God Be with You

As you may have noticed from my eight-month hiatus, dear Reader, I am retiring/have retired this blog.  I’ll leave it here, but I won’t be updating any longer—I figured I should formally declare that.  I meant to do so much earlier, but then everything else got in the way.

Jumbled prayerFor starters, I finished my degree, at long last.  I now hold a Master of Divinity, which is laughable in the idea that one could ever master divinity.  I have moved back to the Land of Pilgrims, reintegrated to my community there, and live in a real people house where I finally have all of my belongings not only in the same state but the same structure.  I got rid of 11 boxes worth of stuff that I had picked up either for the life I thought I would have or the life other people were buying for me; it was a bittersweet process, that unpacking.  I am currently working as a hospital chaplain, a job at which I am quite good and which flattens me a little more every day with its quiet onslaught of death in all forms.  I am working on my ordination papers in this beloved dumpster fire called The United Methodist Church because, against all odds, I still very much want to be a Methodist pastor.  And I will be joining a pastoral staff in January, taking all these lessons to a place where I will learn so many more.

When I started this blog whoa so many years ago, it was as a way to hold myself accountable to the change I was just beginning to see in my vocation.  Now, as I end it, I see how it taught me the beginnings of devotionals, of sermons, of prayer life that comes in so many different forms.  I see that it was a way to chart the growth of my pastoral care and the decline of my desire to fight this new adventure (though I still fight on the principle of needing to be feisty, of course).  It has been quite the ride, beloved Reader, and whether you’ve been with me from the first post or just now found this corner of the internet, I thank you for your part in this discernment.  I am still figuring it out, of course—I will always be figuring it out.  But I preached this last Sunday and helped do the All Saints ritual and the rite of communion and I turned to Interpreter and said, “I want to do this with the rest of my life.”

He smiled and said, “So do it.”

May you find the thing that you want to do, Reader.  May you find the thing that God delights in you doing.  May they be at least in the same neighborhood of each other.  I’m happy to keep responding to any comments you have if you go back through this catalog.  Know that whether there are ever any more posts or not, I am thinking of you and the community built here, my first little church, teaching me who I was becoming.

Pax vobiscum.

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink.  I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.  Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name. (3 John:13-14, NIV)

This Fractured Methodist Church

Welcome to March, Reader.  I am that much closer to finishing my degree!

7crossandflameIn case you missed it rebounding through the news that loves to cover the Church in crisis, my denomination is a bit on fire at the moment.  The United Methodist Church held a conference this past week to talk to itself at the highest level of representation about what we believe in regards to sexuality, and what we’re going to do if we disagree about that.  I went, and I’m glad that I did because I have so many stories of community built on Ghiradelli squares and snarky commentary, stories of support and of sorrow, stories of parsing through the seemingly labyrinthine legislation and of trying to find the Spirit in the machinations of factions quietly politicking around each other in the name of the Holy.  It was a beautiful, ugly, extraordinarily human few days.

The end result is that the more conservative faction within the UMC (made up mainly of delegates from a corner of the American South, parts of Africa, and pieces of Eurasia like Russia and Kazakhstan) pushed through some legislation that doubles down on the idea that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  It also insists that any pastor who officiates or otherwise supports homosexual relationships should be punished by the Church, up to and including being defrocked.  And anyone falling under the term “homosexual” (which was broadened to catch other folks in the LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning] community) cannot be ordained as long as they hold to that identity.

This breaks my heart, Reader, for many reasons.  Most personally, it breaks my heart because it catches me.  You see, I am bisexual.  But I am also United Methodist, Christian, a lefty, a poet, a white woman, a Trekkie, a cat person, an amateur calligrapher, a friend, a decent baker, a preacher, a chaplain, a daughter of God.  I have absolutely no difficulty holding all of these identities together at any given time.  I do not find them to be incompatible with each other at all, and given all of these pieces of me I find that I am still called to ministry.  If you’ve been around this blog for a minute, Reader, you can see that I fought that call for as long as I could; I didn’t make up the idea that I should be ordained, that I in all of these identities have been asked to be part of God’s Church in this way.  So for my denomination’s conference to tell me that people like me are abominations, that we cannot be called to ministry if we continue in our sinful ways—that simply doesn’t match my experience, and it baffles me.

