This entry connects with the entry for October 11th. The last paragraph of that entry said this: "I think there are some ideas and understandings that were central to how we lived together—or, at least, how we thought and taught we should live together—that are still mighty attractive. I hope these narratives and practices are included in the plotlines of this future story."
What motivates this blog and the concern is this hope—that there has been some really serious effort in this direction. Before we frame a future, is it too much to ask that we have some ontologically clear memory?
“The counter theme [to other dominant cultural narratives] is that the old peculiar memories of the faith community have been lost, forgotten, muted, or distorted. The community suffers from amnesia. The Jews in Babylon, we may suspect were not overwhelmingly preoccupied with the separatist tradition. They likely were busy getting along and making their way in this foreign culture. As a result, the old narrative memory became a luxury for special nostalgic occasions or the practice of irrelevant fanatics. Disregard of the memory is the price of embracing a different way in the world” (Brueggeman, Walter. (1986.) Hopeful Imagination, Prophetic Voices in Exile. Philadelphia: Fortress. 127).
As we engage a future narrative, I think, we cannot view our history either as quaint or as luxury or as nostalgia. So, what am I talking about? (Before I begin my list, I want to state the obvious: the following items are from my own weird perspective and others may look at these and ask, what in the world are you talking about? And, they, no doubt, would have their own list.)
• We were once part of an important narrative about a democracy of the Spirit in which people were brother and sister rather than any other positional relationship. Can our future story contain a more relational rather than organizational narrative?
• We once thought buildings and structures and bureaucracies were dangerous—very dangerous—and in need of constant accountability. Can our future story contain a narrative that transcends physical space and structures to embrace some contemporary brush arbor narrative?
• We were once about prayer and discernment, “waiting for the Spirit,” more than By-laws and organizational structures. Can our future story contain a narrative that embraces discernment as the primary decision making tool?
• We were once about a counter cultural message that called folks out of dominant structures of Christendom into something more flexible and creative and open—finally, a vital conversation about the kingdom of God. Can our future narrative embrace this fundamental narrative—we are Exodus people who live and move and have our being within and under the reign of God?
• We were once part of an important conversation about holiness and unity. Can our narrative include a plotline that lives out a relational holiness and a more inclusive unity?
• We once thought our conversations should be conducted within global as well as local contexts. Can our future story, once again, embrace our global narrative, but this time in partnership and relationship more than competitiveness and paternalism.
• We once thought that there was no more important narrative or topic of conversation than the church. Again, as Strege says, “Indeed, it is not too much to say that the Church of God movement is an extended conversation—some might prefer argument—about the implications of the doctrine of the church as the community in which Christians live out their discipleship” (Strege, Merle. (2009) The Quest for Holiness and Unity. Anderson: Warner Press, 516). Indeed, we were once about as broad and inclusive a conversation as possible. Yes, it was largely an “in house” conversation, but we were all under the same tent. Now, there are so many tents. Can our future story include the narrative of how to widen the tent? Can our future story understand the absolute essential foundation of conversation among the brothers and sisters so that we can, in faith and truth and relationship, move forward into a future we discern together?
As part of a discernment process in the Oregon and SW Washington District of the Church of God, Anderson, IN, I was invited to address the gathered delegates to talk about how the who we were/are factors into the who we might become. A concluding piece of that, in response to challenges by friends who read it, I tried to imagine what that future church might look like out of a sense of the themes that have moved us over the years:
I imagine a church without walls. I imagine a church that spends less time inside than it does outside. I imagine a church where each person—including pastors—is in a discipling relationship; that is, I am in relationship with a person whom I am discipling and I am in a relationship in which I am discipled. I imagine a church that comes together, hungry to learn about the God whose story is contained in scripture and that is willing, even eager, to sit at the feet of men and women called and gifted to teach. I imagine a church that understands itself as part of an ancient and contemporary and future conversation about the church. I imagine a worship community whose worship provides the foundation for discipleship and whose preaching prophetically calls us deep into ourselves, deep into relational and communal connection with God, and outside of ourselves. I imagine a church that looks more similar to than different from the community it finds itself in. I imagine a church that neighbors its neighbors and is neighbored in return. I imagine a church that the neighborhood welcomes to its street fairs, farmers markets, block parties and asks and receives permission to use church facilities for little or nothing in return. I imagine a church that knows its neighbors so well that the church notices when a light is left on too long, or when the trash is not set out, or the grass has grown too long—and feels free to go knock on a door. I imagine a church that stands against the dominant and domineering and degrading cultures of our world—the violent and demeaning cultures, the enslaving and condemning cultures—not as escape from or fear of—but it solidarity with the poor, downtrodden, defeated, and “othered” peoples of the world. I imagine a church that stands on the mean and lonely corners of its city and neighborhood (wherever that corner is) and is a presence of protection and prophecy and justice and mercy and love for any and all who stand there.
To steal from Tony Campolo, I imagine a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 2 in the morning. I imagine a church that isn’t afraid to go into a bar with a friend in order to talk to him or her about Jesus—or just about life. I imagine a church where, when crap happens and my life unravels, I’ll find welcome and empathy and understanding rather than blame, shame, and judgment. I imagine a church where I don’t have to hide anything. I imagine a church that always and first considers its own sins before it throws one stone anywhere at any body—and, then, drops the stone. I imagine a church that doesn't look like a list of dos and donts; doesn't look like a closed mind, eyes, or ears—or heart; doesn't look like a closed door or an air tight window; doesn't sound like a persons saying this is what it means and nothing else.
So, I guess, the church I imagine is a church of open mind, open ears, and open hearts—
• the sound of a door opening and windows being raised;
• a church that lives with the Godly Play question: "I wonder what....."
• that sounds like a person saying, "Oh, my, what do we have here...."
• a church that stands on tip toes, eagerly searching the world around, the horizon,
• the faces of our neighbors, sensing God at work already, and saying, "All righty now, here we go...."
I imagine a church as hospital, a retreat center, a blood bank—in all of the real and metaphorical senses of those images.
I hope and pray that our future story is deeply grounded in such a narrative—and wildly imaginative, poetic, it is futuring. It is, I believe, what God calls us to—invites us to live.