Looking In, Looking Out

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by Jennifer Lucking
When my husband is surprised that I don’t recognize the latest pop song on the radio, I glibly remind him that my music preferences follow “the 3 C’s”: classical, country and “Christian” (whatever that might mean). I was driving this past week when a long-time favourite song of mine came on the radio: Lonestar’s “My Front Porch Looking In,” a song that celebrates family and being thankful for those to whom you come home. As I was singing along, I came to the lyrics:

I see what beautiful is about
When I’m looking in
Not when I’m looking out

Typically when I hear this song, I imagine myself looking through my own front window, seeing my family and the safe space of our home (though, usually my imagination transforms my house to one of a tidy space, not the regular state of disarray). This past week, for the first time, I thought of church when I sang this song. I thought of Sunday mornings when everyone congregates together, greeting each other in church foyers and sanctuaries. I thought of youth group gatherings, women’s coffee breaks, and men’s early morning breakfasts hosted in church gyms and fellowship halls. I thought of church as a building, but I thought of church as more than that–a spiritual home where brothers and sisters in Christ gather together regularly to fellowship and to worship. I imagined my church and stuck an imaginary front porch on it, and I gazed into the building. And then I thought of those lyrics again.

I see what beautiful is about
When I’m looking in
Not when I’m looking out

Do we dwell more on “looking in” at our churches–our programming, our buildings, those sitting next to us on Sunday mornings–rather than reaching out into our world? What does this mean when we hear Jesus call us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15)? Do we spend too much of an effort focusing inward that we neglect to see those beyond our “front porches”?

I pray that our churches are places of refuge, safe havens. Many speak of their Christian community as their “home church.” Ideally, family homes are places where loved ones can gather for community, safety, fellowship, and nourishment. But when our church homes are such comfortable places to be, places where we are surrounded by those whom we love, we can become complacent and forget to be intentional at inviting others into our intimate space. Even worse, there are times when we are intentionally insular, to preserve familiarity and comfort.

I see what beautiful is about
When I’m looking in
Not when I’m looking out

For some, there is great comfort in “looking in” towards church. Some prefer nostalgia over newness and change. Familiarity versus the unknown. Comfort rather than being stretched beyond comfort zones. Sharing yourself with family over strangers.

But when we are focused on looking in, we not only miss the beauty of those outside our “front porch,” we also miss opportunities to reach out to those who are suffering, to extend the peace of Christ.

Prior to my missionary role as Coordinator of Human Trafficking Outreach, I worked for a victim services agency where I provided support to law enforcement agencies as they discovered victims of trafficking. In my current role, I often speak to churches in an effort to raise awareness about the reality of human trafficking in our own communities. I tend to emphasize two particular cases in which I was involved. Though they were separate cases, both involved international labour trafficking, with one group of victims living just blocks away from the church where I attended as a child, and the other involving victims living just blocks away from the church I currently attend. Both churches are in affluent, urban and suburban areas and are within walking distance of where men and women were being exploited and abused. Stories of these cases tend to shock my audiences, but they shouldn’t be completely shocked. Human trafficking happens a lot closer to home than people realize. But more than that, there are always hurt people in need of Christ’s love and grace just steps from our homes and churches.

May our churches be places of safety and grace, but let’s not be so comfortable that we never leave our front porches. On this Sunday, gaze upon those whom you love beside you in the pew (or chair, or circle, or however you do church)! Take comfort in happy, nostalgic memories. Delight in worshipping in a space where you feel comfortable praising God. But may the love and grace you receive from “your front porch looking in” prompt you to turn around, reach out, and extend it to others.

Jennifer Lucking serves as a Mission Co-Worker with the Reformed Church in America’s Global Mission in partnership with the Regional Synod of Canada. In her role as Coordinator of Human Trafficking Outreach, she engages with congregations, groups, and individuals to equip and mobilize them in channeling their concerns for modern day slavery, human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. She lives in the “Great White North,” in southern Ontario with her husband, daughter, and a smattering of pets.

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