The reasons so many folks focus on anything other than heterosexuality as the focus of sexual sin doesn’t baffle me.  During the conference, several amendments were offered to similarly strengthen the penalties around acceptance and ordination of those who are divorced, or those in polygamous relationships, or those who are not celibate outside of marriage, or those who are adulterous—all of which have plenty of Scriptural grounding as sexual sins.  None of them passed, because this isn’t actually about sexual purity.  I’m not here to have the argument about the verses or the interpretation or whether homosexuality is a sin; if you’re curious about my take on that, ask me, but I am not going to sermonize about that here.  I am going to point out that this is a narrow definition of sexual purity and leave at that.

I’m also going to point out the fear of losing relevance.  At this conference, I listened to delegate after delegate speak from the Congo, from West Africa, from Central Russia, all mentioning that in their home countries they were losing ground to Islam.  If we give up on this issue, the delegates threatened, we as a Church would no longer be acceptable to those looking for a worship home and people would go be Muslim instead.

This line of thinking makes me curious, because either we believe that Jesus is the Lord of all or we don’t.  If accepting gay folk can dilute the power of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, we need to seriously rethink the idea that God’s word “shall not return to Me empty.  Instead, it does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend” (Isaiah 55:11, CEB).  Do we believe that we carry the message that will transform the world or don’t we?  I get that that doesn’t answer the question of sin around sexuality, but that’s because it tosses it away.  God is an unstoppable force, and if we truly believe in the power of this good news that we are loved enough for the Creator of the universe to take on human form, eat with friends, heal the sick, speak to the outcast, be betrayed, die gruesomely, and defeat death through the resurrection triumphant, then nothing we do can derail that news.  God doesn’t need us for shit, which is one of the reasons that I love Christianity so much.  God doesn’t need us, but God wants us, God invites us, God calls every single one of us to this grand design even though every single one of us has sins for days.  If we’re going to bend ourselves around this one thing called sinful (through some weird, twisty readings of Scripture) in order to hold Islam at bay, we are both thinking that we are the guardians of God and we are not trusting that God is already upholding us through the other things we are doing that can be called sinful.

In moving forward, the UMC has lots of challenges.  There are ethics violations, constitutional questions, and hosts of problems with the legislation that was just rammed through the process.  We as a denomination need your prayer while we untangle this mess, especially since it’s entirely possible that none of what just happened will stick after all of the inquiries and lawsuits.  We of The United Methodist Church are not united but divided, and that sucks all around.  I do not like fighting with my family, even if a goodly portion of them seem to love fighting with me.  So please, pray for us as we discern how to proceed.  For my part, I will keep working within this denomination that I love, in this ministry to which I am called, for this God Who knows me inside and out and says a willing heart is what is needed.

 

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.”  (Job 42:2-3, NIV)

I Was Me but Now He’s Gone

These are lyrics from Metallica’s Fade to Black, a 1984 rock ballad about James Hetfield’s struggle with suicidal inclinations (Hetfield was the singer and lyric guitarist of the band).  I have these lyrics and I have a three-day late post because last week a friend of mine killed himself, and Reader, that really fucks up your schedule.

This is not my first loved one to die.  It isn’t even my first suicide.  But that doesn’t matter; if you’ve lost someone by any means, you know that this never gets easier.  Each new death is a suckerpunch, a chalk outline of that person in your life.  I have no real problem with death, but suicides are hard.  Suicides carry not only grief and sorrow but anger, doubt, guilt, frustration—that whole cocktail of “what did we miss” and “how dare he” and the sheer suddenness of it.  It’s a mess, a stupid, painful mess.

