Sometimes, groups within the Church (whether the larger Church universal or this Church, as in the Episcopal/Anglican Church), come to feel as if they are sitting by themselves in the midst of a wilderness. Sometimes, the reasons for such feelings (or realities) are do to geography and location, sometimes are because of sociopolitical or theological issues of disagreement, sometimes they are because the greater organization just doesn’t get what the groups are doing and to one degree or another ostracizes the various groups.
What can be done? There are a lot of things that can be done, but one of the “solutions” that is almost always and only destructive is separation. When a Church or parish or family or even friends separate, failure has already occurred. We can attempt to clean up the mess by giving all kinds of justifications for why the separation, the split, is good or profitable or better than the alternative. Well, we can try to spin the separation all we want, but we have already failed.
Within this new kind of ministry, the Imago Dei Initiative, outside the walls of current experiences of “church,” it is too easy for people to attempt to force us into already established modes of operation and definition that are no longer working very well. These modes of operation and definition are tending to fail in these days because the center of gravity – the very purpose for the existence of Church – has been overwhelmed if not usurped by the prevailing culture. As the whelming continues and as we continue to lose members and lose the interest of growing percentages of the population as a result, we like to lob bombs of accusation against those “godless liberals” or those “fundamentalist conservatives” and spin, spin, spin how it is all those other peoples’ fault. But, the very act of conceiving of and wanting to throw bombs is, again, already a sign of failure.
Is it true – I mean truly true – that new wine cannot be poured into old wine skins? I want to think (believe) that there is a way, with God’s help. I wonder – more than wonder at this point and suspect not. Not much of what I witness and experience leads me to believe that it is possible. Where, then, does that leave “new wine” kind of Christian communities and ministries within the greater structures of the Church (and I’m specifically thinking about Episcopal/Anglican Churches)?
All I can say at this point is that we are called to be faithful. I content that that to which we are to be faithful firstly is God and the restorative, reconciling relationship made possible again through Jesus the Christ. We are able to do this by the enabling of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. I find it quite true that we can take confidence in the “enduring Christian Tradition,” and for us that enduring Tradition is in the Anglican form.
I say “enduring” because it helps us jump out of the never-ending, swirling, swirling eddy of chaos that we find ourselves as we continually lob bombs and accusations about theology and politics and piety and all the rest. That which is “enduring” is not bound by ideas that call themselves conservative or liberal. It is apolitical, or should be. For me, and for what I envision for the Imago Dei Initiative, “enduring” is that which has survived through 2,000 years of persecution, trial and tribulation, through countless cultures and languages. That which has survived and continues to thrive is “enduring Christianity.”
Our call to ourselves and to others is to begin to experience anew the Tradition – those aspects of the Faith that have gravity and traction in the tactile world which help people to experience their Christian faith as consequential. We call people with intention and persistence to give themselves to the practice of the enduring Christian Spiritual Disciplines. These habits are simple and straightforward – the study of Scripture, the practice of prayer, the fellowship of believers, the worship of Almighty God transcendent and eminent, and the giving of ourselves for good works.
A problem we often run into is that we take up perhaps one or two of these and end up – even with only two – practicing them halfheartedly. Our busy world works against such discipline. When we do this, we end up experiencing a profoundly diminished form of the Christian faith. This is where much of American Christianity finds itself. All aspects of the Disciplines are important equally and need to be held in right balance, which means that as Christians our lives will by necessity look quite different from most other peoples’ lives.
How do we avoid throwing bombs, becoming disillusioned, ending up angry, being ostracized? How do we avoid separation and splitting up? Commit to the development of the Disciplines. Love God with our entire being. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Profoundly difficult stuff to do, but with God’s help we are able. Find like-mined people for support, encouragement, and accountability.
We want to find and bring together these kinds of people – these like-minded people who desire to be the imago Dei, the imago of God, where we work, play, study, help others, and have fun. The fields are ripe for harvest. People everywhere are seeking God and the significance found in a restorative relationship with God. In the emerging culture, it will be this kind of witness by consequential Christians that will make a difference.
This is how and what we want to be. God help us.
(Photo: The Coptic Christian chapel at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. @Copyrite 2011 by Bob Griffith, all rights reserved)