Existential CrisisDear 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.