I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Myself and the others

Let's try this one on for size: The more I become myself, the more I become like others, although the reverse is not necessarily the case.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Freedom and Grace

Freedom and grace seem to me to be two of the most difficult things for human beings to live with.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spiritually Homeless

Picking up in the middle of a recent conversation on my front porch, with a lady from down the street:
Her: ....Oh, and just what is your association with Grace College/Seminary?
Me: In 2000 I graduated from the college with an accounting and business degree and last May I graduated from the Seminary with a Master's degree in theology.
Her: Oh, really. Where do you go to church?
Me: I don't
Her: Really????
[suspicious look, eyebrow raised]
Me: Uhm. Well. I'm exploring what faith looks like outside of institutional Christianity.
Her: Do you think that's biblical.
Me: Hhhmmmm.....yes, I do, actually.
Her: Are you looking for a home church?
Me: No.
Her: I see. You know, I have a good author to recommend to you....he really helps get at hidden sins that hold us back in life....

Oh, and in the above dialog, you can fill in an awkward pause after just about each of my responses.

Ever since I terminated my church attendance a year or two ago, I have felt a certain internal pressure to "belong" to something that, while perhaps not a "church" in the traditional sense, is at least something of the church variety. That way, I can avoid the awkward kinds of dialogs listed above and be able to have something substantial to reply to family and friends: I may not be doing the institutional thing, but I've got something else that's just as good!

In this post, however, I hereby officially resign any concern with having to replace traditional church with something that is sort-of-churchy. This is probably of no major surprise to those of you who follow this blog and have read my posts. (See, most recently, Merging and Submerging and Pay-as-you-go Church.)

My thought here is that perhaps "the church" is best looked at as a way of life rather than a membership to a particular group, an inclusive embrace of the world rather than an exclusive commitment to a particular organization/institution or even a specific group.

I want to ask the question: What happens if I have no "core" membership into an exclusive group?

I wanted to write this post to discuss the pros and cons of simply leaving traditional church and not replacing it with anything. In order to do so, I thought, "Hhhmmmm....Jon, you do a few of the things that Christians and churches do. So, perhaps you should list these things for your blogging audience." Good suggestion, I thought. And then as I compiled my list, an intriguing thought came to my mind: I'm not entirely sure that I have time for church, because I'm busy enough doing things that churches usually do. I'm sure that sounds a bit condescending, thought I don't mean it to be.

Here is my list:

a) I have a small group of friends with whom I am very relationally close. For most of us, our faith is an important aspect of our lives, in one way or another. However, we do not meet for a traditional "service." We have no organized, regular meetings scheduled. Most are one-on-one or small group get togethers that we initiate in order to be involved with each other's lives.
b) I meet once a week with a friend for theological discussion. (Currently we are discussing Romans.)
c) I am considering attending liturgical services (only once in a while!) with my friend Tamie when she moves to Indiana.
d) I discuss spiritual issues with my friends, neighbors, and family in many different, informal settings.
e) I blog.....and as we have discussed, blogs are a form of communal gathering, albeit of the virtual variety. (And, yes, I know, I have been a very bad blogger this year, in 2009!)
f) I meet once every two weeks with some Pastor friends.....we are all kind of missionaries to each other: I am trying to help them see the errors of their institutional ways and they are trying to bring me back into the fold of the Christian sheep.
g) Many of the folks listed above know me very well and provide a sense of caring for my soul, and visa-versa

So, what are the ramifications of just dropping, altogether, the idea of "belonging" to any particular fellowship/church/church group?

A few potential positive outcomes:

First, it would seem to more closely resemble the spirit of the early Acts church, where people of faith just kind of got together at each other's houses to eat and talk about what was happnen' with the whole Jesus thing. There's no indication that the same groups met at each gathering (like the contemporary "small group" ministries or "house churches") or that they had to start a particular ministry for this purpose.

Second, and a follow up to the first: allowing fellowship to be spontaneous seems to relieve the pressure to maintain an organization. This means that organizations/institutions cease when the S/spirit ceases.

