Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Traveling Mercies this entry I will be ruminating on some thoughts and questions in my heart regarding things very important to me. These issues are not to be poo-poo'd and by asking questions and expressing frustrations I am in no way doing that. The reality is...I think God's ok with questions. In fact, I think He's more ok with questions than being tepid. If you disagree, check out the book of Psalms in the Old Testament.

I have been such a terrible blogger! This has always been a great outlet for me. It's curious to me also how people respond to blogs. Some older peeps don't get it. (That doesn't count my mom...who by all accounts is one of the coolest people I know.) I even had someone several years ago tell me I needed to only blog every other week or so. Dumb. Lately, as it turns out, I have not been the best at writing on this site. Sometimes I'll start to and then stop. Sometimes I am afraid of what will be typed. It's been an interesting year...good and bad. I find myself still trying to let go of bitterness and resentment. Neither of those are positive qualities. It reminds me of Ann Lamott's quote in her INCREDIBLE book entitled Traveling Mercies. She says that not forgiving is like "taking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die." Brilliant.

Now, hear me...I am not feeling these things about one person or place. I am feeling them very strongly about a system that seems completely screwed up. I have friends going through things at their churches and it just wells up all this emotion in me. Something is stirring right now. I see a dissatisfaction with the way things have always been...and I think that is a very good thing. I wonder what positive changes could come if we didn't allow fear to rule our lives and our churches.

Not every church is ruled by fact, there seem to be many healthy churches out there. But for those that are, I guess it's indicative of who WE are...screwed up people. Most of the New Testament letters speak to issues or problems that are a reflection of what happens when imperfect people get together. So, why should things be different today?

I don't have any answers. But, I have been afforded a very unique opportunity to see things from a completely different perspective. I don't quite know what to do with what I'm seeing. There is very much this insider type language and feel that church people seem to propagate. We sit in our sanctuaries and watch edgy videos where non-believers tell us their impressions and we talk about it and nod our heads and yet--does anything really change? I don't know. Maybe it does. Again--these are questions...and mostly rhetorical. I'm not looking for Ken Sublett to pick this apart piece by piece with his insane brand of theology. These are simply honest questions. Sometimes, questions just need to sit for a while...without an immediate answer.

We are experiencing some great things in our Sunday morning time at Fellowship. The teaching is incredible, the worship is usually great...but there are some MAJOR holes. Community for one. We are lacking that. And, after a year and a half of being there it makes me wonder...can you exist on a Sunday morning experience? I would say the answer is NO. And I've always thought that...but it's hit home with me even more lately. But, isn't it interesting that about 90% of the time and resources seem to go toward that Sunday morning experience in most places? In a way it's funny for me to be saying this considering my role with ZOE and the kind of resources we offer (a lot of which have to do with Sunday morning stuff-although we all agree that community and personal spiritual growth are what makes any group of believers healthy). I love the church. I don't think the institution we have now is what "the church" really is though.

My temptation is to play devil's advocate with myself now...and maybe I'll do that at some point. But, as painful as it is, I think I'm going to just go on and post this with all it's imperfections. Please don't feel like you have to give answers. This post is more for me...therapeutic. I am interested in your thoughts though.


Tim Castle said...

I hear you, brother.

But then, you knew that!

I don't have anything to add to your questioning right now. I'm struggling with all these things, too, and wondering about my role as God's servant apart from the gifts I use on Sunday mornings. And I'm wondering what "church" needs to be now. Maybe we'll see something happen soon. In the meantime, we've gotta stay faithful and listen for God to move us every day to do what is really important. Just like always.

Adam said...

Man, I've missed hearing thoughts like this from you. You are preaching to the choir (...wait...reverse that). We who are committed to church and the gospel really need to wrestle with how we get out of several holes we've dug for ourselves...from the way we tend to exchange community for programs and the way we've let our loudest and most narrow voices paint a distorted picture of the church to the world and present a distorted gospel, that is really no Gospel at all. Thanks for your thoughts here.

