Thursday, April 12, 2012

to transform me, or transform us?

People come and go from an urban church without much notice. They can slip in, and slip out again without much notice. Whether they find what they’re looking for is a mystery.

But when someone who’s been a leader, who’s invested time and trouble into creating relationships and worked at being part of the Emerging Spirit leaves – for me – it calls into question my own motivations.

While I believe it is a healthy thing for someone who feels that they’re no longer being “fed” by a church community to move on – it challenges the rest of us to look at the value of the community we create.

There is a disconnect between offering soul food for people…and then inviting them into the messy, problematic work of community development. And then, when you add institutional reform into the mix of membership, you want to yell to the departing folk…“RUN – save yourselves!+.

For me these chores are all intertwined. But I get paid to do that work. Is it a mission I would accept without the pay? Would I volunteer my time to try to turn around a ship fueled by the status quo??

Nothing is more important, I believe, (once practical concerns of food and shelter are dealt with) than pursuing the question of Who am I? Why am I here? and What is the role I have to play with the gifts I’ve been given?

These questions require desert time, wilderness time, listening time.

How I yearn for a community who can support and feed such questing.
I know many individuals who are seriously pursuing such paths.
I know of no local circle that can provide a container of support and wisdom for such solo journeying. A circle that would not try to contain it,  define or label it, but simply support the questing wherever it might take the soul.

And then there is the work of community building. Of creating human associations to bring disparate people together to share food, art, song, fun, and of course, good work.

In Peterborough there are dozens of good places where one could choose to join in and make community happen for oneself and others. A church is just one choice among the many places where community happens.

And then there is the work of transformation of the institutional church.
For me it is fundamentally about creating a vessel that will carry stories of hope and sustenance from one generation to the next. It is about creating new living stories in that vessel that tell an alternative version of “what really matters”.

The current UCC vessel is sinking. And I often think that this must happen first. That it’s only when the flagship sinks that the the lifeboats will be launched. Then those small circles of storytellers and believers in the impossible powers of sharing will get out the oars and start rowing.

How about another image? Can the young plants of a new wider, more inclusive storytelling thrive in the shadows of a big old oak like George Street? Or do they need the bright sunshine of an open field to root and grow?

When someone chooses to abandon ship, I have to ask myself “Would I volunteer for this last mission?”  If I wasn’t paid staff, would I accept this impossible mission of transformation? Would I voluntarily take its frustrations, its snail’s pace, its inevitable misunderstandings and conflicts and tensions into my life?

There are times when I question whether it’s worth the paycheque. There must be an easier way to make a living. And then I ask “Wouldn’t it be easier to go with the status quo flow and be a pastor to a dying tradition?” Palliative Care is a worthy ministry.

Why bother tackling the work of Transformation?

The answer to this last question I cannot answer alone. The answer has to come from the group of people who choose to make it happen.

It strikes me now as I write this - that this is THE Easter question. Those disciples and their families and their friends had to ask themselves “Why bother keeping this Jesus path going?” Obviously it would lead to nothing but more trouble.

The story goes that they were inspired by mysterious visitations of a dead leader.

The story goes that there was a mysterious group hallucination that took hold of them and filled them with a passion to burst out of their hiding places and tell people in tongues they’d never learned what indescribable joy would make them risk it all and waste their time on an impossible mission.

Was their plan to transform Judaism?

Or was their plan to transform themselves by sharing a way of transformation?

That this group was in crisis – there is no doubt.

That there was confusion and conflict and all kinds of different ideas and motivations being stirred in the pot – isn’t this the only thing we can assume for sure about what really happened? The very “pot” was in question. Without Jesus was there even a pot anymore?

Shouldn’t they all just take their own pot, wish each other well, and go home to watch TV, join the Kiwanis, and prepare for the END?

Like those disciples after the crucifiction, I have more questions than answers, more fears than resolution, more doubts than confidence.

Where is Jesus when you need him?
Is he out there in the open fields, free and defying categorization?

Or, is he hiding somewhere in the shady soil below the church towers?  

Or, is he simply a dead icon, an ancient radical prophet upon which generations have projected our hopes and needs? 
Have you seen him? 

thanks to
for the images this week

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