"How do you know, I haven't told you..."
Traveling back from holiday in the car my 5 yr old son proudly announced to me that he knew where his heart is. "Look Dad" he said, making me twist round in the front seat (don't panic i wasn't driving) as he proudly pointed to his chest. "Yes," I said "I know, that's where your heart is." "But how do you know that Dad? I've only just told you!" was his puzzled reply. At which point we nearly did crash my wife )who was driving) and I suffered from prolonged spasms of suppressed laughter.
Let's ignore for a moment that that my son has skipped the phase where parents are all seeing, all knowing Gods and has now hit his teenage yrs where his parents know nothing, apart from how to make his eyes roll and die of embarrassment (i've still got hope that he won't corrupt his younger brother that his parents are mere humans hiding behind the curtain!).
"Treasures in the attic or forgotten junk?"
What this conversation reminded me of was how often often we in our new "traditions" of Christianity can often say exactly the same thing as my son said to me. We know how worship is done, who the holy spirit is, how to encounter him, what issues really are pressing and how best to present them to the world at large. We are probably just as skeptical and surprised that we might have discovered something that looks new and fascinating to us but to the traditional church is something that has been gathering dust in the attic for years.
Ohhhh look at this we say gathering around. Passing it around for a few minutes. Puzzling over it for a while. Then throwing it away and rummaging around in the trunk some more. Heh there's something much more interesting down here...
Such moments of discovery, or rediscovery are great. They can be immensely valuable, they can remind the church of what that they are keepers of a shared heritage rather than children playing with long forgotten things in the attic, help rediscover our inheritance and remind us of what common ground we have.
More often we are like the barbarian hoard, not caring about who we plunder from only that we have the plunder to through up into out attic and forget about, or what's left after we have squander and squabbled over it.
Ripping off the back catalog
Now, I think some of this is just part of our insecurity. We want to be right and we need to get some legitimacy somehow. We certainly don't want that to come from some kind of laying on of hands and blessing from the tradition we have escaped, no tainting thank you. Not in this man's true church. But it does get a little bit tiring writing off 2,000 yrs of church history as a sell out to the roman empire and then all the imperial powers of the colonized world that followed. Much better to "discover" or "rediscover" new and exciting practices and theologies and use them adapted for our own circumstances without getting too bogged down on where they come from.
The other day I heard a radio DJ interviewing the band Oasis (giants of 90s cool britania!). He congratulated them on their great new single and told them it was so good because now they had stopped ripping off the Beatles and were now doing the Stones!
Let's face it, ripping off the back catalog in fashion or music is not new so why not of church history? Why stop at church traditions?
Well I don't think we do, infact i think it is a lot more common to plunder the metaphors and practices of the the latest business models, socio-political concerns, social spaces and techo fads and rip off these for our faith as well.
In some ways this is a good thing, after all i'm glad we have electric guitars and (ripped off) U2 cord progressions in our worship, it's great to move on from 70s soft rock, 50s organs and 700BC lyre and pipes ;). I'm grateful for images to mediate on in buildings where there is not stain glass. Or that people don't have to shout thanks to the wonders of a thing called a microphone.
(Can I get an Amen for that?)
The next new/old thing...
On the other hand when do we stick with anything for longer than 5 minutes? I've been a christian for 20 yrs and i've lost track of all the ways that i've decided were the ways to evangelise - i've done tracts, door knocking, drama, conferences, friendship evangelism, servant evangelism, alpha, testimonies, books, prayer and now social action/social justice.
Hands down my charismatic friends if you have become charis-missional overnight? Like the Joker in Mr Burton's batman, I don't know what it means but I like the sound of it. It's the new buzz word and therefore we need it.
Honestly I used to be just a plain old sitting on a hard pew conservative evangelical congrationalist. Then I became a happy clappy, theological sound, bible believing, signs and wonder experiencing with good coffee and top toe tapping arm waving God tunes christian. Now I'm a veritable glossary - a contemporary, authentic, post-modern, missional, social actioning, trinitarian, mystery appreciating, often quite wrong member of a spiritual pratices practicing faith community who's statement of faith is the apostles creed, good coffee and more comfy chairs - i think.
