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Monthly Archives: April 2010

I started reading Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology this week.  I’ve only read through the first chapter and my head is already spinning with questions.  Like this one: Is the Church a means or an end? 

I’ve written about this before here, but for most of my life I’ve viewed the Church as an instrument to accomplishing God’s purposes in the world.  The Church serves God’s mission and is thus provisional, existing for the sake of witness, evangelism, and the establishment of justice and peace in the world.  (Presbyterians should find this language familiar from the PC(USA) Book of Order: see G-3.0200 through G-3.0401).  The Church in this view is a means to an end.  This is generally the view taken in most “missional church” literature: the important thing is God’s mission of restoring the world, therefore the shape of the church is determined by the needs of mission.

But Chan challenges this.  Making his argument on the basis of the Church’s relationship to creation, Chan suggests that the Church is the end or goal of creation.  “The church precedes creation in what it is what God has in view from all eternity and creation is the means by which God fulfills his eternal purpose in time.  The church does not exist in order to fix a broken creation; rather, creation exists to realize the church. . . . God made the world in order to make the church, not vice versa” (p. 23).  If this is the case, then the practical implications (which Chan sketches out in the rest of the book) are enormous.  Mission moves from restoration of a broken creation to calling creation into the Church.  Worship would be less of a human construct designed to serve mission and more of an end in itself as well.  And, if the Church is God’s goal for creation, then ecclesiology would require more a theological backbone than the pragmatic concerns which shape Protestant ecclesiology today. 

In talking about this with Eileen last night, she had one of the blessed insights that spouses often have: “Why can’t it be both?  In other words, why does the Church have to serve mission OR mission serve the Church?  Why can’t the Church be both a means and an end?  In theory, I like that solution: The Church is God’s covenant people, called from eternity into relationship with God, and through its relationship with God the Church participates in God’s work of saving and restoring the world by drawing the rest of creation into relationship with God.  But on a practical level such a balance seems hard to find.  What would our worship services look like if that’s the case? What would mission look like?  What about institutional structures of the church?  I’ve never read a book that articulated such a balanced ecclesiology.  Missional ecclesiologies that I’ve read tend to be dictated by pragmatic concerns and light on genuine theology of the Church (i.e., Frost and Hirsh).  On the other hand ecclesiologies that have a much higher view of the Church (sometimes admittedly) tend to neglect mission (i.e. Zizioulas).  Will Chan turn out to be the latter, or strike a better balance?

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Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. . . . We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and listen to him. – Henri Nouwen –

Of the various spiritual disciplines I’ve attempted to practice, I’ve found that solitude is what most nourishes my soul.  As an introvert in ministry, the time I spend alone is absolutely necessary for me to reflect and recharge.  This is probably why God led my friend BJ to focus on the discipline of solitude when he preached the charge at my ordination service a year and a half ago.  So for a year and a half, I’ve made an effort to spend time in solitude.  Sometimes it’s taken the form of special retreats.  Most weeks I’m able to take a sabbath and spend most of one day in solitude.   

There’s a problem though: it’s easy to squander solitude.  Solitude is not just being alone.  In fact it’s not being alone at all.  It’s being with God.  But more importantly, it’s being alone with God and being attentive to God’s presence in that time.  Occasions when I really experience solitude by that definition are rare.  One reason why is that it’s too easy to let the little distractions of the day invade opportunities for time with God: How often do I spend the first forty-five minutes of my day with the newspaper and then move toward spending time with God?  A deeper reason is that I often come into the solitude experience with my own agenda.  I plan in detail what I wanted to read, think, and pray about in solitude and as a result I closed the door to actually being present with God.  I seek to control the experience rather than to meet God within that time.  But why?

Ruth Haley Barton, in whose book Invitation to Solitude and Silence I came across the Nouwen quote above, notes that fear is one thing that keeps us from deeply entering into the solitude experience.  She writes, “Perhaps the deepest and hardest to articulate fear is the fear that this God whom we cannot control will not meet us in the way we want to be met” (p. 49).  This fear is the fear of relationship.  It’s the fear of knowing and truly being known because the Other is beyond control.  For an introvert like me it’s also the feeling of being so tired of relational engagement that one more conversation, even with God, will set one over the edge.   

For me personally, the weeks leading up to Holy Week this year were anything but spiritually nourishing.  The stress of church, cafe, and buying a house overwhelmed me.  And predictably, on Good Friday I crashed. Last week I recovered, but then my normal day of solitude this Monday was replaced by a very-extroverted conference.  It was a very good conference in its own way (more on that in another post), but by last night, I knew I had spent two straight days talking about what God was doing in the world and next to no time listening to God. 

This is why spiritual disciplines are called disciplines.  They take effort.  To some extent, they take the courage to accept responsibility, step into deeper communion with God, and detach from the demands of other people.  Spiritual disciplines are not easy, but they’re necessary.  So, I’m making a committment to look closely at my life and think about how I squander opportunities to be attentive to God’s presence.  And to pose a few questions to all those reading this:  What are the other ways in which we squander opportunities to be alone with God?  What other distractions and noises of daily life disrupt our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit?  What does a truly disciplined life look like?  What deeper things keep us from stepping into God’s presence?

In the season of celebrating resurrection, what could be more appropriate than joining in God’s work of bringing new life to creation?  And where better to start than at home?  Eileen and I have entered into the long but exciting process of buying a house.  The closing’s set for the end of May, so we won’t be moving for a while, but we’re already thinking about all the things we could do with it. Like caring for the house in an environmentally responsible way. So we’ve been eagerly following our friend John’s blog:

John Creasy is blogging a series on Urban Homesteading.  So far it’s included discussions of passive solar heating (one reason why I’m glad our new house faces south), chicken tractors (the most productive lawn-mowing system I can imagine), and cold-frames (passive-solar heated mini-greenhouses). John’s remarkably knowledgable about these things – he’s a founder of Garfield Community Farm – so there’s much to learn in the series.  You can follow it at johncreasy.blogspot.com.

Along the same lines, a book which Eileen and I have been educated and amused by is The Urban Homestead.  We won’t put all of these ideas into practice – chickens are a long way off for amateurs like us –  but we’re dreaming.  But a rain barrel and a compost bin are likely candidates for early home-improvement projects.  And Eileen couldn’t put down a book on organic gardening she picked up the other night.