Jan asks us, “What are 10 Big Things (or 2 or 5 or 11) we should toss in the church today?” She offers, “I’m not talking about tossing treasured congregational practices and traditions just for the sake of tossing them. I’m talking about getting rid of any and all institutions that: 1) Have outlasted their effectiveness (or their original purpose has been achieved). 2) Don’t work anymore. 3) Prevent real growth.”
This stuff haunts me. I love “church.” I am a junkie, freebasing religion of all sorts. I love the sacred rites, rituals, and traditions of many religions. I adore the Catholic mass. I admire the silence of Quaker meetings. I indulge in the beauty and color of Hindu puja. I love the purpose in performing wudu in Islamic prayer. I seek to enter into the Other via the noble eightfold path of the Buddha.
Looking at the language I speak, reformed, protestant Christianity I am constantly challenged by the world around me. At one time I adhered to a “simple” faith of doubt not, want not, be not, live not. If I held doubt of any form I allowed evil to reign in my heart. If I wanted anything I would invite desire and be overrun by it on my way to eternal damnation. If I lived in any manner not specifically and blatantly ungodly I was again on the road to hell.
I am in a place of peace with a faith that allows questions to form in the midst of uncertainty and the desire to be nearer to God. Jan’s question evokes in me many emotions. Looking at the “big things” of church poses a monumental task of self-awareness and self-discovery that began on a lonely, hurting evening in 1998.
I must first be aware of what the “big things” are and what “church” is in order for me to discard away of them. I define “big things” to be the rites, rituals, spaces, or places that root the community in identity. “Church” is the community that explores in faith a common life that is sacred and divine in the midst of the profanity of humanity.
The “big things” I would discard in my “church” would be 1) committees. In the emerging faith community of the 21st century, people do not gather in common for tasks. People gather to be with each other. We are a tribe emerging from the cave. Consumer & producer models are not what faith is centered around. We want to operate in intimacy, community, & absent of yesterdays expectations. We are not little “yous” tapped to continue your work. We are your children imbued with a call as clear and distinct as your call is. Committees remind me that we are still at the children’s table and until we behave and mind our parents we will not be invited to the adult table.
I would discard 2) denominations. I am currently a Disciple of Christ minister. I have been a part of non-denominational churches, ELCA churches, PC(USA) churches, para-churches, intentional faith communities, and damn near anything in between. I have settled on the DOC because it emphasizes local structure and does not have the large bureaucratic structures in place to meddle in local communities. I wonder what “church” would look like if our allegiance was in Christ and not with what brand of faith we hold. I am not sure that denominational structures are serving the 21st century faith-seekers well at all. Denominations certainly impede the flow of new ideas and energy in many communities. Having faith in a post-denominational world may open up the box we put God in and allow for a deeper witness of faith to a world in need.
I would discard 3) buildings. It seems to me that many churches hold on to yesterday forgetting that the building is not the church. We discount the ability of service as we struggle to maintain the building the “church” is in. I like to think that sans private buildings of worship we could return capital to doing the works of Christ. I imagine a church that utilizes public space and walks with the local community in which it exists to be a relevant force in the life of the people. Can we do more with the resources we have if buildings were not private museums to yesterday?
I would discard 4) sensibilities. Faith is not neat. It is not clean. Faith is dirty and shameless. If we are not begging God for reconciliation and living in a manner that testifies to the depth we are brought from than I am not sure we have faith. Sensibilities cloud the realness of what faith cures in us. To be sensible is to seek to harness the power of God in a control model of civility. I want a relationship with God that reeks of hunger, longing, and passion. I want that dirty, longing faith of hot or cold. Sensibility allows us to be lukewarm when it comes to the edicts of the Christ.
I wrestle with 5) discarding God all together. I wonder if “God” has become an idol. Has God become just an idea to hang our vision, dreams, and hopes upon. A place where we are not transformed. A place where we indoctrinate others to be little “me’s.” I think the “church” has placed far too much emphasis upon God as a product and forgot about the relationship between Creator & creation. The church is not “THE” place for God to be. God is everywhere. How about we relinquish the strangle hold n God that we fight to maintain and open up the possibility that God works where Gods works and we are mere actors in these works.
The problem with discarding God is that without the divine presence in our lives what do we have? Absent a dogma, without a prayer, sans the ritual of service and witness to the beauty and mystery of God what else is there worth living in and for? I would give up everything about the church before I gave up “God.”