It’s the end of the church as we know it, and I feel fine

Those who are 30-something or fans of early 90’s pop-rock will know the title of my post is a variation on one of R.E.M.’s best songs.  If not, see below.  <grin>

It’s been several weeks since I’ve posted.  I’m still on a roller coaster ride.  I’ve spent several grueling weeks on my dissertation…reading, writing chapters, meeting with my adviser, and realizing I have alot more work to do.    And then, for a moment, everything has stopped.  I’ve had a couple weeks to attend church camps, relish in the Spirit, and partake in God’s community.  I’ve filled up, hanging out with people who know ‘church’ and make the effort to experience life together and contribute to the hard work of community.   The reunions (family camps) I went to in Chicago and Samish Island, WA were wonderful.    These experiences have made me realize something about myself:  While I AM some kind of academic, contemplative, and loner in my walk with God, I’m also an eat-em-up, extroverted, relational type who loves community wherever I can find it.   Between these two poles, my life if both rich and productive – and strangely uncomfortable and disorienting.

So, what’s this got to with “It’s the end of the church/world as we know it?”    For life in real time, everything.

As I continue to speak in congregations and watch congregational life struggle, there’s an ongoing realization that the church is significantly changing.   In ways both clear and unclear, subtle and profound, the church is facing its mortality.  Not as a “totality.”  I mean, it’s not like Christianity or the Community of Christ is going to go away.   Yet, without a doubt, in many corners of the church “it’s the end of the church as we know it.”  And, frankly, I feel fine.

Do I feel fine because I’m apathetic?   Come on.   If I was apathetic, I’d left long ago with my peers.

I feel fine because I still experience God’s Spirit alive in the church and among people who worship and expect Christ’s blessings, even as congregations and camps shrink.  Also, I’m aware that all this decline, the divisive issues, and sense of change in the church is bringing incredible opportunities to we church-types…new opportunities for honesty, freedom, and real creativity.  Facing the end of the church as we know it really makes we church-folk face our demons, tests our faith, and checks us on what we’ve really put our faith in anyway.

The future, if it is truly God’s, doesn’t belong to us anyway.  If we believed that, there would not be less anxiety.   But, I think ‘the church’ would spend alot less time trying to ‘manage’ itself and, instead, find ways to jump into the flow of spiritual opportunities, new insight, and expression flowing through the church.   I think we’d find that there’d be alot of old with the new, instead of one or the other.    It’s because the flow’s movement holds both parts:  the downward spiral of decline and demise, as well as the vortex of new life and religious expression.  This is the flow of spirituality and divine opportunities – its insight and expressions – overtaking denominationalism and corporate Christianity.

Against the alarmists who worship in the church of certainty, we are not facing the death of institutions, tradition, or faith.  Rather, we are witnessing their remaking.

It’s tempting to try to hold things together in change, even if you trust what’s driving things.  It’s especially tempting if your identity is wrapped up in the familiar and what has been.   Conservatism, whether fundamentalist or liberal, is about preserving things.   Both, however, blunt the Spirit of creation and our opportunities for amplifying our faith.  Both stunt the growth of profound revelation and spiritual discovery holding the future of divine life and Jesus-ology.

After all, Christianity is a messianic faith.  Therefore, it is and always will be hope for what and who is … to come.