The third positive feature that I can see is that if we scrap the church thing altogether, it seems as though hierarchy is kept at a minimum. With institutions/organizations comes hierarchy. That makes the power dynamic more of a factor than it should be. Power is always at work, of course, but within institutions/organizations the power plays are normative, regulative, and from my experience they suck the freedom and life out of a person.

How about objections to my eclectic approach?

First, and most damning I think, is that this approach seems to facilitate fragmentation. It is difficult in America to have a whole self. Our self gets divided between a lot of different areas, making it quite easy to hide ourselves or to just allow ourselves to become neglected. There is work self, home self, hang-with-the-friends self, go-to-church self, online self, and sometimes several different versions of the self within each of the above. When one combines this with our fast-paced American lifestyle, the result is a psycho-spiritual multiple personality disorder and a lack of any sense of wholeness.

I don't know that belonging to one, core church group really solves this problem, though, quite honestly. This fragmentation is complex and related to the system within which we operate. It is one of the major human challenges we face as Americans. However, while a church probably won't fix this and often makes the matter worse, the fact is that it is difficult to live holistically on one's own. Community can help.

The other objection that comes to my mind is quite difficult to articulate. It comes from the sense and general feeling that we should have some sort of religious core group. Without it, we just get the feeling (many of us) that we lack a center or a foundation. This feeling is difficult to describe or define. It starts, perhaps, with those of us that are used to attending services every week and having a religious place and space that is our own. We belong to a group, and the presence of such a group provides a psychological stability to our lives. It becomes an identity thing. Leaving the church opens a void.

But what if we embraced the void? What if we gave up our foundationalist instinct to find a center and just let be?

I think that if we could do so, then we would be forced to live faith without being able to fall back on an institution/organization/membership for security. We could then allow sacred spaces to open up naturally and organically as the spirit moves.

Most importantly, without a center or foundation, the us-versus-them exclusivistic attitude becomes more difficult to maintain. "Having a home church" means that one is "in," right? And those who don't are out. What if we were all out? What if we were all in? What if that didn't matter so much, anymore?

NOT having a church makes one live faith each moment for the moment, it does not allow for a psychological religious stabilizer.

According to some, the American institutional church and its related educational establishments may be on the verge of complete collapse in the upcoming decades. No one can tell for certain, of course. But statistics are pointing in this direction, and many people of faith are just finding that the churches lack depth and soul. I don't say this to create another us-versus-them dynamic; I don't say this because I think all churches suck. I think churches do great things and have done great things. Seriously. I mean that. However, I am just finding spiritual homelessness to be the way that I roll these days, and I'm wondering if that doesn't have a lot of advantages. And I am wondering if there are others who do the same.....and I am wondering if there are others who should do the same.

Churches and Christian institutions tend to settle, and when they settle they tend to become complacent. Doesn't have to be that way, but that's just an observation that seems to hold in many cases. It seems that churches and Christian institutions established themselves in the 20th century as a place to settle and protect the faith. The spiritually homeless may find themselves a bit unsettled, but perhaps this only makes it all the more necessary for us to make faith real at all moments.

Don't get me wrong, I still believe in working toward communities of freedom, as I have previously said: As human beings, we cannot flourish without each other, without being in community, but we cannot grow in community unless that same community sets us free. (Fellowship and the Freedom of the Self) It is a paradoxical situation. But perhaps the spiritual drifters like myself can be more open to allowing sacred spaces of freedom to open up where they may be least expected. Isn't this what Jesus did, at least to some degree?? What does it mean that "this world is not our home"? Often, church and religion seem to be investing much of their time, money, and energy into making a home for themselves. Is this the calling? Is this the Gospel that transforms?

So, in this post, I am declaring myself to be spiritually homeless, and I think that there is alot of potential for this to be a good thing. Furthermore, I am hereby giving up my sense--that nagging whisper that's kind of always in the back of my mind--that I need to be "doing something" in an established group.