Saturday, July 30, 2005

Existential Crisis

Dear Friends

This is my first post to your venerable blog. It comes at a crazy time in my life. Marriage two weeks away, move to Chicago two days away, school starting soon and all that jazz. This post is the result of ruminations that have been going on in my mind for quite some time but have finally come to a head in the last few weeks.

Part One: "The Church"

Allow me to introduce myself and my topic all at the same time. I am a friend of Jake's (and now Paco, and Johnny, and Dusty too!) from seminary up at Garrett-Evan. I am not a Methodist but a part of the Nazarene church. I am on my way to being a pastor in the Nazarene church (like I could start anytime, preferrably after graduation). I also enjoy the academic side and so I have aspirations to write and possibly teach down the road. So in seminary I am in the "academic" program. But whenever anyone asks me specifically about it I tell them that I want my work (this includes paper I write for academic conferences and such) whatever it is to be for "the church."

I know from reading this site that there have been multiple conversations about the failure of "the church" and as Jake has begun to win victory in moving me away from the Catholic Church I am beginning to wonder if we can even use that term. Is "the church" to broad. What am I actually saying when I say I want my academic work to be for "the church?" Do I mean the church that I attend in the Ravenswood neigborhood of Chicago (more on that later), do I mean the church that got G.W. Bush elected again, do I have some ephemeral, mystical, global (imaginary?) body in mind? What do I mean? Those questions have been plaguing me of late. And I have to say "the church" as it stands now, the one with a history of violence, greed, hypocrisy and self-centeredness is not what I have in mind (I think). In other words, the church has screwed things up royally. Especially the church in America--the utter disregard for care of the earth, the gluttony for wealth and comfort (and we are mostly all in this boat), the propensity for rabid nationalism (on both sides of the political spectrum) and violence. On top of all this, the general body of the church of the Nazarene just elected two new leaders ( a group of old white men), and one was a woman but the other was a staunchly conservative, middle aged, rich, blonde, white man. What it comes down to is that I don't *want* to identify myself with this body. For me the body of Christ cannot (I hope) be this...but maybe it is. So for me, I realized that I cannot employ the use of "the church". It is just too unreal and doesn't for me re-present the body of Christ.

Part Two: "A Church"

A couple of weeks ago while conversing with a friend I said that I didn't think I could talk about "the church" anymore. In light of the newly elected General Superintendent of the Nazarene church, I no longer even wanted to use "the church" about the Nazarene church. I felt like it was a hopeless case (I know there are some problems with this but bear with me). I told my friend that I thought I could and should start talking about "a church" instead. Focusing on the local body of which I was a part. Doing my work for the life and work of the people and body that I see at least weekly and striving academically for the benefit of those people and their work in the community in Chicago. And I had no problem with this. There was a well structured outreach program run by the associate pastor that would teach kids and develop their skills in art, music, sports and technology. Giving these urban middleschoolers real options in the city, listening to them and becoming friends with them. When I could I went down and helped with the kids after school.

But now "a church", this church has closed its doors to these kids. Unsatisfied by the lack of apparent "results" with these kids (evidently going to Sunday School and showing up for Sunday morning church) and using the argument of "we pay missionaries to go minister to people 'out there', we need to start focusing on our own" the church has chosen to essentially force this associate to resign and end the outreach program within the next year. These actions to me again do not seem to identify with the actions of Christ. So I feel at a loss, not even now being able to speak of "a church."

Jake will want me to become Anabaptist, I have a propensity toward the episcopals, I don't want to leave my church (that is both "a church" and "the church [of the Nazarene]" but it is seeming like a lot of doors are closing on them right now. I think maybe starting a house church could be a way to go. This post is way too long, but I wonder if this raises any questions about the way we even talk about church. I won't spell them out, but this has been a depressing last few weeks...I will keep you updated. I think (maybe) that God still cares about church, but I also think we piss God off quite a bit.


