Friday, January 30, 2009

On the relevance of the church.

This is not my first time to vomit my thoughts on the Church around here, and I'm willing to guess that it won't be the last, considering what I've been thinking about recently.

I am considering the question of whether or not the church is relevant to our culture today in North America (or perhaps the Western World). The more I think about it, the more I'm beginning to wonder if that is a question we should really be asking of the Church (that is, the church universal). Furthermore, I really don't think that relevance is what we need at this point in time. In fact, come to think of it, I really don't think that relevance is that we need at all, ever.

Ultimately I think the question we need to be asking ourselves as those who claim to serve Christ, and as the community that makes the same claim, has more to do with how are we representing Christ and portraying Him to the world around us instead of whether or not people care about what the church is doing, or if we are "reaching the lost".

Now, before you go getting your gitch all twisted up and angry at me even thinking such a thing, top and think for a minute what I'm actually trying to say. What I am trying to say, but perhaps my words fail to do so is that it seems to me that for a number of years there has been a "holy obsession" (that which people think is right an honorable, but may not in fact be so) with being "relevant" to our culture in what we do and say. We try to translate what we believe into terms that we think will be easier to understand for those who don't know what Jesus is, and making sure that our services are "seeker sensitive" or appealing to the masses, who simply look for some sort of polish on production.

Even certain "movements" in the Christian world, like the "emerging church"or the call to be "missional" seem to fall into this sort of people pleasing system of carrying out teaching and essentially some sort of more positive image for the Church.

But even this I think falls short of what it is that we are indeed actually called to be as those who have inherited that Child of God status. I guess what I'm really wondering about any specific church movement or icon is who they/we are trying to please or what they/we are trying to actually accomplish.

The deconstruction of the church has happened before. I'm wondering if that's what is needed and indeed what is beginning to happen among some communities. Has the "Evangelical Church" begun to show some evidences of being like the Roman Catholic Church of the pre-reformation period? This is an honest question. The very idea of it disturbs me, but I can't help be wonder if there is some truth to it. If that is indeed at least partially true, then what should be our response?
I exist as a part of a denominational system that I support but I also question. There are certain aspects of the training and the organization structure that grate on me. I can't reconcile the current system with what I see as a New Testament church ideal. I believe there needs to be education for those who desire to be pastors, I also believe that pastors should be held accountable to what they are teaching and their personal theology, but I think that the present process is seriously flawed.
For the Christian and Missionary Alliance there are two significant current steps that one must go through, Accreditation and Ordination. Of course only men can complete both. Woman are permitted to be accredited but not ordained. There is a fundamental flaw here, but that can be discussed elsewhere. It seems to me that this is just an institutional form of control, based upon a man-made system that inevitably fails to maintain the standard it has set for itself. Women are denied access to leadership because of it, and some men are denied leadership because they don't say the right things.
This is just a small example of the problem of institution. I am not criticizing my denomination, I am however stating the issues that exist.

So I revert to my earlier question, who is it that we are serving? Is it people who don't seem interested in what the "church" is doing or saying or who are interested but are against it? Or is it the God who created us to be in community with each other, to love and serve others, especially those who are in need. There are indeed people who are in line with what God desires, but I wonder how many of us are missing the point.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sometimes I wanna go where everybody knows my name

I'm cleaning out my closet right now and that's not some metaphorical jargon, it's literal. I'm cleaning out my closet because basically every box full of stuff that I have has been stashed in my closet for the last 8 months. I'm doing this in preparation for the new bed that is arriving for me tomorrow, my Christmas gift from my roommates ( I am still pretty blown away that they'd get me something like that) and I want to make my room into something of an actual bedroom instead of a den for hibernation on a nightly basis. Or as Jessy would put it, I'm trying to make it more "welcoming" but that's another topic for another day.
I came across a box of stuff that my parents sloughed off on me in the summer time, old stuff of mine from when I still lived at home that they no longer wanted to store for me, though I maintain they have much more space than I at this point in time. I know there are others but the first one I opened had a mish-mash of papers and trophies and stuff from high school and college days. Most of it was old receipts and student records from school, as well as some old Christmas cards and whatnot. But the stuff that got me thinking back to days gone by (some people in this position would say "better days" I'm sure, but I don't agree with such an assessment, life gets better as it progresses, in my opinion) was a pile of birthday cards and notes and such from friends who have played a pretty big role in my formation.
It's not just because there was bounty of birthday cards, which I rarely receive in abundance anymore (also made me think of the fast approaching birthday blues I will be sure to have in a week's time), but it was what was said in a lot of these cards and notes that made me think.
Words that were tossed around about my character, or apparent character at the time made me wonder if those same words could be used to describe me now.
Words and ideas like "reliable" or "safe" or "caring" or even "godly" surfaced more than once and caused me to wonder if that could be a description of me now.
I really hope so, that's definitely a concoction of descriptors that I don't want to lose. But even shifting the focus off of myself, the people who wrote those notes are people that I don't want to lose or forget.
Of course, it is a number of years later and lives have all changed as have some of those relationships grown distant, but at the same time they have that aspect of "picking up where we left off" whenever we meet. I like that. It's a good thing if you ask me. People change, lives change, relationships change, but they don't always have to finish completely. I can look back and remember how different people have contributed to my life and hopefully vice-versa.
Most of those people have moved on to be married and some to have children, and it's fun to see them now and remember them then, to see how they've changed and how they're the same.

