(Originally posted on Isa 61)
Restless and unsettled by the failure of organized religion in its current form to feed our people–both literally and spiritually–I am somewhere between preoccupied and obsessed with the model through which humanity will dismantle the Empire and clear the way for the coming Kin-dom of God.
It’s harder than I thought it would be to imagine the future of faith communities. The paradigm of Church as we have known it for centuries is pervasive. I close my eyes and see a blank sheet of paper, but before long, the images of a building with rows of pews or chairs all facing a dude in the pulpit on Sunday morning have weaseled their way onto the blank space. Sure, we can make the building into a high school gym or put jeans on the dude in the chancel or make it Saturday night, but the elements are the same.
When I think about the new church, by reflex, real estate is the first consideration. Raising money is the next.
That just rubs me the wrong way.
What if we started somewhere completely different?
What if we began with the precept that what we are doing is writing a narrative? The history of humanity is the narrative of God’s people in and out of faithfulness. The narrative reveals something about humanity, in all it’s ugliness and failure, but also in its inherent beauty and redemption. It is a story of love and hope, in spite of pain and struggle. It is also a narrative about God. God revealing something about Godself in all her transcendent power, her boundless love and forgiveness, in all her close, intimate concern for each atom of Creation, even in this very moment. This is a narrative that isn’t over. We’re writing it still, in collaboration with God and one another.
Now this model, instead of trying to imagine something about an unknown future, acknowledges what we have been doing all along. It simply names a paradigm that is emerging already. This blog is a manifestation of the shift away from the institutional, authoritarian (and consumption-oriented) model of the Church towards the collaborative, relational, subversive attention to the narrative itself. The many disjointed movements sprouting up are evidence of a power shift from the top to the bottom. It looks like Wikipedia. It looks like Occupied Cities. These are movements with no endgame. The movement is the endgame.
So, on the question of the emerging Church: it’s already happening. And yet, there is much to be done. The question is not how to unify various movements, but rather how to bring intentionality to the writing, sharing and preservation of this narrative. We don’t need to get rid of the preacher, but we would better be served by making her role subservient to the collaborative story model rather than the other way around. We can still use real estate, but if it doesn’t serve as a character in this narrative, housing the poor, amplifying the voice of the voiceless, educating our children, giving space for God to speak, and for the love of God -here’s the important part- giving space for us to listen, then burn it down. Our buildings must be the pages upon which this story is written, if they are anything at all. Our preachers must become Listeners in Chief first and foremost. They must be facilitators otherwise. Our every step, our every breath must be imbued with mindful intention that our primary function on this planet is to make a (light) imprint on the canvass of Creation, to continue the story of our waxing and waning faithfulness, to reveal how God poured her love into the world to heal it’s deep wounds.
And writing this story requires that we nonviolently resist and dismantle the Empire. I hate to break it to you, but this is going to get ugly. We’re going to have to say goodbye to our money and power and influence. We’re going to have to become poor. We’re going to have to become marginalized. The white, straight, American men among us are going to have to stop relegating our surplus compassion to the cause of justice, but give it all away. All of it. Every last bit. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. None of us are free until all of us are free. Solidarity with those whom are crushed under the boot of the Empire is the only way this thing works. Not metaphorical solidarity.
Yes, they will kill us, just as surely as they killed us in the chapters before now. But I’ve peeked ahead to see how this thing ends. And I assure you that none of us who die in the name of compassion will have died in vain.