What kinds of things are essential?
If the church is to evolve into something new, or perhaps even die so something new can come into being, what kinds of things will be part of that new life? I’d like to think that – while there’s lots that’s out-dated, perhaps even lacking in relevance, in the church – there are still parts that would be every bit of use in faith-community in the future.
Has the church become simply a set of dogmatic “dos and don’ts” and “believe this and don’t believe that”? Perhaps the return to a way of life is biggest, single-piece of Christian living that we might re-embrace.
It’s key that there be regular gatherings. Community is essential to keeping people honest in their inter-personal relating. It is important to have inter-generational groups, as well. At the time of the Reformation (1530s, roughly), there was a return to including participation from the congregation in the liturgy. Perhaps our liturgy would benefit from more participation, yet – sometimes using scripted words, sometimes leaving an opening for conversation.
It’s key that there be openness. Jesus got into hot water for dining with the ritually impure, according to Jewish custom. He got into trouble with the Roman Empire for empowering oppressed people. These actions of Jesus were indicative of a radical openness to others – people not like him or the majority, or powerful. Churches have become places of homogeneity, and we would do better to invite diversity again.
There needs to be vulnerability. Perhaps you’ve heard me say, or write, it before: when we sing together, when we eat together, when we share stories together, we are vulnerable with each other. Faith community needs to be a place that fosters and supports creative and probing endeavour – and we do it together, laying ourselves bare in front of each other!
What about the institution? It’s true that, as soon as we begin to put anything into writing (or even talk about it in detail), we limit the thing’s ability to ‘breathe.’ On the one hand, we struggle with grace in an institution that has created rules out of a hospitable and generous way of being. On the other hand, we need some rules and criteria simply for standards, and an outline as to determining what and who we are, as followers of the way. Perhaps what we need is a constant invitation to gracious dealing with one another – giving all the benefit of the doubt, so to speak.
All of this invites us into an alternative way. If anything, faith community needs to draw us out of ourselves. While we may become self-absorbed, we are invited to see the needs of others. While culture may tell us that ‘bigger is better,’ we are reminded that not all things are to be measured the same way. While politicians tell us that they have the answers to our communal questions, we step back and look at the common good and the communal need through grace-tinted lenses.
Let me say that I do not put this blog out there as a final product, but a piece in the broad conversation of who we are and who we might be. This blog is always an ongoing conversation. What do you see as essential in life together? (…I intentionally use that ‘life together’ expression, conscious of the commemoration of Bonhoeffer this week, and his very deep reflections on life together and living the Christian faith.)