So rather than comment-bomb Don’s wondrous post – here is what would have outflowed (it is quite an outflow!) … thank you Don!
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I remember finding church. Although, in truth, God had some fun in placing me in a church I thought was another. Always fun with our dear Father!
I remember thinking I would immerse myself in church. Well, God has a sense of humour in that direction as well. There was plenty of immersing: meetings, courses, services, cups of tea, smilings, chit-chatting, bemoanings of how shallow the spiritual immersing is. Yes dear Father, I enjoyed diving in and finding it was the (very) shallow end!
I remember thinking what was the point? If the point of church is God, then why is so much time spent doing anything but God (in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost – obviously). Yet there are good people who have been attending, immersing, contributing, giving, serving, living church. Who am I to tell them they are splashing in the sink – not swimming in the deep?
I remember God clearly letting me know that I was to stick with it. And I have tried and tried. But I grew weary. The Sunday hour is more and more like kindergarden. A smiling and friendly kindergarden of people slowly falling ill with old age and then dying and being remembered with fondness and love. Who am I to rock the pews with my own version of God? A God of power, a God who demands nothing but requires everything. A love so great that to hold back anything is painful, cheating, false, a cheapening of what He is.
But people are fickle.
We all are plugged in to God. Our direct line. Our personal channel. We have each lived that direct contact. Who am I to say yours is better or worse than mine? So any initiatives have to appeal to the “all”. Every decision has to be a compromise of unity. And all the while the faithful givers are counted. Every Sunday the collection is banked. Each month the bills and the expenses are weighed. So every decision has an eye on the financials as well as the spirituals. It means “growth” is also measured on both those factors. They are not incompatible. They can be bedfellows. It’s just that my experience says they are too often unequal. The “keeping things going” trumps the “let’s get growing”.
So why has my faith not withered? Why has my trust in my Lord grown? Why has the time I spend in fellowship multiplied twenty-fold? How has my becoming a real disciple happened?
Church is how. Community is how.
A church across borders, across denominations, across creeds, and across time-zones. It is a church without bricks but plenty of computer chips. It is a church without finances but incremental growth. It is a church where all are welcome. In this church people talk about suicide and how losing loved ones has changed them. People talk about mental illness and how it undermines them. People share doubts about God, church, faith, the bible, and of each other. There is community of trust with Love at its centre. Some call that god, others Allah, others Nature – names too many to list here.
In this church are experts not found in my church. Bible experts. Who take my hand and let me wander lovingly through a book, a chapter, a verse or two. Picture experts. Who see love in the usual and unusual and bring their worship through a camera or a brush. Music experts. Who share the notes and lyrics in music for all tastes as they bring their God to life in sounds. Life experts. Law experts. Brain experts. Self-harm experts. Dying (living) with dignity experts. Heart experts. Every expert and more I never even knew existed.
We call it community.
I call it life changing. In my life I now have a spiritual director. A human being, flesh and blood. We skype. We talk. We laugh. We share. We learn. I have changed and they have changed. We have changed each other. Not by design. But by the love of God – through the love of God. In my life I have people I would cross an ocean to see. Simply for a few hours over a dining table with a cup of tea or coffee and maybe a cake. People who are that important in my life. In my life I have so many connections with so many people. So what do they look like – these “virtual friends”?
Oddly each and everyone is more beautiful than is really fair in one person’s lifetime.
I don’t get to see them going about their normal daily routines. I only get to see the light of love shining through their hearts. I don’t get bogged down in mealtimes, work times, leisure times, diary conflicts, double booked appointments. I only hear their words of wonder, of awe, of doubt, of an extraordinary ordinary love. I get to laugh and to cry. I share their losses and their successes. We share the essence of who we are – the essence of who we were created to be.
Loved Loving Lovers.
Some “work” for God. Some make it really hard work for God. Some delight in God. Some disagree with God. Others fight for God. Others love a different God. Others are bleeding. Some are dying. Some are robbed of all the bodily functions we never see in “church”. Some wish to die. Some wish to live. All have a story. All have a heart. All have love.
I have grown in this community for two years. Jesus walked, talked, preached and healed for three.
So I now look back at “church” …
How could it offer such a wealth of diversity, a treasure chest of difference, a reality check of living, a never-ending stroll through loving? How?
How can a “church” of 50-100 people with busy lives “live together” in harmony? There are the finances to think about, the coffee mornings to rota, the flower arranging to consider, the million and one things that “church” tends to do because it is expected. Because it always has. Because it knows no better. The minister has two-three churches to “keep going”. Falling attendances mean falling finances, and falling finances mean spreading ever more thinly the “professional help”. And an aging population means an ever less energetic and physically able pool of human beings. Fact.
The generation gap applies everywhere. Life, society and “church” – the gap is real. So do we leave one group behind and create another? A jazzier more modern “church” – or do we allow the oldies to have their more traditional “church” – and lose the youngies?
Do we find a church across borders, across denominations, across creeds, and across time-zones. A church without bricks but plenty of computer chips. A church without finances but incremental growth. A church where all are welcome – where all ARE welcome.
No dress codes, no tithing, no required attendance, no fitting in an hour to a family weekend, no small select group that does or does not appeal. Instead a pool of love. A pool in which to swim, to sit beside, to splash around in, to wallow in, to soak in, to dwell in. A pool big enough for each. A pool as deep or shallow as is right for you right then.
A place where growth happens. Comfort zones are safely flexed and tested. A place where love is the only common thing we all bring and share.
Do you know how hard it is to disagree about unconditional love? Have you ever tried to convince someone that their unconditional love is less loving than your unconditional love? It is bloody difficult! It is also pointless. And it is not unconditional. Which means it is not love.
A church of computer chips. Where it is safe to be “me” and safe to become the “me” I never knew I could be. I looked so hard, I worked so hard, I tried so hard. He has a sense of humour.
I looked in the bricks and mortar of tradition. He guided me beyond to where He is: no borders, no denominations, no creeds, no time-zones. A church where all are welcome.
And now when I look in this church of bricks?
I see the same love.
It’s just that I don’t have to feed there – I don’t need there – I can and do feed there, I give there, I find comfort there – I just don’t “need” there. I now find God in the bricks, in the computer keyboard, in the verses of each daily fellowship. I now find that God was always there. He waited until I found my way of allowing Him His voice. He always does.
Just why do we insist that “church” answers our every need?
We are each unique. “Church” cannot answer every distinct difference and preference. This blogging community, no borders, no denominations … it is a community of thousands. It is bigger than any super-mega-dooper church. It is too big for a celeb minister. It is too un-needy for a celeb worship team. It is too un-needy of everything we need from our local “church”.
So if we “the people” truly are “church” – why do we keep looking in bricks and mortar? Because this blogging church of computer chips is “people” –
And a whole lot of Love. So much Love.
I think it is truly where God lives.
In each of us.