[I don't want any of the following to come across as negative - it's a trait I am working on weaning myself away from. I am a cynical, sarcastic, jaded, negative person by nature, and I hate it. I don't want to get into pointless arguments any more because it just brings out the worst in me, which is why I've shut off comments a few times recently and will probably just ignore any negative comments I get from now on. Now I want to be something else. I want to be positive, loving, giving and carefree. I want to be in fellowship with people on a journey with Jesus. I want to be a friend. Care to come along? Good. Welcome. Warning: I am not sure the following makes any sense whatsoever. So if it doesn't, oh, well. Sorry about that! :o) ]
What a difference a week makes.
One week ago Glenn posted about running a synchroblog today on "revolutionaries" and I thought I would have something interesting to say about that. One week ago I was reading Pagan Christianity? and was planning my own synchroblog review of it along with Jeff because we were having a fascinating email conversation about our different takes on the book (at the time I liked it but he was having problems with it). Now I probably won't even finish it because I have no need to and the last time I tried to pick it up a few days ago I found it irritating and pointless. A little over a week ago I was briefly excited about something new coming to Jeff City and then within 24 hours despaired about it and realized it wasn't going to work for me (firm, committed, classical Arminian that I am - there's an aborted blog post I wrote shortly after that which I will probably never publish now on how I am a heretic).
And then everything changed.
Now? Anyone who cares may have noticed that right after reading So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore my blogging volume declined. That has been on purpose. I am sure it will return Real Soon Now, but really some of it has just evaporated because I am processing that book and what it means and one of the things I think it means is that too much navel-gazing over theology, whether you're "in church" or "out of it", "reactionary" or "revolutionary", "orthodox" or "emergent", is just plain bullshit. And I am one of the worst bullshitters of all time. I can intellectualize anything and substitute that for the real thing. There is a huge part of me that would rather read and write about something than do that thing. This time I would like that to be different. So I want to read and write and talk about Christ a lot less, and try to follow Him a lot more.
That said, it turns out I have a lot to say. :o)
I know now that I don't need a house church nor a small church nor a startup church nor any other kind of community that is arranged and organized by man. I don't need a new program, a 12-week study course or a committee. I do need friendship, fellowship and community, and the funny thing is how I've started recognizing how that happens and has been happening in my life all along, without any help from humans but a lot of help from God. Friendship. Real, honest friendship. That's all any of us need. And not "friendship to then get together to build this organizational thing in our own image", because that isn't friendship. That's substituting activity, busy-ness, for community. So what I am praying for now is to be open to friendship as people cross my path every day. Open at work. Open at home. Open when I am at the store. Open, open, open. I want to be paying attention when He places people in my path with whom I am to share part of our walk together with Christ, for Christ and about Christ. That's all.
For example, for the past few months I've had more real spiritual help while wrestling with all this from a friend who's a self-proclaimed "apathist" (he doesn't know or care whether God exists and if God exists believes that God doesn't necessarily know or care about him, either). This friend has said some things to me during my struggles that really have hit me as the Spirit talking, even though my friend would deny it (but hey, we can all be used for God's purposes, and I think the Spirit has a great sense of humor :o). At my lowest depths of wondering whether Christianity had anything in it for me (as opposed to Christ - I haven't lost sight of Him at all) this friend was giving me good insights, reminding me of things he had read about Christianity and following Jesus that were good and and that I needed to remember.
There I was in the midst of a deep spiritual crisis that no one outside of my blogsphere and closest friends knew about (certainly not "my" church), and my apathist friend was the one pointing me back to basic Christian fundamentals. Because he's my friend and not just someone trying to make sure I live my life the "right" way as he sees it. So as a friend he knows what I have stated is important to me (following Christ) and was trying to help me, not some image in his head about what he would have me do. And through that I've been moved closer to God. Huh. Similarly, when I try to help him I try and make sure to not throw God in his face. He knows what I believe, he accepts it when I say I'll pray for him, but he's not buying and that's fine. I can't force God on him and that's not my job, anyway. Friendship is my job, so I try and give him what he needs, not what I think he needs.
I am not a revolutionary. I am not trying to form something else to replace church. I don't want to come up with a program of my own. I don't want to help start one, either. I don't want to swap one man-made institution with another. I am not trying to reform "the Church". It doesn't want nor need my help. I wish the people in institutional Christianity well. They are trying to do what they think is good and right just like I am.
I am not trying to upset the tables in the temple...I am just not interested in the temple any more.
