Thursday, January 10, 2008

What happened to the Church?

I started pondering a related question in response to my pastor's vision casting on Sunday morning. Let it be stated, I love my pastor and I love that he is open to communication between us - but the fact remains that we look at the world through different lenses (and the same hearts). I think often among our brothers and sisters in Christ, we speak the same words but they mean different things. When I speak of "doing community", I am speaking of going much deeper and taking the responsibility of being a part of the Body of Christ very seriously. However, for the generation previous who experienced much of the initial "church flight", the phrase can represent an excuse for bailing out of the Body in favor of individualism.

There is an overwhelming emphasis on community and being the Church in our generation, and I believe it will only be magnified in the generation coming up after us. My generation lived through the selfishness and greed of the 80's, attempted apathy in the 90's and quickly realized that neither of those is the answer. The answer is to love God and love one another. The instinct to live beyond yourself is not a natural one, and it takes intentionality. Pursuing intentional community does not equal rejection of church (in the congregational sense), but rather calls us to examine what is essential to Being the Body of Christ, what practices we are neglecting, and what practices we may be participating in that are actually preventing us from truly living as the Church.

When I had a chance to speak with Shane Claiborne in October, I asked him specifically how they balance their commitment to community at Potter Street House and the expectations of their local congregations (everyone at the Simple Way is also involved in a congregation in their neighborhood, though not necessarily the same one). I felt like a school child who had asked a ridiculous question. It was almost like asking him how he balances the demands of breathing and eating. Their congregations understand their call to community and justice and evangelism, and the community members value the role of local congregations. For them, it is a non-issue.

So, once we acknowledge the value of coming together in local congregations, do we then have to accept the status quo? Stick with me here.

I actually left my congregation on Sunday thinking back to 9/11, an event that certainly affected the perspectives of my generation in a myriad of different ways. On August 15, 2000 a little "Christian" band by the name of Squad Five-O released an album titled Bombs Over Broadway. The cover art, shown at right, depicted the twin towers in New York City, and the title song contained lyrics acknowledging these towers as a symbol of our nation's selfishness and greed:

Midnight, New York City.
Broadway, going up in flames.
Ground zero, big city.
Big Apple swallowed by the flames.
Bombs away, we never saw it coming.
Bombs away, til the bombs started falling.
Down, to seal our fate.
No time to run, now it's too late.
Countdown 5-4-3-2-1.
The end is near baby here it comes.
The neon lights of the city burn.
And the sirens warn: 'Bombs over Broadway!
'Lady Liberty is laid to rest.
'Give me liberty or give me death.'
Her dream died with her last request.
She didn't expect bombs over Broadway.
So long Manhattan Island.
Our pride in you had no end.
New York, New York.
Our pride has done you in.
Lights out, New York City.
You were the first, but you won't be the last.

This from a pseudo-hair metal contemporary christian pop band.

Just over a year later, on September 11, 2001, this symbol of our Nation's wealth was brutally attacked and our people stood in shock. Lives were dramatically affected, from those who were in the planes and buildings to those who watched from couches from shore to shore. Following these attacks, it became almost impossible to ask questions about why the attacks happened. We were told from the highest offices that we should not question the integrity of our nation, that the attacks were carried out simply because the people who initiated them were evil, and to question our own role in the tragedy would be blasphemy. Our religion of nationalism insisted that to rexamine ourselves would be unAmerican. You're either for us or against us.

What on earth does this have to do with casting a vision for the Church, you may ask? When I left my congregation on Sunday morning, I felt as if I had just received a love it or leave it speech, akin to the nationalist rhetoric that followed 9/11. Again, please recall that I am filtering through a different lense, and that not everyone will have received the message in the same way. Dan Kimball, in his book They Like Jesus but Not the Church, hit the nail on the head for me when he explained (regarding "emerging" generations) that "These thinking, questioning, intelligent young adults were looking for more than the simple statement with a few short verses that, quite honestly, only raised more questions and concern." Our generation requires being able to ask questions, even if we may not know the answers. However, I felt as if I was being told not to question the practices of the church (in the congregational sense) as she exists today. But if we are not willing to reexamine ourselves and ask what it is that turns people away from "church", are we dooming her to her death?

I'm putting myself through a seminary of sorts during 2008, revisiting some of the writings that have been most influential in my faith and thought up to now, and examining some newer texts that have sparked my interest. As if my list of readings is not long enough, I have found that adding Pagan Christianity to my list will likely be essential. I became giddy just glancing through the sample chapter, and am looking forward to exploring more questions, and to communicating more about what I am learning.


Anonymous said...

Well said. May we look forward to reading a book someday of your own articulated thoughts on the subject? Until then, thanks for embracing the freedom to articulate your questions - with or without answers. It helps me to articulate my own.

jeanetta said...

i completely idenify with what you said. when we moved we wanted something different in a church from what we left. and after 2 gruling months of looking we settled on one that fit for the most part but i still dont feel totally set on. i have alwasy been in church... well except for a few laxed college years. lol. and i want the same for my kids and they want it too. but i still feel that i am not getting something from it. i dont know exactly what that something is. maybe its just that its so different than any church i have ever gone too but still figuring out how you want to "do church" is difficult

Eric said...

There is a great conversation going on regarding the book Pagan Christianity at Kingdom Grace's blog...

Rob said...

Great post, Kim! I'm glad you are asking these questions and sharing your thoughts for all to digest. It's incredibly healhty and I applaud you. :)

Your friend,

rachel said...