I suppose the one good thing about suicides is that no one tries to comfort you with the usual empty platitudes like “it was his time” or “God needed him” or whatnot.  Hint, from someone who has worked as a pastor and a hospital chaplain:  that sort of nonsense is unhelpful.  I get that we who are not part of the grieving circle want very much to help our grieving friends, and I get that grief makes everybody uncomfortable because we humans so desperately want to fix hurt even if that’s not really the best thing to do, but don’t do that.  God doesn’t yank folks out of the realm of the living because some hourglass ran out of sand or because He needed someone with the specific skill set to hang a new wall rug or something.  Even if either of these were true, they are awful to say to someone who is in grief because it downplays that grief, makes it seem selfish to feel that loss.  I mean, there’s a reason our English language calls it “loss”—it’s not because we’ve misplaced someone but because there is that hole in our lives that is no longer filled, that sense of missing a piece of ourselves.  I have lost my friend.

He lost himself.

And it’s funny, in a sad sort of way, that I’m at a divinity school and I reached out to several of my friends here and back home in the Land of Pilgrims, and it took about five conversations with people before anyone was willing to go theological with me about this.  Thankfully my friend Prudence gave me space to say hey, I’m absolutely on board with what The United Methodist Church says about how suicides aren’t automatically damned but my friend was of no faith before that, what does that look like?  How do I mourn someone who turned his back on not just the Church but the God Who started it?  How do I square the many, many conversations he and I had because my friend was tickled pink to have a religious leader like me around to ask questions of when he found the courage to do so?

Telling me that it isn’t my place to judge where people go after death and that God is much bigger than my imagination misses the point completely, so please don’t do that.  What Prudence understood was that I am an exclusivist in my theology, which means that I do believe in a Heaven and a Hell and I do believe that dying isn’t an automatic ticket to Heaven, although I also don’t believe in the laundry list that’s usually trotted out of reasons people go to Hell and I also don’t believe that Hell is a fiery mess of torture or that it’s even limited to the time after death.  I think we can create Hell just fine right here while we’re alive, and I think my friend may have been in it for suicide to seem like a good plan.  But I don’t know, and I never will, and that’s as much grief and pain in itself, and Prudence let me work through that without trying to answer it for me or let me get to a place where it felt answered.  That was good.

But my friend is still dead.

grief-straight-line-and-jumbled-circleAnd will remain dead, and in my estimation will die a hundred thousand more times over the coming years when I reach moments where we usually did something together and he isn’t there, or when I think to text him something funny and remember he won’t answer, or when I want to invite him to things and know he can’t come.  Mr. Honest suggested I think of moments like this as ways to say hello to the memory and the spirit of my friend, to invite him in.  Mr. Honest is far more compassionate and optimistic than I am.

Amidst this is the fact that I went to a birthday party this weekend, and a cookout for a friend who’s about to be married, and last week before this news I went to a wedding, and it is good to have a plethora of friends who are living to help me constructively grieve this one who is not.  Because the grief comes in waves, and is not a linear process that tapers at one end.  Now he’s gone.  I am a different me.

 

 

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones,
Not one of them is broken.  (Psalm 34:18-20, NASB)

Dress for the Job You Want

At least, that’s what folks tell you when they’re giving you job advice.  A variation given me by one of my div school profs was “dress for the game you’re playing.”  I get these, in the sense that you shouldn’t show up to a job interview in cut-off shorts and an old band shirt, but as a woman this becomes quite a tightrope of expectations—and all the more so as a woman pastor, because of course pastors have this whole other set of rules by which we need to live (please read the sarcasm there).

