“interpretation and experimentation”

As I read and re-read this chapter, I can honestly say that this recalled many of the doubts and fears I encountered during the period of my journey when I felt like there was something wrong with me and maybe I was the only one that wasn’t content with the organized church in Jacksonville, FL.  I mean clearly, there were groups and churches around the US and the rest of the world that seemed to be doing things differently, but in my neck of the woods, it seemed to be status quo at best.  This chapter was not a fun one for me as I remember the loneliness and abandonment I felt during this time.

This chapter starts with a quote from Richard Rohr’s article that says “If much of the old church has to die (and I think it will, even without our pushing), then maybe it is because we have neither criticized the bad nor practiced the better with any social vigor.”  Looking back, this quote might have been my mantra during that period of my life, had it ever been introduced to me.  I became quite vocal with my criticism of what I perceived as bad.  And while I’m not nearly as certain that the old church will die, I remain steadfast in my belief that the old will not usher in the next revival and neither will it be the venue that allows the postmodern generation to discover the wonderfulness that is Jesus.

Please don’t misread my intentions in the previous paragraph.  When I say the “old church”, I’m referring to the Christian ghetto that requires the visitor to assimilate into the sub-culture before they can become part of the family.  Maybe that’s hitting a little too close to home for some of you.  Maybe when you look around during one of your community gatherings, everyone dresses the same, talks the same, lives the same types of lives, all agree with one another – or at least with the pastor, and would generally say you’re a community – – BUT, you don’t have any idea what anyone is really struggling with because no one is willing to be transparent enough to admit they don’t have it all together and honest enough to say they don’t fit into the expected mold of your community – – then sorry, but you’re part of that old church.

I remember leaving a meeting with one of my pastors after going over some of my questions and concerns for what I was seeing.  While he agreed that our church wasn’t on the leading edge of reaching the postmodern generation and that there really wasn’t another church doing so in our area, his reply back to me was “But where are you going to go that is?”  That question, while valid as far as I could tell from his point of view, set one thing crystal clear in my mind.  I didn’t know where I was going to go, but it wasn’t going to be back to the place from where I just left.  I knew there was more to this church thing, and if there wasn’t any vision to find more then I had to move on and find it myself.

The part that I don’t think I would have been able to say I was doing was the second part of that quote “…practiced the better with any social vigor”.  I didn’t recognize doing this at the time, and I don’t think I did it very well, but in an elementary way, I believe it was my practicing that helped me transition from that lonely place to one where I began to find community within the church again.  I had pretty much given up on finding community within the church and poured my efforts into a community organization here locally.  I was introduced to a family of people that shared a common goal and worked with abandon to see it through.  It was uncanny how God was showing me what community should look like or how it could look when people are real.  And in that I began practicing the better.

I look back at that and see that our common ground was not our theological beliefs or brand of church to which we subscribed, and I’m not sure that the common ground really mattered that much.  It was more the time we spent together, learning each other’s stories and becoming real with each other.  I spent three years with these people and continue to connect with them online today.  But as strangely as God led me into that place, He guided me out and put me back into the church, but with a different viewpoint.  And as I began to find my place again, amongst the brokenness that I still recognized, there seemed to be hope for this institution.

A point that I’m continuing to struggle with now is how and where we form community.  It seems to me that community finds you when you open your door and invite people in.  But I also know that there are a limited number of people that one person can actually engage on the level to which I speak.  I mean I may be sharing my story and learning others with dozens of people, but it’s going to be with a smaller number that I share my deeper fears and struggles and probably just one or two that I really open up and become accountable with.  I believe this is modeled in scripture with Jesus and the Disciples.  The part that becomes the struggle for me is at what point is my story for someone else and my role in the community isn’t about me letting someone into the smaller circle or even the inner circle, but simply about being present in the larger circle?  I don’t have an answer or even a proposed theory on this one, just the recognition that while my community seems to be revolving around me, it’s really not.

From the middle to the end of this chapter, as Tim recounted his story, I am reminded of what drew me to his teaching when I first listened to him describe community through the language of an artist “a landscape of color and creativity under God”.  Oh how I longed for a setting like this when I entered back into the organized church.  And I found it in a little church in crisis on the northside of Jacksonville.  It was there that I found a renewed hope for what church could look like.

I’m fairly certain that the coming chapters will provide many opportunities to discuss the fault line between the modern and postmodern and the effects each side imposes on the other, so I’m not going to dwell on these right now.

Have you been down this road?  Are you on it now?  If so, you’re not alone – and you’re not crazy.  How do you interpret your story?  How have you experimented with where it’s going or gone?

much love,
– mark