I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a huge fan of the show Community. The biggest reason I love it is that for all its off the wall hilarity, it offers a surprising depth and insight into the human condition.
More than this, Community even offers some themes that from a Christian standpoint give me pause. This is especially true in the episode “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” that I came across in recently in a marathon viewing session. In this episode, Jeff Winger offers a definition of the Church that beats anything I’ve come across in my life.
Let me set the stage. In this episode Dean Pelton sets out to direct a new commercial for Greendale. As the plot progresses Pelton begins to lose his mind and eventually shuts down all school activities in order to film the commercial. As the Dean becomes more and more erratic, everyone around him does as well. Eventually the crew, cast, and the Dean himself crack.
At the end of the episode the Dean apologizes to the study group and receives forgiveness. It’s in this scene that we’re offered Jeff’s profound definition of Greendale that the Church would be wise to adopt. Here’s the script:
Dean Pelton (entering the study room): Before you say anything… (pause)… No I got nothing… Can you just forgive me.
Jeff Winger: Yup
Dean Pelton (in the midst of sighs and cries): Why?
Jeff Winger: Because we’ve all been there. Which is why we’re all here [here being Greendale].
(scene ends in a big group hug)
Did you catch it? “We’ve all been there. Which is why we’re here.” At the heart of it, isn’t that why we find ourselves at Church every Sunday? At the end of the day when you strip away all the pomp, the ceremony, and the institutional elements of the Church; isn’t it just a group of broken sinners, who’ve been there, gathering around to hear a forgiving Word from God? John Z. in his book, “Grace in Addiction: What the Church Can Learn from AA” writes:
“The Christian church often creates an environment where people cannot really be open and honest about their struggles. It can appear that Christians have no besetting struggles, just ‘victory,’ and the occasional assaults of the devil, but very few inwardly generated liabilities or recidivistic tendencies…
Imagine walking into a church where all who entered were asked to sign a waiver at the door that said: ‘I’m a sinner and by stepping into the room today I acknowledge that fact.’ Ministry and church life would be tremendously more effective.”
In this quote John Z. pinpoints much of the sickness of the Christian church that can only be cured in acknowledging what we actually are: sinners saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Because this is what we actually are, the inflated language we often use to describe ourselves is poppycock and usually only works to bind us further to sin.
So, again, just imagine if this was your Church slogan, “St. Paul’s (my personal church name) we’ve all been there, that’s why we’re here.” What a relief that would be.