I’ve been thinking about this because Friday night I was invited to the birthday celebration of one of my parishioners.  It was at a rooftop bar in downtown Wicket Gate and the parishioner (who is really close to my age, which is to say a millennial) told me to “look spiffy” since it was, after all, a Friday night in the city.  In case you haven’t gathered, I’m not much of one for late nights on the town and I’m definitely more comfortable spending Friday night watching “Star Trek” episodes (“The Next Generation” forever, fight me on it) than bar-hopping with friends.  It’s just not my scene, so I don’t really have clothes for the occasion, but hey, I welcome the challenge.  I ended up wearing dark jeans, boots, and a shirt that has only one strap over the shoulder like a sari.  What this translates to is that I was basically in a tube top with my shoulder tattoo on display and my newly-buzz-cut hair making me fierce as all get-out.  I felt pretty awesome, I won’t lie—but I very nearly talked myself into changing about four different times because how dare I show so much skin.

womenpreach2That, Reader, is bullshit.  And I wanted to call myself on it, and my culture, and all of the expectations that go along with it.  I, as a female, can bare my shoulders and arms all I want, because if you can’t handle my collarbone being on display I am not the problem.  And I, as a pastor, should not have to worry about losing the respect of my parishioners for looking like a millennial out on the town on a Friday night because that’s what I am.  Hiding that does no one any favors, and in fact continues the weird mess the Church has gotten itself into of seeming to be this off-limits Sunday space where you put on skirts and haloes for an hour and then go live your actual life the other six days.  Over and over again I read articles about how we millennials want authenticity above all else, and I am so glad that I went to that party and drank drinks (which definitely surprised one other parishioner who was there, in a good way, because he didn’t think pastors can drink—and how, darlin’) and wore this shirt that proclaims I have skin, and a body, and a hand-sized tattoo, and I am not going to be ashamed of any of that.

I still think that you should dress for the job you want, but I don’t want a job where I have to wear a completely buttoned-up blouse all the time.  I don’t want a job where I have to hide that I have a female body, not to the extreme of wearing short shorts in the pulpit but to the extent of recognizing that when I’m not on the chancel I am more than the office.  And that seems to work well; I ended up spending most of the party talking with this couple who had never been able to find a church home in the five years they’ve been together because both of them have a lot of pain from being turned out of their previous churches for being gay.  They told me basically their life stories and one showed me pictures of his kids from a previous marriage and perhaps they’ll come to my church at some point, I don’t know.  What I do know is that I was absolutely acting as pastor for them that night, even and especially in a one-strap shirt with an amaretto sour in one hand.

I was dressed for the job I want.  And I got to do that job, because I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care about what I’m wearing.  After all, God is the One Who made me female.  God is the One Who called me to the pastorate.  I have the utmost respect for that office, but I refuse to stop being a person in my daily life because I could not be a good pastor if I did.  That parishioner didn’t invite A Religious Leader to his party.  He invited his pastor, his friend.

And told her to look spiffy.   Reader, she did.

 

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
(Psalm 139:13-14, ESV)

The Poor Will Always Be with You

There’s a guy who hangs out by the parking garage I pass on my way into school and the library where I work.  He used to hang out in the alley behind the restaurants and pass him on my shortcut through and he’d tell me the weather forecast for the day, sitting in a wheelchair and directing the traffic that was coming out of the coffee shops while the city rumbled into another day. I eventually learned his name, which I felt was only polite considering I saw him more often than some of my professors.

He’s not by the garage every day, but probably once a week or once every other week.  Every time he asks me if I can buy him a hot breakfast.  Lately he’s switched to asking for a gift card to the grocery store.  On Thursday he stopped me to say I had said “maybe next time” and it was next time and I had no card for him.

I tell you this, Reader, not to ask advice.  I don’t tell you this to complain about it, either.  I tell you this because I was struck when he asked me about the gift card by what an absurd request it really was.  I work a little over half time between my two jobs—anywhere between 20 and 30 hours a week—while being a full-time student.  And when I filed my taxes this year I was able to say that I had made $6,200 in 2017 in a city where rent below $700 is nigh impossible to find unless you have several roommates.

Now, I tell you this not to complain about my financial status but to give you context:  I am not that far ahead, socioeconomically speaking, of this guy who begs by the parking lot.  I am subsidized by the generosity of my home church so that I can live in this expensive city and finish this degree and even hope to pay off my student debt before I die (unlikely).  I can do this because I have that safety net, but I am poor.  And this week I was just so much more aware of it because my car was in the shop and any discretionary funding I had went to making sure it runs because I cannot be without a car and I certainly can’t afford another one.

