if you're old enough to place the title of this post, and you happen to find yourself within any religious institution, you may be wondering, along with me, about issues of church, emerging and otherwise. what, indeed, are we all about? as i sit @ a corner table in a nw washington coffee shop, do i have anything -- anything @ all
-- to say to this blackberry-toting, iBook-laden, frayed-jeans-wearing, american idol-watching generation?
i'm all for contextualizing the gospel, making the age-old message of redemption and forgiveness ring in the words and images and music and ideas of whatever culture holds sway @ any given time. but if the church is really supposed to be answering questions the culture's asking, we may be screwed b/c i'm afraid we quit listening to their questions a long time ago. as a result, we have no message of any kind. nada. we do our thing, in my case the anglo-catholic thing, and slouch toward irrelevance to be bored. and it's not b/c we don't have anything to say -- the words of the one who calls us, forms us, sends us are relevant by definition -- it's b/c we want to say what we want to say when we want to say it, thank you very much. and if we choose to whisper, then that's just the way it is. as howard hendricks said: "in the midst of a generation screaming for answers – christians are stuttering."
you know what frustrates me, though? it's that we know
. we know
! we've experienced something transformative, something true, something of ultimate relevance, but (a) we live like we haven't, and (b) even if we acknowledge what we've experienced, most of us have no idea how to communicate that to others, which is one of the primary reasons why we're here in the first place. so i want to think about what we can do about it.
- first off, i think a re-introduction is in order: church, the gospel; gospel, the church. i think you met @ a party a while back. you know all that work we're doing -- whether it's throwing food @ hungry mouths or bowing and genuflecting ourselves like contortionists -- i get the sneaking suspicion we're doing it to justify ourselves. we're committing the sin of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and it's killing us. we need to re-experience what we've experienced, namely the undignified love of a god who forgives us before we even think about repenting. all our righteous deeds are filthy rags, but god loves nekky-birds (ellie's and patrick's term for being stark naked and running through the house giggling). we need more brennan manning and less, i don't know, everything else.
- shhhhhh. listen. the world is asking questions, i promise you. one question i hear, both inside and outside the church, is "how exactly am i supposed to hope right now?" iraq, global warming, poverty, terrorism, britney galavanting w/o underpants -- that stuff scares the crap out of us, so how are we supposed to be optimistic about life? better to cynically deny there's anybody behind the curtain so we can say "see, i told you so" one day, right? well, wrong. i've been reading lesslie newbigin's the gospel in a pluralist society (apparently they're reading him in parts of malaysia as well, and i've been referring to him in another context @ nate's blog), and i'm taken by his image of the church as a (the) clue to the meaning of history. he writes:
we can help them find answers. after all, we stumbled into the answer, and we're not any smarter or better than they are. go ahead and hope, i dare you. then, when they ask (and they will ask), be prepared to tell them why you'd do such a thing in a world such as ours.
"we are to understand the mission of the church in the light of the fact that the meaning of contemporary history is that it is the history of the time b/tw christ's ascension and his coming again, the time when his reign @ the right hand of god is a hidden reality, the time in which the signs are granted of that hidden reign but in which the full revelation of its power and glory is held back in order that all the nations -- all the human communities -- may have the opportunity to repent and believe in freedom . . . . the church, reaching out to every human community, living a life which is centered in the continual remembrance and reenactment of that central revelation offers to all peoples a vision of the goal of human history in which its good is affirmed and its evil is forgiven and taken away, a vision which makes it possible to act hopefull when there is no earthly hope, and to find the way when everything is dark and there are no earthly landmarks."
- go outside. do it. right now. leave those pretty stained-glass windows and live the gospel in the marketplace, the theater, the art house, the bar, the public square. incarnate! be christ! if we reaquaint ourselves w/ the gospel, and we hear the world's plaintive questioning, and then we only respond by eloquently stating our answers from a pulpit in the direction of a gathering of well-coiffed, middle-class, umpteenth-generation christians, we may as well have stayed home and and made waffles. jesus showed up; we need to show up, too. everyone's waiting. what the devil's taking us so long?