There was a time when I lost my way while driving south of Chicago. It was in the days before GPS phones, and I took some spaghetti junction intersection and found myself on a rough and tumble street going into who-knows-what rusty suburb. I was lost.
But then–miracle of miracles!–I drove past a church in my own Mennonite tradition. The thought came and went as fast as the traffic: I should stop and ask for directions at the church.
But I didn’t. I kept right on going. I didn’t want to bug the pastor, and there was probably nobody around, and I didn’t want to explain the whole situation. I just wanted to keep going and figure it out for myself. I ended up at a corner gas station where, after filling up, I tried to get directions while speaking to the attendant through the bullet-proof glass. It was no use. He was just as lost as me.
We’ve entered this moment where our whole society is pretty much like I was that day–lost in ten different ways. We’ve come unmoored from fundamental truth claims and normalizing ethics (I know, I know; I’m up on the usual preacher’s soapbox). We’ve driven into the spaghetti junction of history, and there it is: the church! But the church is the last place anybody would go for directions.
I suppose as the church we set ourselves up for this situation, what with all the ways that we have aligned ourselves unthinkingly (or worse: strategically) with the Powers That Be and buttressed our own sense of privilege and centrality, all the while forgetting that we’re supposed to be the church that points the way rather than the church chasing after the ways of worldly power. We’re supposed to be the place where the lost find refuge and direction, the place where the lost are welcomed. We’re supposed to be the church of the lost.
Lostness like this isn’t always bad. It can even be good. The recognition of our lostness can be bracing, the same lostness that the prodigal experienced when he “came to his senses” (Luke 15:17). He woke up and said, “Where am I? And what am I doing so far from my Father?” It’s only when the church recognizes that it’s lost that it has any hope of finding its way again.
I found my way out of Chicago that day by dumb luck. I started driving and saw a sign and one thing led to another until I was back out on the interstate heading briskly for Indiana. I should have stopped to ask directions in the church. Thus it is.