Thursday, July 3, 2014

Maybe We're Not Able to Church Anymore...

I have been letting my mind wander a lot around issues of why "church" doesn't work the way it used to. Along the way though, I am really hoping to have more insight about how it could and perhaps should work rather than why it isn't.

A couple of things are brewing for me. First, I am aware that as a society, we have broken down all sorts of barriers about what we do and do not discuss in polite company. Gone are genteel social expectations that we do not talk about sex, politics or money with our friends and neighbors.  We wade into difficult subjects at every turn in the coffee house, at dinner parties, on the evening news, in the late night variety show.

But I wonder, as our guard has dropped, have we built the necessary skills to have those conversations? It would seem that our polarized legislature is evidence that we do not. We certainly haven't learned to have those conversations in church. Meanwhile, churches, once vibrant community anchors, are bleeding membership. Some toss around the term "irrelevant." 

At the same time, there are folks gathering small groups for other kinds of community beyond the traditional framework of "church" as we have understood it. Perhaps they are sharing scripture and prayer and conversation. They don't have to align with rules and doctrine. No higher authority I. A structure holds them accountable. They can invite people that they determine are compatible. While theses groups go deep, they are not necessarily wide. Many of these groups do 'to advertise there existence or put out a sign with designated gathering times. 

During the World Cup, I found myself thinking about the indwelling of the Spirit in Acts 2. Gathered from the far reaches, people gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover. They were from many tribes and nations. Some knew Jesus, some didn't. In the rushing of the wind, all were able to understand one another in spite of differences in language and heritage. All experienced the revelation of the Spirit. 

I think in some ways, the World Cup is a more likely venue for a monumental Spirit moment in the modern era. Millions of people speaking hundreds of languages focused on shared experience. Descended upon, focused upon one place and one purpose, the gathered (live and virtual) are waiting to see what shows up. Imagine that the Spirit descends into that moment and place. Like those in Jerusalem, I suspect there would be skeptical onlookers, disbelieving witnesses and some moved to a life change that sent them back into the rest of the world to name their experience.

What are the skills -- hard skills beyond the developmental faith milestones that we actually seem pretty good at -- that we could be building within the traditional church that enable people to engage I real, thoughtful dialogue with people with (sometimes radically different) understanding and belief. What dialogue skills move us past a human desire to dominate and be right so that we hear and empathize and share understanding? Because thos are skills we need to be God's real presence in the world. And with that skill, how can we gather together FOR the world and the greater Kingdom?

More questions than answers today. But now they are out of my head.  For now.

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