There is a pink cherub skip-jumping a merry jig down Tkalciceva Ulica. She is anchored to her mum by one chubby hand while the other bounces a fall bouquet. The bounty is no doubt intended for a luncheon with friends but sans anchor, both cherub and flowers would be quickly lost in Zagreb’s sea this Saturday morning.
Buzzing voices marinate with the tinkle of spoons on coffee cups. The smell of expresso is in the street. It all pulls you toward a paradoxical space of intimacy amidst the crowd, if you can find a spot to sit and sip.
And, it seems like Jesus can’t find a seat.
This is not a crowd of tourists having a weekend go in Zagreb. They are locals who have rolled out of their Saturday bed, made an effort to look nice, and trekked to the centre from wherever they live. It’s like a Sunday morning scene that makes a church pastor salivate.
Come and get your Jesus fix here.
Get rest for your merry souls. Forgiveness for your dirty deeds. Relief for your addictions, and your depression and your loneliness.
But, they don’t.
And the Church can’t figure out why we are empty. In Europe. In North America.
They don’t come. Get fixed. We are empty.
I wonder if it has anything to do with our people projects?
Because fixing people for heaven is a task that you designate and delegate and execute.
I don’t think people want to be executed.
They want to be wanted.
They want to open the door and be greeted with a kiss on both cheeks as the cherub passes the bouquet and linger over coffee because they are important to you. If you want a picture of the quintessential Europe, that’s it, right there.
Simple like that.
But sometimes I get the feeling that we, as the Church, lick our lips like a lioness set free to cruise through humanity while they sit and sip their coffee in the kiss of the Adriatic sun.
Maybe they sense the danger, you know?
Because it is one kind of frightening to be swept away in a sea of people and another kind of scary to be counted as a number for an organization.
And that is what church feels like to this generation; an organization counting their number.
Nobody wants to be a number.
Or a project.
As if, with some measured time and the right ‘how to’ manual, I could renovate you and put you on the right track to Jesus.
Ironically, there are churchy articles and books that tell us how to connect with people. And, the problem isn’t that they exist. But, maybe why they exist should cause us to be concerned? Because, it implies that we don’t remember how to connect with people. Have we forgotten how to see someone as more than a countable commodity in our pews?
Three years ago, missionaries made Zagreb their home.
We don’t have a mega-church.
To be brutally honest, I don’t imagine that we have the kind of church growth strategy that makes it into those ‘how to’ manuals.
We have a Nazarene family becoming fluent in language and culture, putting their kids into Croatian school, practicing hospitality, carrying flowers into homes and finding seats in cafes.
Just like the Croats on the street below Dolac Market, in the third space, where it is public and intimate and anchored to the sea of humanity.
I like that – the intercourse of our lives birthing a relationship that cares for the other instead of using her.
It isn’t my space. It isn’t your space. It is our space. Neutral. Shared. And, we are hosted by the Holy Spirit in the Third Space.
He is that Third Space:
The Holy Spirit filling us, inviting us, to HIs table, and there is no Us and Them, because we are all lost and lonely and desperate and in need of an anchor.
It sounds like, well, it sounds like what we all always imagined church should be, before Church became about the best outreach strategies.
Back when we saw people as people; not projects, not numbers, not potential Christians, not target audiences, not even people going to Hell if we don’t intervene.
It seems like there might be a table opening up in my life with a friend motioning for me to join her there. There is a place for you too, for all of us; a Third Space, where grace speaks and the coffee flows, and the pink cherub jigs her way down Tkalciceva Ulica.
Could you bring some flowers, if you come?