalize our faith into neat boxes. God’s work is messy because God’s children are often hot messes themselves. This means we do God’s work anywhere He places us, yes even in a corner bar.

This orientation expands our mission field dramatically, which is as it should be. We can proclaim and serve, live out God’s Good News all the time, everywhere we are. We can build community; we can include the outcast and we can help heal one another all day every day. In short, we can love one another the way God loves us any time and any place. This is how to increase the faithful who follow our Risen Lord; to, as best we feebly can, imitate Jesus anyplace we are. It does not need to be in a formal worship space, in fact it will mostly be outside of such a place. Our faith and the action that emanates from that faith can build sacred space all over His creation. If you want a “church” all you need is a Tuff Shed and a cross. Truly Sacred spaces are built from the heart.

Praise Be to God

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