It hit me that by defining ourselves as "not in the institutional church", it still allows the institutional church to define us, only as its negative image (in a photographic sense). The interesting thing about So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore is that it makes precisely the same argument as Pagan Christianity?, except it makes it in a mild, friendly, loving way without a single Christian buzzword. Whereas I'd say probably 50% of the terms in Christian Buzzword Bingo have come straight out of my reading of Pagan Christianity? In railing against the church and all its pagan practices including that of the creation of a paid professional clergy class it uses the highly technical language of institutional Christianity and systematic theology to do it. Who, then, has co-opted whom? Pagan Christianity? wants us to see how the church has been taken over by pagan (especially ancient Greek) philosophy and practice but then uses the very language of "the church" (actually, of professional theologians) to do it. Hmmm...
We all have heard about how the new battleground in political messaging is "framing". Well, anyone who is trying to break free of institutional church and yet still uses the language of the institutional church to frame the discussion has already lost. By allowing institutional church to control the vocabulary we allow it to control our entire thought processes about God and Jesus. Yet Jesus Himself spoke very simply and told very simple stories. So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore tells a very simple story, too. It uses everyday language almost as a way to help us break out of the brainwashing. "Look, you can talk about Christ and His purpose in our life without code words!" And once you break free of the code words a lot of other edifices built with them come tumbling down, too. I find myself standing around now and wondering, "Just what in hell [word used exactly] is everybody talking about?" On the other hand, my Bible reading has become really enjoyable again. Someone should come out with a Bible translation entitled, Simple Language for Simple People. That would sum it up perfectly.
My favorite line in Dogma is when the angel Loki (Matt Damon) exclaims, "Jesus Christ! I just wanted go home!" The wonderful thing about that scene is he says it in a way culturally recognizable as using Jesus's name as a swear word. But it's meant as a prayer and I know Kevin Smith intended it to be seen that way. Sometimes I think we want to dress up for God when we're talking to Him, to put "church clothes" on even our very words, when what He wants is for us to be in relationship with Him. And that means during the bad times as well as good we should talk to Him honestly and tell Him how we feel. Sometimes I feel like swearing when I am hurting or need help. God knows me. He knows my heart. If I "dress up" my words when talking to Him then He knows I am not being myself - I am not being honest with Him. And it's impossible to have a real relationship when one of the people in it is being dishonest. That's what I think theology in general does - it gets in the way of us having a relationship with God by making our very language dishonest.
Jesus Christ! I just want to follow you!
Have I mentioned my depression has lifted? The situation causing it is still there even as I type this (and boy, has it been bad today) and I am still unhappy about it, but it doesn't preoccupy me now - it just sucks and that's that. Life's not all a bed of roses. But the suckitude isn't pulling me down with it. I am not weighted down by it any more. Instead I have taken some steps to fix it and am certain one way or another things will change and life will move on. I've dumped a bunch of it in God's lap and asked for help. But another huge and distracting part of dropping the burden was letting go all my thoughts and worries about institutional church and "what should I do about it?" that happened to come to a head at the same time. I don't have to worry about that any more. Now I just have to worry about how I can be who God wants me to be, and that very much includes being a friend to others.
So I can't take part in Glenn's synchroblog because I can't answer his questions. The questions don't even really make much sense to me now. I mean, I see how they make sense if one is trapped in the institutional church or conversely is trapped in thinking that we have to free ourselves from that, but both of those are still defining and framing the discussion in artificial, theological, non-relational terms. Hence the title of this blog post (which won't make any sense if you haven't seen The Matrix). But even that's wrong, because it still implies a tension between my beliefs against someone else's. There is no tension. There is only friendship.
I have been thinking a lot lately about a song we used to sing in the contemporary church service we used to go to.
I am free
I am free to run
I am free to dance
I am free to live for you
I am free
The song's fun to sing, but I always thought it was ironic because we'd be singing about being free, complete with a PowerPoint picture on the screen of a girl running carefree through a field, while we all stood there as stoned as Lot's wife, or perhaps forcing little head bobs and staged hand movements in the way we WASPs do when we want to show we really are hip and with it and digging the music (an outside observer would have to wonder if they'd stumbled into some church for re-animated zombies). I daren't think what might have happened if someone had actually danced in the aisle. But my point here isn't to make fun of that - I enjoyed singing the song as much as the next zombie. My point is how liberating the lyrics actually are, how much they point to the Truth and how that Truth really can't be lived in a box of artificiality.
I am free
I am free to run
I am free to dance
I am free to live for you
I am free
Hey, friend - wanna come along?