Let me be clear, lest you worry:  I’m not in danger of losing my apartment or not being able to eat or anything.  But I am aware that I am one minor disaster away from being totally strapped, a fact I discovered the hard way last summer.  So I don’t know what to say to this man who is even poorer, who is homeless and hungry.  What I do is learn his name, say hello to him, chat with him about the weather, and say maybe next time I can get you a card, maybe one day I will be able to afford it, maybe.

I don’t feel guilty about that maybe not coming yet, but I am highly aware of this exchange and the ways it curls around my understanding of faith.  In the Gospel of Matthew, a woman pours expensive perfume on Jesus while He’s staying at Simon’s house and the disciples freak out about it.  What a waste of money!  She should have given the money to the poor!

mary-anoints-jesus-300x222“You always have the poor with you,” Jesus replies to their thoughts that were no doubt churning across their faces, “but you won’t always have Me.”

Considering the very next story after this in Matthew 26 is that of Judas’ betrayal and the Last Supper, such a statement is a sucker punch.  Because it’s true; the poor are still here.  That man is still here.  Hell, I am still here.  But Jesus—at least, in His human form—is not.  Granted, we who are in the season of Easter can be aware that Jesus’ whereabouts are pretty incredible; Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed!  But the disciples only knew cost at that point, only knew that the money for the perfume could have been spent on the poor—or the car, the plumbing repair, the unexpected doctor’s visit, the license fee, the whatever.

So, for us who don’t have Jesus in the same way but still have the poor, what do we do?  We aren’t going to buy any perfume any time soon, I don’t think; the Spirit isn’t much into being anointed.  How do we think about having Jesus?  How do we understand the fact that we still have the poor?  Can this story and especially this verse still speak to us at all or is it something truly applicable only to those disciples who had Jesus with them for a short time?

It’s important to consider the woman and why she who had such money in the first place chose to spend it that way.  It’s important to understand discretionary spending at that time and not to minimize spending on things that matter to you now.  But I’m still feeling this pull of what we are doing with money and how we two poor people can have a conversation about what to do with the little money I have.

Just pondering.  I don’t have any answers.  Nor do I have any grocery gift cards.  For now, I have only that guy’s name and the ability to say good morning, it is indeed supposed to rain later.

 

When Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease,  a woman came to him with a vase made of alabaster containing very expensive perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ head while he was sitting at dinner.  Now when the disciples saw it they were angry and said, “Why this waste?  This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”  (Matthew 26:6-9, CEB)

In Hope for 2018

My Advent, Reader, was not much for waiting.  It was, in its own way, much closer the story than the sanitized ecclesiastical season we’ve since created (about which Interpreter had a marvelous sermon on Christmas Eve)—I did not cheerfully put up decorations and hold still, breathing in the presence of the Spirit.  I finished a semester, learned new ways to be frustrated with church, drove some 1,200 miles or so in a week and a half, and gathered the people who know my name to remind me who I’m supposed to be.

I’ve forgotten, you see.

Seminary—no, I can’t blame this entirely on seminary.  Well, divinity school; they are different, actually, though the difference is often more in pride than practice.  There are politics here, as everywhere else.  But here in divinity school I find that my soul is closed.  There are many reasons for this, some of which I’ve related to you and many I have not.  You may have noticed, Reader, in my erratic posting and my rather bleak entries that I’m not quite having the spiritual awakening I was perhaps hoping for.  And that’s the crux of it.  No matter whose or what’s fault it is, I was hoping for seminary—divinity school—to tell me how to live out this call, to teach me what it means for me to be a minister in God’s world.  It has not.