Anonymous said...

It is always good to stay unsatisfied with the way things are - otherwise we become complacent with our lives. Questioning, searching is all good.
Questioning and searching helps you grow and learn. At LO we finally came to the realization that "church" is where we take it - and we are taking it outside the walls! Love your heart! Julie Boyd

Fajita said...

These questions touch on societal changes as well. Institutional allegiance is waning, but the after effects of "successful" institutions is significant.

The institution became so successful that it replaced the need or pretended to fulfill the need of the micro-community. And now the institution have proven incapable of piulling off that ruse any longer.

The institution, rightfully placed is quite good, but wrongfully placed is quite bad.

How can people associate with an institution, but not get swallowed by it? How can the institution not colonize the perceived social aspects of real life? If the institution is not intentionally and effectively facilitating mico-community, it is feeding on its members.

Amy said...

I get it. I've spent my entire life going from one ministry to the next- whether on the mission field as a child, in different churches with my "preacher-dad," or now in my own ministry with my husband and in-laws. It is a challenge for sure. One worth battling for, though, and waiting for those answers! In the mean-time, I just have to work on me, my personal spiritual growth, and do my part to make a difference in "church." Thanks for your honesty-- it's a good thing.

Dana said...

Speaking as one of the older generation, it isn't only the younger people who are struggling with how church should be or wondering if we've gotten it all wrong all these years and how do we change it. Or then again do we just dust off our feet and move on to some place else that seems to be working where God is working. It's such a hard hard time. Thank you so much for blogging your thoughts. When you do this it makes me think deeper and ask my own questions. I do so appreciate you.

Anonymous said...

Because some members of my church read this blog I am posting as anonymous. It seems in our area of the deep south, we've moved from being concerned about seeking God's way even if it's different than what we are used to, to now it's all about numbers and trying not to offend anyone who's new to the church. I've seen cases lately where folks have been allowed to act in a way that's so incredibly inappropriate and no one will say anything because you risk these new folks leaving for another church. It seems to be all about numbers and retention. I realize both of those things are important to consider, but at what cost to our real mission. I find myself lately missing church more and more just because I actually feel closer to God when I'm not at church. I don't like being part of a numbers game instead of a search for God.

Eric Livingston said...

Yep. I hear ya. I think this is why the house church movement is seeing so much growth. There are definitely some advantages to that method - accountability, authentic community, living out faith together, etc. But there are significant drawbacks as well - a lack of synergy, lack of seminary education for shepherds and pastors, a lack of formational liturgy, etc. It's a tough issue.

As an aside, have you read Barbara Brown Taylor's, "Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith"? If you haven't read it, I can't recommend it enough. She's one of the best preachers in the U.S. (she's of the episcopal tribe) and has GREAT wisdom to share on some of these matters. Her work in this book will provide some answers to some of your questions here and, more importantly give you lots more with which to wrestle!

Anonymous said...

I hear you with my heart loud and clear...(read your blog all the time and have been touched and changed because of Zoe's ministry.) I'm a minister's wife and we both wonder if "church" defined by CoC in general is what God really called us to so hard to keep "members happy"...but where else would we go?? So much good---in the midst of so much that doesn't seem right...I too have more questions than answers...and appreciate you sharing this.

judy thomas said...

Thanks for the "cool" designation--In all my arthritic glory, I appreciate it.

I have Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church if you want to borrow it. I enjoyed it very much--almost as much as Anne LaMott (although Taylor is not the comedian that LaMott is.)

It has always seemed to me that community is important because Jesus modeled it in choosing friends for his journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem. They helped him frame not only his task as God's spiritual gift, but also helped him frame his humanity, as he walked, talked, argued, spit, and slept with them--mostly, but not entirely, outside of the synagogue.

