Thinking More About Church
My last post has generated a great conversation at Newsvine (for those of you not Newsvining, it’s bandwagon time). As it turns out, the notion of home-churching your kids, or rather, the deep yearning for authentic Christian community, resonates with a lot of folks.
I wonder why this is. Is it because the church as an institution has sold itself to politics and capitalism in America so that sometimes it looks like another mall to go to or another concert to attend? Is it that the church’s prophetic voice has been usurped by some to hurl insults of intolerance at those outside the wall? Or do people just hate getting up early on Sunday mornings?
Today, at lunch, someone was asked why he is beginning his studies at the divinity school. Was it for ordination in order to pastor a church? His answer: “No. I’m not a fan of the historical, institutional, church as it has come to be known. To me (he waved his hand in a circle above the table, pointing at all six of us who were listening), THIS is the church. Eating and talking together is the church. Living with one another and listening is the church.”
He went on to elaborate that 'pastors,' as they’ve come to be understood, can and cannot do certain things. He wanted to be able to be free from the institution and its expectations in order to best spiritually lead those who might follow, and vice versa. I can resonate with that.
On its worst days, the church looks like a political machine, able to be hijacked by those seeking elected office. It can be smeared in the headlines as the actions of a few tarnish its reputation for thousands. Churches split, get in fights, call names, excommunicate, squash creativity, make enemies, stand on the wrong side of justice and equality, and seem to be nothing more than the Pharisees all over again.
But on its best days…the church is…good.
It’s beautiful. It’s forgiving, loving, and inclusive. It dresses wounds and shelters the hurting. It looks like a great big family, with enough resources to feeds its young, value its elders and give more than it expects in return. It is revolutionary, speaking against the injustices that pervade the culture it seeks to transform. It looks and smells and feels like that warm blanket you wait to put on your bed as soon as the air turns cold in autumn.
This is the church I dream of. I want a place not of brick and mortar, but a place of love and compassion. I do not want a place to go to, but I want a place to belong. I do not want a place to defend or protect, but a place that challenges my stereotypes with the truth of the gospel.
Such communities are not born overnight. They are birthed on the backs of saints who dared to plant trees they would never sit under. They were formed with the peace and justice only understood through deep, nonviolent sacrifice. They stay together only when each traveler knows that the journey means more than the destination. And they multiply when each humble thread of a human being knows it needs the other in order to weave a rich tapestry of meaning.
I dream of such a church. And I want to work to realize it is possible, even in the buckle of the Bible Belt - Nashville - home to conservative religion, denominational entities, and 600,000 people who claim to not to belong to any faith community.