I guess in a sense this is a sort of Thank You to those who have been a part of my life experience thus far, some more than others and some in different ways than others. I think if anyone is reading this chances are you're one of those people. I appreciate the relationships that we've had, even though it likely wasn't perfect, and I probably caused some frustration or anger, or hurt or have been frustrated or angry or hurt, I appreciate it nonetheless.
I guess I am discovering how wealthy I really am, obviously not monetarily speaking. But then again, who reads these things anyway?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Read it and weep...

I'm sitting here in my living room, it's 10:30 at night, I got home from youth a little while ago and I've been introspective tonight, as I usually become when I feel I don't have the grace needed to show it to those around me. It's of course not from someone else doing something, just simply I'm not in the proper frame of mind to handle things that I don't want to. So I withdraw and think upon the issues, I should converse with God in the midst of it but recently I can't say that's my first instinct.
But tonight as I squirm in my skin at the thought of how I can be and think upon what's going on, it came to mind that I should simply approach the throne of grace in my time of needing grace.
I find it far easier to understand the grace of God for others than I do for me. One can commit the most heinous of crimes and I can see the need for God's grace in that person's life and am more than willing to express that to them (of course it's hypothetical, I've not known anyone to commit what I might consider "heinous" crimes) but find it hard to grasp this concept for my own life. That God would have grace and mercy on me is almost beyond my comprehension.
But as I sit here, thinking about grace, I thought it necessary to read something from Scripture in hopes that I may hear some whisper from the Almighty.

I traveled through the short book of 1 John, mainly because it's short, but also because I remember talking about it with someone recently though I don't remember the context of the discussion. Though the thought came to me with no real connection to the text, a connection would come eventually. I couldn't help but wonder how in the world so many hateful crimes, eras, people and occasions could be developed in the midst of something so symphonic in nature. What I mean to say is that I am completely taken aback by all of the things that can be traced back to someone's interpretation of the Bible, that have destroyed lives throughout history in such a negative tone.
Of course, when one doesn't know how to properly interpret Scripture, context is destroyed and the message skewed, but it's troublesome for me to think about how often hate has come from a message so full of love, one that calls a person to a life that is generous and giving and not leeching.
It even causes me to try to grasp how so many places that claim to be the "body of Christ" are in practice the very opposition of what they claim to be. I don't believe that I'm jaded...well not on church as a whole anyway. That is, I haven't had bad experience with "church" to give me some sort of bitter outlook on it. But like I said, I don't believe that I'm jaded, I am simply disturbed by the seemingly vast numbers of people who show up to churches in North America on weekends or even during the week for the sake of tradition or ritual and completely miss the point. It causes my heart to ache.
How has the one place that should be welcoming and inviting to those who feel like they don't deserve the very breath inside them because of something they've done to someone else or themselves become the place that scares them away? How has "church" become the place where people put on their "sunday best" and paint on a smile, in hopes that people won't find out how screwed up their lives really are? How has the support network of true "Christian" fellowship turned into the breeding ground for distasteful humor and gossip that destroys?

It's around here that the connection to 1 John started to become more clear to me. This is a letter written to instruct a group of people (it's not entirely clear what group) on what it looks like, practically, to follow Christ and what love really means. As I read 1 John and think upon many church communities that I have experienced and some that I've heard of, the two pictures don't seem to line up with one another.
I starting to believe that "institution" as many know has no place within the parameters of the faith. It's not a matter of institution or rules or religiosity, it's a matter of life. If, according to 1 John, the evidence of God in our lives is to love many of us really can say that God is in us?
I'm terrified to admit that there are times when my life is completely or near completely devoid of that presence.
So if evidence of God in our lives is to love others, should our "churches" not be the very place that sin can be openly brought to light (of course, there are definitely things that don't need to be shared with an entire congregation, in fact it's not healthy to do so. But I am speaking as a matter of general principle) without fear of disownment or verbal abuse or hatred?
I think it's the "holier than thou" attitude that I am can't exist if we are living as true biblical communities, it just can't. But alas, it seems to.

I honestly grieve over this thought and certainly hope to contribute in a positive manner to the shift that I believe needs to take place, not giving into the lie of "saving face".

It is for these reasons that I really appreciate some of Derek Webb's solo musical work, for he writes the words of my heart on this issue. take a look at his songs "New Law" and "King and a Kingdom" and you'll understand what I mean.

People may not read this, but it's now officially a burden that I do not carry inwardly.