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I’m wandering through Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Leaving Church…A Memoir of Faith” and find the following passages relevant to my current questions about church…

All these years later, the way many of us are doing church is broken and we know it, even if we do not know what to do about it….We follow a Lord who challenged the religious and political institutions of his time while we fund and defend our own. We speak and sing of divine transformation while we do everything in our power to maintain our equilibrium. If redeeming things continue to happen to us in spite of these deep contradictions in our life together then I think that is because God is faithful even when we are not. 

I wonder why we live through this pain and refuse to consult the healer? Why do we keep making the same mistakes? Is it because we know the truth of this last sentence? We say it all the time that we are blessed more than we can ever see reason, and yet we fail to realize the possibilities of what could be if we were more faithful to what Christ envisions for his church.Taylor then quotes the novelist Reynolds Price who is stricken with cancer, “When you undergo huge traumas in middle life, everybody is in league with us to deny that the old life is ended. Everybody is trying to patch us up and get us back to who we were, when in fact what we need to be told is…’You’re dead. Who are you going to be tomorrow?'”

This is the gospel truth, as true of the church as of her members. All the church ever needed to rise from the dead is memory, bread, wine, and Holy Spirit—that, and care for the world that is at least equal to her care for her own preservation. Where church growth has eclipsed church depth, it is possible to hear very little about the world except as a rival for the human resources needed by the church for her own survival. 

This is the trap that easily snares us…the need to accomplish something that is tangential to what we perceive the church should be. It’s about buildings instead of neighborhoods. It’s about numbers instead of relationships. It’s about agendas instead of listening to the other. Why do we keep making the same mistakes? More importantly, what do we do about it? Or, should I ask how do we begin to rely on God instead of ourselves so that we may begin to help our neighbors to embark on the journey with us? Do we have to be healed before we step outside the door, or is it the encounters with those outside the church that will begin to heal us?I’ll finish Taylor’s thoughts on new life for the church in the next post. 


One Comment

  1. One of the first sermons I ever preached at Immanuel used this same Reynolds Price quote. We were talking about becoming new and being in a constant state of dying to self in order to make that happen.

    It has been amazing to be church with a group of people so willing to do just that. Willing to adapt their lives in inconvenient ways without ever compromising the gospel. In fact, understanding that the most effective way to share the gospel is through a willingness to adapt their lives in inconvenient ways. It has been freeing to omit the phrase “this makes me uncomfortable” from our vocabulary. To put Christ back as cornerstone and center our lives around Him. To remember that we are living stones, which means that we are always being reshaped and reworked and reformed.

    The conversations are better, more interesting, more fun. They center on who you asked “how are you?” this week, and what came out of that conversation. This rag tag Immanuel group realizes that if you gather 4000 people and none of them have a story to share of Christ at work that week, you don’t mark it as a successful gathering. But when two or more gather and He is there, “God with us”, it is an amazing thing.

    “See, I AM doing a new thing,” He says, and we commit to a heightened awareness of the new things He is doing. Not new as the world defines it, trendy and fleeting, but new as God defines it, fresh and growing and untamed.

    I end with a poem from Wendell Berry that has served, for 2 years, as an inspiration to me:

    Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
    Want more of everything made.
    Be afraid to know you neighbors and to die.
    And you will have a window in your head.
    Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
    Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.
    When they want you to buy something they will call you.
    When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
    So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
    Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
    Take all that you have and be poor.
    Love someone who does not deserve it.
    Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
    Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
    Give you approval to all you cannot understand.
    Praise ignorance,
    for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
    Ask the questions that have no answers.
    Invest in the millennium.
    Plant sequoias.
    Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
    that you will not live to harvest.

    Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
    Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
    Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees
    every thousand years.
    Listen to carrion–put your ear close,
    and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
    Expect the end of the world.
    Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
    Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
    So long as women do not go cheap for power,
    please women more than men.
    Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
    Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?
    Go with your love to the fields.
    Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head in her lap.
    Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.
    As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions
    of your mind, lose it.
    Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.
    Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
    some in the wrong direction.
    Practice resurrection.

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