Oh who's also evangelical but not like well those hard pew sitters...
(can I get a oh beware God has hardened their buttocks!)?
and charismatic but not like those emotionally high, holy spirit high, experiential charismatics
(is there a chicken clucking in the house tonight?)
Well at least that's who I am today. Tomorrow I might well be known as something else.
There is no neutral space...
And why do I think that there is some sort of neutral metaphor or space that I can pull in from the world around me and use to define me and my practices as a christian? Does really a 2.0 church enhance my heritage? Is meeting in a starbucks really a neutral space? Does my concern for me going out and being missional really just me giving me a license to go and hang out with who I like, where I like, when I like and feel good that I'm out here for God?
I've got a friend who says that christians can consume being missional to the point that they go to conferences on it, read books on it, append the label to their christian identity, discuss for hours how to do it, spot who's not doing and never get round to really actually doing anything that is remotely about the mission of Jesus Christ whatsoever. To be quite honest when do I have the time when I'm doing all that?
Radical mission is..?
What if the most missional thing I can do in todays consumer obsessed culture is inconvenience myself by going to church every week, committing myself to spend time with people who I would never normally want to hang out with, at a time where I've got far better things to do and give up my precious time (i'm so busy), scarce energy (i'm so tired) and money (i've got so little) voluntarily to serve them? To put myself in a place where maybe I will do something with someone else and God can do something with me? To stop for 5 minutes and detox from what I want to do and try and re-orientate my life towards the mission of Christ, not the mission of me?
Actually, what if that is the second most missional thing I can do. What if the most missional thing I can do is tell people that I am doing this, that I am not insane or insecure (well not more than the average). What if my faith is public rather than being supressed by the secular society in which I live which says believe what you want about whatever you want as long as it makes you happy - but if its about God then just don't mention it.
What if that is what church has been doing for 2,000 years (flaws, failings and all). People gathering together publicly, to do life together and re-orientate ourselves around the mission of Christ as we go back out into the world?
You should know, I've told you!
Which makes me pause for a moment and think of how often I have slated church. How often I have pointed to a particular christian, church, denomination and shaken my head at their foolishness for thinking that if Jesus came back he'd want to hang out with them. In fact how often I have reduced my faith down to just me hanging out with Jesus and maybe a few selected and carefully vetted like minded others (but i'd still want that fave spot!).
Where did I pick up all these ideas about the perfect church (which scarily enough currently only I would qualify to be a member of, unless I could persuade anyone else to worship me too?). I love the idea of a church like Acts 2 but conveniently ignore all the bickering, rivalries, double standards, grumbles, complaints, theological finger waving, selfish, fearful, preserving, socio-economic tensions of the rest of the book let alone the rest of the New Testament.
Best only with the worst
Acts 2 might just describe church at its very best but I can't have church at its very best without the flip side, church at its very worst.
And that means people get to experience me at my very best and I get to experience them at their very annoyingly worst. Or is that the other way around?
It's easy for me to be cynical, burnt and jaded by past experience. It is often good to deconstruct and spit out bones we may have choked on but at some point we have to reconstruct. Have to try and do as well as warn and not be surprised when things go south.
Pick your curent favorite bete noir christian...
Todd Bently (told you so, i was burnt in the roar like a headless chicken of the toronto blessing)... mark driscoll (told you so, i'm not projecting my own negative experiences of church and gender)... Ted Haggard (told you so, no one could be that evangelical and be healthy)...
or pick any issue that bugs you about church, really gets your goat... one that you are tempted to say I know what the answer is...
Admitting my bright shiny new addiction...
I've almost become a consumer of being an anti-church as it is consumer who dreams of church as it should be, whilst using the existing resources of the church community to keep my faith going.
Maybe we should pause for a second and acknowledge our obsession with this bright shiny thing...