All the "one another" passages in the New Testament convince me that I should be part of a one another community--but we keep shooting each in the foot with our fallen condition. The reward in sticking it out is in lifting each other up toward a higher calling--and in going deeper spiritually together.

Breaking bread in community was very important to Jesus whether it was a private meal with Mary and Martha or a public one with sinners. He enjoyed it, and sanctified it at what we call "The Last Supper". We have so oversanctified that supper with our somewhat trite attention to its overarching symbolism that we have lost sight of its context--a simple meal with friends before a very trying event. He wanted to be with his friends before he faced death! And he wanted to break bread with them. O. K. Maybe I need to continue this on a blog and flesh it out more, but I hope you see the attention he was paying to community.

My sense of it all is, we all need each other as we join arms going out the door to meet others who will join us on the journey. And we need to find better ways to join arms both in and out of the church building.

judy thomas said...

P. S. Barbara Brown Taylor ends her wonderful book with this thought:

"(one) of the things I have decided to keep is: I will keep faith--in God, in God's faith in me, and in all the companions whom God has given me to help me see the world as God sees it--so that together we may find a way to realize the divine vision. If some of us do not yet know who we are going to be tomorrow, then it is enough for us to give thanks for today while we treat each other as well as we know how."

And that's what I am trying to do. Love, Mom

annie said...

Your questions are good, & and, judging from the number of comments you've gotten from this post, it's a time of upheaval for so many of us---personally & corporately. Thanks for sharing your thoughts & heart, & know we empathize with you.

LeeAnn said...

Thanks for the post...seems these questions are on a lot of hearts these days including mine. I am no longer a "preachers wife" after spending most of my married life as one...and we are in a period of change for our family where church is concerned. Lots to think about and to trust God about right now. Very interesting to see that your post touched so many. I knew by the title I needed to read of my favorite books ever!

MichaelPolutta said...

As the "worship minister" (just a volunteer title, not a job) I am also wrestling with similar thoughts. There are several struggle points for me. SO many people, if they say "worship" they are ONLY talking about an hour and a half on Sunday morning - and much of that spent passively listening. And I see this definition used in our youth as well.

Our congregation is also struggling to become "externally focused" - though none of us knows what that will look like, and it so feels like we're doing nothing so much of the time. Further, there are opportunities we have to "do something" but I truly wonder what we're "accomplishing" with some efforts. One example is with "Invisible Children." Our youth is very enthused about the upcoming "The Rescue" event. But - and perhaps this is just the cynic in me - I truly wonder exactly what will be accomplished by this event. Making us feel good about doing "something" is a crock. Actually effecting change is all that matters. Symbolic but ineffective - well, you can just drop the "Symbolic but" and call it what it is - ineffective.

And yet the cause is something I want to have an impact with!

Oh, how to be salt and light!!!

Christy said...

Your community (aka old friends) miss you too!!! MaryAnn and I were just talking about you guys the other day.

Anonymous said...

As a shepherd in a church in Dallas where I see sheep being attacked by Satan because they are not in transparent, body-building community, I couldn't agree more.

Arlene Kasselman said...

Thank you for giving words to the struggle.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your honest thoughts. Yes, yes, yes! I am a worship leader in Albuquerque, NM at a great church. However, we have so much to learn and experience together. I truly believe God is showing us the way but we have so much still to see from him. I know he has great plans for his disciples. I am anxious to see what role I will play in them. I have so much to learn and yet I feel I have so much to give as well. I am going through some serious questioning but I approach them with great hope and wonder. I hope you find godly community. It's harder than it should be. Hopefully, we will get better at this in our churches. Thanks for this blessing today.

Keith Brenton said...

I have to put in another vote for Leaving Church.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I need to digest this a bit. In light of some things I've read and heard and pondered recently, I have to admit that I'm amazed at how attached we have become to man-made institutions. Church is great! - church (little 'c') not so much. Jesus came to mend relationships, not put more restrictions and rules on the backs of God's children. How have we missed that???

Mark Smith, Albuquerque