Monday, March 23, 2015

Who is the church?

"The Church exists to connect people at the level of their hunger for a new world." 
-Rowan Williams

I had a dream last night. 

And I know that its not a good way to start out a blog about God or the church. The one's that usually start out with a dream become an ego trip wherein the only things that matter are one's interpretations of one's own subconscious experience. 

This might be one of those cases, you get to judge. 

So here's what happened:

"I am filing into a room. There are tons of people all around me also filing into a room. Its so crazy because there are tables where like twelve people are sitting and chairs for an audience. I know some people, but most are just people. Bodies in a room. We all sit down. And I make a joke or a dance or something (I can't remember). This was met with disapproval. After this I realized that the people at the table (again 12) were ushering people up one by one to share their story. I panicked because I realized they expected this of me."

Thought Break: This must be a point where I have to tell you a little about me. I don't have an interesting story. I grew up in a house where we didn't do very interesting things. I had to quit boy scouts because my parents wouldn't let me go camping. (my parents are awesome btw, don't confuse this with a statement to the contrary) In fact, the process of boy scouts is all about doing interesting things and getting badges. The only badge I ever got was the handshake badge. Swear to God. I went to a dry Christian campus. Never went to a party. In fact, the first time I was in the presence of alcohol I was 23. Not to say that drugs or alcohol are the definition of excitement but it just shows where I come from. I have never parasailed, or climbed a mountain, or driven a motorcycle, I could go on...for a while. 

Long story short, nothing of note. Played it safe. Nothing of interest. I went straight through school and am now waisting my life away doing a PhD in Christian Ethics and am spending the later part of my 20s nose deep in a book. No job probably on the horizon. People don't hire my degree (institution and area). Its not pessimistic, just honest. The most interesting things that have happened to me are my rockstar parents, my really interesting best friends (I have three: Patrick, Luke, and Jerry), and two amazing girls whom I fell deeply in love with and crashed and burned in a really non-fantastic way. Still recovering from those. Long story short two relationships that lasted combined probably less than a year, but loved them for what felt like a lifetime of energy. Enough of that sappy shit: So yea, nothing super bad, but nothing super amazing or adventurous. Case in point: I once made up a lie that I asked Taylor Swift out my freshman year of college to get people to like me and it has followed me like nothing else in my life. I am too afraid to start denying this LIE (not a yell, just to emphasize what it is and that I am kind of embarrassed) because it really is the most interesting about me. Again: the most interesting thing about me isn't even true...Back to the dream....

"So I panicked. And I left. Went to a Starbucks across the street. Yes thats right Starbucks is on every corner, including the fictional ones in my head. Saw someone I hadn't seen in years. Hugged her and told her I'd call. (it was a lie) Looked across the at the building these people were meeting at and for some strange reason went back over. Got in line and stood up in front of everyone. People were everywhere. Sitting in chairs, on tables, on the floor, you name it. They were all looking up at me waiting for me to speak. And so I told them about my boring life. I told them how I have always felt lonely and don't know why. Told them how scared I am that I made a mistake in wanting to become a theologian. Told them I get sad when I hear about weddings because I am selfish. I told them that I once got really excited because I was apart of a movie my friend was filming and I got to have a fake movie wife. I told them that even though I have more education than 98% of the world I feel like the dumbest person on this rock. I told them I felt like I am a burden to people and that I haven't really done anything of note. I told them that I think about how I wonder what it would be like to be someone else, and that sometimes I wish I was. I told them that I have only first world problems and feel guilty about being sad. I told them theology is so hard not because of content but because its an exercise in patience and prayer, and that I am not a patient person. I told them that I never asked Taylor Swift out, and am glad I didn't because I think she is lame.


"So then there was this warm silence. Like I could see everyone in the room at once and all of them were smiling at me. I felt like they cared. I felt heard, listened too, and, most importantly, understood. It wasn't a room of people who were worried about me or judgmental, but people that understood where my poultry pain was coming from and that it was real to me. It was amazing. I called them the church and then stepped down. No applause. No hugs. No comments. Just that warm silence. I could have sat in it forever. It was a beauty that I had not heard before and scare imagine I will again. But it was there for a moment. And for a moment it was the presence of Christ."

As a person trained to think theologically, I have thought many times about what it means to be the church. And I have had my idealistic moments. I believe the church is the place of sacramental theology where we become "like" the body and blood of Christ broken for the world. I believe the Church is the community of and for the poor, a community that risks everything for the least. I believe the church is the place of political revolution where the great become small and the small become great. I believe the church is the economy of the kingdom where value and worth are placed in a new light. I believe that the church is the place where we talk about old things like trinity, salvation, and sanctification. And these things matter. 

I believe all of that, but I think if I had to commit to one thing, the church is the place where people care about you. A place where people pray for you and who eat with you. They laugh with you in the joyful mundane things in your life and cry in the mundane things that hurt you. If Williams is right then my experience is a hungering for a new place that exists in multiple places, not just the not yet but the already. 

Please understand that I am not bitter that churches like this don't exist on every corner. I understand why they don't and don't blame anybody for that. I really don't. Jesus is talked about often and people pray for one another. It happens. I just pray for a place where even I can be this open. 

It is a radical idea a church that listens to one another in such a radical crazy way, and is semi-impossible to imagine. But maybe that's why a cloud of witnesses greeted me in my head at 9am this morning. 

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