Going Back to Sanctuary

"Sanctuary" is a politically loaded term, so it is impossible to use the word without broadcasting meaning well beyond whatever you are trying to say.  I respect that, because words matter, and the words we choose send a signal that is often louder than the intended message.

Nevertheless, if it were possible, take all of the baggage out of the word and contemplate with me how wonderful the concept of "sanctuary" is.  Our national discourse on topics that use this word have been so heated that I fear we have missed out on thinking about "sanctuary" itself.

It is, in fact, what we all want, for so many places in our lives and for so many people in our lives.  We are tired of violence and want our communities to be safe places.  We drop our kids off at day cares and schools, or ship them off to board school or college, and we hold our breath because out of all the things we want for them while they are away from us, the most important thing is that they are safe.  Our churches, our homes, our workplaces...oh that they would be sanctuaries for us and for others.

As a parent, I care not only about ensuring physical safety about also about creating room for my kids to be themselves, to express themselves, and to stretch and grow, without reservation and without fear.  I think we want all kids to have safe places to wrestle through hard issues, about sexuality and racism and privilege and trauma, and know that they are accepted and loved and embraced.

Of course this is not the same thing as "anything goes," for I also believe in boundaries and standards and right and wrong, but there is a difference between that and creating a true safe place for kids to work things out.  To give a hypothetical example, my daughter might ask me something about race, and might ask it in a racist way; I need to correct her, but I also want her to feel that our home is a safe place and I am a safe person so she is free to ask and express.

In the Bible, "sanctuary" is connected to holiness, which means a whole bunch of things that I don't want to elaborate on in this post.  But to keep it short, "sanctuary" in this sense means being set apart from others, and it means adherence to a certain moral code, and in both cases what it ultimately means is reflecting the character of God.  This too is a beautiful concept, which I wish we would think on more, is the notion of "sanctuary" as not only a physically and emotionally safe place but as a place that is dedicated in every sense to the beauty of the purity of the character of God.

There is much more debate that needs to happen around topics in which the term "sanctuary" is evoked.  That is appropriate, because those are important topics.  But, entirely apart from that, the notion of "sanctuary" is worth contemplating, for it is beautiful to think about - and help make more possible in our world and in our lifetime - the existence of places that are set apart to be safe, pure, and God-honoring. 

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