At 7/31/2005 7:28 AM, Blogger Dusty said...

Amen, and Amen...I appreciate the frustration. I wish I had some answers. All I know is that I have not found the place yet where I fit with either a local church (now that I am not in Nappanee anymore, even though I lacked good community because of the distance), but especially with the "Catholic" church...I think Jake is right on this issue, but it still is difficult to practice.

I guess the folly is the thinking that we somehow can avoid the same pitfalls that are happening in our new churches or house churches. I am hoping to get involved in a local church for the sake of challenging and engaging people in thought and relationship that will be mutually rewarding, encouraging, and challenging. How do you maintain grace and criticism? That is the balance I think I struggle with the most. I feel the need to err towards grace, but want to err towards critique in hopes of increasing grace...Sounds like Bush's justification for war...

Ryan, great first post, and hope to see more of your thoughts on here. Blessings on your marriage, scrabble champ...


At 8/02/2005 2:13 PM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

Perhaps we should all be re-reading the thoughts of Paco frequently enough, wherein we are reminded of the fact that the failures of the church, a church, and all churches are splended, frustrating, and seemingly unfortunate reminders of God's grace. Surely Dusty is right that if we all started a house church we would eventually botch it all up too. Surely God still cares about this church, the church, every church because God has, for whatever reason, chosen to use this church as the sacrament of Christ with the world. Ryan, you are so right when you are frustrated when this, and every other church, willfully closes its doors on anyone, failing to fulfill the call of the community. I have no answers. I am more intoxicated with the "it's got to be better elsewhere" ideas as I always have been. A few things are clear enough, though. You should not retreat into the academy (at the expense of a church) and you should not resort to individual christianity because that is the American way and we all know how disasterious that is.

At 8/02/2005 11:44 PM, Anonymous Ryan L. said...

First of all, by Catholic, do you mean universal, or the specific denomination of Christianity? I tried to figure it out from context and I'm guessing it's the latter, but the former makes sense. Personally I have learned from both.

I have also been thinking about church lately. I'm glad there are other buddies in my boat. My own struggle has been with the purpose of Church. This is sad, but only recently have I become convinced that the church is for people outside of it, not inside. I always thought that church was to benefit Christians so they can learn and worship God. Obviously these are good things, but it seems like our focus should be out, not in. Many of you have probably come to this long ago. I don't know why I'm tardy, but I lament the cutting of your outreach program.

By the way Ryan, I'm Ryan. I'm HC buddies with Jake and go to Seminary in Denver now, but I'm not going to be a pastor because lots of people would hate me.

At 8/04/2005 9:50 AM, Blogger adam said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/04/2005 9:55 AM, Blogger adam said...

In regards to Ryan L's (the latter) comments. I think it is great that you are thinking about the purpose of the church, and that the spirit is moving your thoughts in new directions. However, I think it is dangerous for us as christians to pose the edification of the body, and evangelization of the local community in 'either/or' terms. I think in this case God wants us to have our cake and eat it too, and that when congregations focus too much on one or the other we get problems. Logistically and practically it's a lot more difficult to do both, but I think that's what is needed.

At 8/04/2005 1:08 PM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

Ditto to Adam in response to Ryan L's post. I got in a lot of trouble at my seminary in our evangelism class by claiming that these are the same thing, in many ways, as edification of the body and evangelism are simultaneousish activities, with the practices that fit traditionally in each category actually being just as important to the other. So, Eucharist, often seen as edification of the body, really is an act of evangelism as the table spreads to the hungry in the world. Apologetics, seen as an evangelistic tool (although a dirty word to most of us today), is a practice of articulating the convictions of the church, thus edifying to the body. These are the same. But, at the same time, we often need a corrective, so, if Ryan L feels as though his theology has not necessarily considered the outsider in his ecclessiology, often the corrective is in the other end before true balance is found. I'd say I'm experiencing a re-corrective right now, where I am attempting to re-claim the need and purpose of edification of the local body.


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