This breaks my heart, to be honest.  I am disappointed, which is a terrible thing to be.  But in being disappointed I’ve allowed myself to also become disillusioned and distant.  I will not survive the next year and a half as these.  I will not survive the next week as these, really, and so in this space where I didn’t finish my Advent series and I didn’t properly wish you a merry Christmas and I’ve not kept to the schedule I promised, I make my new year’s resolution:  to stop waiting for someone else to teach me my call.

I hoped for so much in seminary and here’s the thing:  hope is a stupid, idealistic concept.  Hopes can be broken, shattered, and lost.  Hope is an intangible idiocy that looks at what is and asks but what if; hope is something so often placed in other things and so rarely placed in oneself.  I hoped—but now I find myself having a dance party to The Greatest Showman soundtrack (go ahead, listen to it; I don’t care if you think it’s trite, it’s stirring and inspiring and outrageously full of the best kind of foolish hope) while I pack up my apartment to move yet again, the third time in a year and a half.  This doesn’t count the times I’ve moved for the summer, for Christmas, for whatever where I was just living in someone else’s space; this doesn’t count the fact that 3/4 of my things are tucked away in boxes back in the Land of Pilgrims, waiting for me to return and be a proper adult that doesn’t move so much.  I hoped for so much, and it hasn’t come true, so now I need to sit down with God and figure out where my hopes should go.

advent-wreathAs I pack I’m finally cleaning the books and cards and pencil cases I’ve not touched from this summer’s violation, finding the pack of Newport cigarettes hidden behind the Toni Morrison books and the used Band-Aids stuck to the Garfield cartoon collections.  I’m reading all of these titles I haven’t even really been able to look at as they silently showcased yet more dashed hopes, and I’m realizing that I had so much to work with way before I ever entered divinity school.  God did not call me to school; God called me to ministry.  Don’t get me wrong, Reader, I don’t advocate for anyone who feels God’s tugging to set up shop and be a preacher on the spot.  I understand and support the levels of training and accountability that ordination tracks require.  I will finish this degree, and I will jump through the hoops, and I will learn from people and places that I never would have encountered otherwise.  But I don’t need divinity school to tell me that God is calling me by name, that God is reminding me who and Whose I am, that the wonder I had before I started this at the incredible majesty and absurdity of faith is still there, under the ash that is currently my hopes.

So I’m going to go drag out that wonder and do this for me.  I’m going to hope in great music and small victories and the people across the world who know my name and remind me who I am when I forget.  I’m going to hope in this new apartment even though I am so scared that my hopes for it will be struck down, too.  I’m going to stop waiting for divinity school to teach me anything and start learning it on my own, remembering the part of me that loves to discover and ponder and puzzle.  I’m going to spend time in places that are life-giving and not in places that aren’t, which means I’m going to be pretty scarce at school and pretty constantly at church.  I’m going to admit that I’m afraid of everything I just said I will do, and then do it anyway.

What that means for us, Reader, is that I’m going to take leave of you for a while as I go look for how to do all this.  I know that this sounds like a bad break-up letter and I’m sorry about that.  I’m not leaving this space forever, but I’m taking from now until Easter to look at what my life is and what both God and I hope it should be and measure how far apart those are.  And then, dear Reader, I’ll come back and tell you what might bring them closer.

Christ is born, Reader, and that is amazing.  But on this fourth day of Christmas that just means that we who knelt in that stable must now get up and walk to the empty tomb that changed everything all over again.  Have a phenomenal 2018; fill it with hope, dangerous and outrageous and wild, and let no one stop you from acting in that hope.  I’ll see you in Eastertide.

 

 

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

The Church with the Boarded-Up Doors

I feel like I apologize to you every time I post now, Reader, for my erratic schedule and the lull between postings; I can tell you that I’ll post this and then be back for my usual Advent Christmas carols shtick.  This semester is taking the mickey out of me in ways I really did not see coming at all; I will be so very glad when it’s over.  To be honest, I’ll be very glad when this degree is over, which is super unfortunate.  But the upshot of being here in the Wicket Gate is that I work at a pretty amazing church.

