Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Ideal Church Gathering

Have you ever read something and wanted to share it with everyone right away. I had this experience when reading Rob Bell's, "Jesus Wants to Save Christians." My daughter, Lauren, gave me the book for Christmas. Since she is the one person who incarnates my idea of what the church should be, I wanted to read it right away.

For most of my Christian life I've been searching for my Holy Grail of the Ideal Church Gathering. I've looked for it in existing churches and I've tried to begin one myself. Each time I met with disappointment. I'm still searching. My hope has been rekindled after reading Rob Bell's description of what he calls, "the new humanity." As soon as I read this I rushed to my wife, Lisa, and read the passage to her. Bell perfectly describes my ideal church gathering. My eyes teared up as I read to her because I realized that someone else shared my vision and there was hope. Isn't that what coming together as a body is all about?

What follows is from "Jesus Wants to Save Christians", pages 154-157. It has become one of my favorite books.

Peace has been made.

A church is where peace has been made.

Because in the Eucharist, in Jesus' body and blood, everything has been reconciled to God. Paul calls this the "new humanity."

People who previously had nothing in common discover that the only thing they now have in common is the one thing that matters.

People who had previously found themselves on opposite sides of a wall find out that the wall has been destroyed.

People who had fought over an endless array of issues realize that peace has been made and there is nothing left to fight about.

In the new humanity,

you hear perspectives you wouldn't normally hear,

you walk in someone else's shoes,

you find out that the judgments you had previously made about that group of people or that kind of men or that kind of women or all of those kids simply don't hold up because now you're getting to know one of "those" and it's changing everything.

You learn that your labels for different people are insufficient, because people are far more complex and unpredictable and intelligent and creative.

You used to have a rigid stance on a particular issue, but now you've heard the other side and it's impossible anymore to categorize them all as stupid and uninformed and heartless, because you realize that they have thought about their position and they have weighed the consequences and they have some good points that you must consider.

In the new humanity our world gets bigger, our perspective goes from black-and-white to color, our sensitivities are heightened, we're rescued from sameness and uniformity, because the wall has come down and peace has been made.

A church is the new humanity on display.

She's in graduate school, and he's in his nineties;

and one couple has a million dollars, and another doesn't have enough money for dinner;

and he arrived in this country three years ago with a small suitcase, and they've never been out of the country;

and they have a son fighting in the war, and they're going to a war protest later today;

and he's got serious doubts about what he was taught growing up, and she's just decided that God might even exist.

All of these people-who are divided, who never sit down and listen to each other-in the new humanity, in the church, they meet, they engage, they interact, they begin to feel what the other feels, and the dividing wall of hostility crumbles.

In the new humanity,

them becomes us,

they becomes we,

and those become ours.

This is why it is very dangerous when a church becomes known for being hip, cool, and trendy.

The new humanity is not a trend.

Or when a church is known for attracting one particular kind of demographic, like people of a particular age and education level, or that particular social class or personality type. There's obviously nothing wrong with the powerful bonds that are shared when you meet up with your own tribe, and hear things in a language you understand, and cultural references are made that you are familiar with, but when sameness takes over,

when everybody shares the same story,

when there is no listening to other perspectives,

no stretching and expanding and opening up-that's when the new humanity is in trouble.

The beautiful thing is to join with a church that has gathered and find yourself looking around thinking, "What could this group of people possibly have in common?"

The answer, of course, would be the new humanity.

A church is where the two people groups with blue hair-young men and older women-sit together and somehow it all fits together in a Eucharistic sort of way.

Try marketing that.

Try branding that.

The new humanity deifies trends and demographics and the latest market research.


At 9:32 PM, Blogger Lauren said...

Makes me want to get blue hair, and makes me want to go finish the book. I feel like I was cheating reading that excerpt but I agree, just reading it got my heart racing!


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