This one’s for the Skeptics, the Cynics, the Critics; the Dones, the Nones, and the Professional Bu!!Sh*t Callers–
I hear you. You’re my people. I see every bit of the drama, the pettiness, the poor stewardship, the moral grandstanding, the lack of authenticity and the love of tedious-meeting-having that defines westernized Christianity. I know it can be gross. I know. I know the music can be bad, and the utility bill is higher than the mission giving. I know that sometimes the coffee is cold, and the styrofoam cups are killing us all. I know that we are embarassingly late to the party on marriage equality, racial reconciliation and women’s rights. I know that tri-fold brochures don’t really change the world; that a Hallmark, fluffy cloud CareBear heaven is nothing to shape your whole life around; and that a cartoon devil with a pitchfork does not inspire spiritual growth. I know. You are right about every bit of it, and I feel your pain/boredom/disdain. It is all justified.
I grew up in church; always loved the church, even when it hurt me; and, for the most part, still find comfort and meaning in the traditional elements that carry baggage for other folks. I love the hymnal. I love a good old sanctuary built in the 50’s, before architecture got so “cool” and sterile. I love nighttime meeting (sometimes); with the coffee brewing, the lighted window warm against the dusk; and the faithful gathered ’round Robert’s rules of order and opening with a word of prayer. That is my version of a Norman Rockwell poster.
And Lord knows, I do love a potluck.
If I’m being honest, a lot of that is why I’m still here. For me, church is about community, comfort, belonging and–at least a little–the ritual of shared and embodied story.
But that’s not enough. It isn’t enough for me, and if none of those trappings of the faith hold meaning or memory for you, it’s certainly not enough for your life.
I want to be upfront about my attachment to certain elements of church life, because it is important to separate those comforts from actual belief in God, faith in the gospel, and commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. If the Church is going to survive for another generation, we’ve got to acknowledge that all these great things about community life aren’t especially meaningful to the folks with no institutional memory. Or those whose institutional memory is not quite so cozy.
So why am I really still here–beyond the happiness of a fellowship hall that smells like coffee and brown-n-serve rolls? For one, because God talks to me. Seriously. That right there is probably reason enough for lots of folks to disregard anything else I say–but it’s the truth. I hear the voice of God on a regular-enough basis to believe that God is still at work in the world; and that I have a place and a purpose in that work. And so does everybody else. And Church is how we find out, together, what that work might be.
I’m still here because I’ve read a lot of books –but the gospel is still the most powerful, compelling and ‘real’ story I know. And the whole of the biblical narrative sheds a profound light on the intersection of the human and the divine. I cannot imagine a world without that tension, and I cannot imagine my own life without an abiding awareness of my place in that balance.
I’m still here because ‘the Body of Christ,’ as a vehicle for world transformation, makes a lot more sense to me than any model of business, government or society that I’ve ever heard of.
I’m here because everything about the life of Jesus and the book of Acts gives me hope.
And I’m here because once you sift through all the junk–the rhetoric, the ideology, the painful abuses and the grotesque human love of power–the heart of Christianity boils down to a few really simple directives that Jesus spoke to his disciples. Much as I love the other trappings of church life and ministry, I’m really here to learn more about these words:
1. Love your neighbor as yourself.
2. Feed my sheep.
3. Go and make disciples.
4. Follow me.
5. Pray for your enemies.
6. Give to the poor.
7. Take. Eat. Remember.
I’m still here because if you get right down to it, following these 7 directives would make for a pretty full and meaningful life for anyone–regardless of their attachment to creed or custom. And a whole BUNCH of people following these directives would make for a pretty just and peaceable world. I don’t know any other kind of body, government or otherwise, that has managed to do that. So–fully admitting that the Church as we know it has not always lived up to this model for life and community… I’m still here, believing that we can do better. And believing that there is nothing more important in life than that we try.
And because clearly, Jesus his own self was also down for a potluck. Take. Eat. Remember. And so we do.
What about you, friends? Why are you still here? I would love to know.