It’s an old church, as in over a century old (which is old for Americans; I know that’s laughable for Europeans, but cut us some slack, we’re young).  Being old means that there’s a lot of repair that has to happen.  Right now our main front doors are gone because water had warped the bottoms of these thick wooden masterpieces, so there’s a beautiful Good Shepherd stained glass window hanging out over a bunch of plywood.  It looks pretty awful, and it confuses the crickets out of visitors, but I was thinking the other day about what it must look like from the street.

boarded-up-entrance-to-church-after-removal-of-doors-767x600Oh, what a shame, some driver may be thinking, another beautiful old church closed down and falling apart.  Because those boarded-up doors make it seem like we’ve thrown in the towel, for sure.  The thing of it is that they are the exact opposite—those plywood planks are the showcase of our growth, our fiscal health, our connectivity (paid for by a grant from our denomination), our stewardship of the building, our desire to make sure we are able to welcome people to this house of God.  Our boarded-up doors are symbols of our being alive, not dead, and I wonder what that looks like when speaking of the larger Church.

I have very little patience left for folks who bemoan the death of the Christian Church and even less for the people (like a classmate of mine, recently) who say that the Church should die because it’s outdated.  Nope.  The Church is not dying, not by a long shot.  Christianity is a truly global religion represented on every continent, with over two billion believers.  It is the largest organized religion on the planet.

Now I know, Christianity doesn’t necessarily equal the Church.  But the Church is its most cohesive vehicle.  The Christian Church is the community that goes out and fights for justice, that works for peace, that stands with people suffering from natural and human disasters.  The Church is the community that gathers to stay strong in faith, to challenge ourselves to live godly lives, to reach deeper into the mind-bending compassion of God to be able to see each other—and ourselves—in love.

It is also the community that is wrapped up in colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, a million different kinds of discrimination, power grabs, ageism, judgment, and oppression.  We, the Church, do not have clean hands.  But that does not mean God is done with us.  My church, my century+ church, definitely has things it needs to deal with about how we interact with each other and our community, and I pray mightily that we acknowledge those things and open ourselves to God’s ability to change us and speak through us to the hurt and the aching need for hope here in the Wicket Gate.  Yet I also pray mightily that we may continue the growth that we are doing, both the quantifiable and the completely unquantifiable.  We are a constant work in progress, thank God, as is the larger Church.

Certain parts of it must change.  That is undeniable, and unsurprising, because no living thing is ever permanently stagnant.  It would die.  So when folks talk about how the Church is dying because it’s changing, I wonder at their definition of death.  Do we have fewer people in American pews than there used to be?  Sure.  But Christians are gathering in Africa, in southeast Asia, in South America, and they can’t keep up with the amount of churches needed to house the communities.  A shift is not a death.  Do we have a different cultural relationship with Christianity than we used to in the West?  Sure.  But Christianity is becoming something that is owned with purpose and determination rather than to impress your boss or make sure the neighbors don’t think you’re a terrible person.  A shift is not a death.  Do the new generations have a wariness about Christianity that often manifests in us leaving the faith?  Sure.  But many are hungering after authentic grace and we millennials, for one, are becoming some of the strongest change agents in the Church.  A shift is not a death.

So look deeper when you see a church with plywood where the doors ought to be.  It may well be that that church has closed—but perhaps that’s to form a co-op with another church down the street, or to move into the city to be closer to the people who need this news of unconditional love, or to switch to a more accessible and less leaky building to keep on worshipping.  Or maybe it completely folded, and that’s okay too because the face of Christianity is changing and that church may have lived its purpose in that spot.  Or maybe it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t done yet, and that boarded-up church represents a workplace where God is calling someone to bring the message of hope back into that neighborhood.  Is it you?

Or, maybe, it’s just getting its doors replaced so it can come out looking beautiful once more, ready to fling those doors open come Easter and let the hymns roll out over the stone steps into the neighborhood proclaiming that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.  Keep looking.  There is life here, and life abundant.

 

We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him.  He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life.  In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:9-10, CEB)