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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

One day at a time

Apparently it is now our job to make what the Church is supposed to look like in the next few years? What? God's plans aren't good enough? Since when has it been humanity's responsibility to decide our future? Church consultants and commentators... (smh).

I have tried hard over the past few years to give progressives the benefit of the doubt when it comes to God, congregations, and our future together both as people of God and neighbors to one another. But no matter how hard they try, they just can't bring themselves to allow God to be a player in those relationships. They talk a lot about Jesus, especially he of the wandering Jewish rabbi in First Century Palestine, but even then it's always about us trying to please him, or walk in his footsteps, or do do as he would have us do. But what Jesus does for us? Or even, did for us?


(Crickets chirping.)   

Would you want to have a relationship with someone where you had to do all the work, you have to measure up to their perfect idealism, and you have to make all the decisions? Probably not. (Remember this paragraph, as it is a summary of all sermons where preachers want to "make a difference" in peoples' lives.)

It is true that the future is murky. As one of my professors often noted, "the only thing for certain we know about the future is that it is not here yet." But that murkiness does not mean that the future is ONLY up to us. That is hubris at the highest level.

(Now, some might say, but we have some role in the future, don't we?) Of course we do. But our role in the future is always as a response or reaction to God's activity in our lives and in our world. It's God's world, we just play in it.

I'm reminded of this bartender I once visited regularly. She knew her customers. She was bright, funny, beautiful, and even would break out into a moonwalk when MJ was played. You could have a relationship with her, but there was always a bar between you and her. I would watch guys come to the bar and be completely captivated by her. And she is captivating...(the original moonwalk)--talk about captivating!

Young guys would try to impress her with their muscles, or wit, or good looks. Older guys would try and use their wealth and connections as a way to make their case. Groups of men, single guys, married guys, it seemed like everyone had an agenda for her, and a relationship they might have. But they were all one-sided. The guys did all the work, She served beer.

One day, as a guy my age was getting his coat on to leave, he said to me, "She is pretty amazing. But I didn't get anywhere today. How'd you do?"

I looked at him. "Me? It's her world. I just drink in it."

Just like I made a choice to have a relationship with that bar, that bartender, (rather than another one) so we make our choice with our relationship with God. (And to be fair, we might not even get that choice, depending upon how far you want to take your dependence upon God's grace.) But once we're in the scope of a relationship with God, we are no longer driving the relationship. All the prayers, spiritual direction, Bible study, service to your neighbors matters nothing when it comes to driving your relationship with God. What matters is to be able to steward the world God creates for you.

"Steward" in this case means to appreciate and take care of, and if necessary to protect the world God gives you. But it does not mean "own." We do not own God's world anymore than all those guys "owned" our bartender's love and affection. The world is pure gift bestowed upon us for no reason other than a love for everyone and everything.

This is why it is not our "job" to make the church of the future. It will be what it will be, in spite of our failed programs, in spite of our lack of energy, in spite of our forgetfulness and hatred of each other, in spite of the intentions which pave our roads to hell. Our job is to live together the best that we know how. (Just like when I go to a bar it's my "job" to have a drink, pay the bill, leave a tip. Anything else it just passing time...)

And we don't always do a good job of living together...but as we live and grow into what that will be we create congregations of hope and peace, congregations of mercy, charity, and justice. And as we live in those congregations we live into the Church, the future of eternal love in the living God who remembers all of us, even the drunk and dead.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.


Eric Elnes said...

Amen, Scott. I have high respect and admiration for Carol Howard Merritt, and she has been a guest on Darkwood Brew's Great Convergence series ... which made me (and a number of others) particularly surprised to read about Convergence characterized in her article as if it was just another attempt to warm up the leftovers of liberal/progressivism. Convergence is SO much more than than Pentecostals joining hands with mainliners to do justice work (even as it includes that). There is a deep theological shift going on in response to Spirit that makes Convergence possible, and is SO much deeper and more exciting than was represented in the article. One that turns the tables on both Christian conservatism and liberalism and finally allows many of us to claim the title "Christian" without adding a number of giant "Yes, but ..."s. For someone of Merritt's theological sensitivities and acumen I was particularly surprised that she would either miss this, or choose not to comment on it.

Scott Frederickson said...

Apparently, our work is not done yet...and we may have to retrace our steps in order to make sure others may walk in the wilderness together with us.