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Going to church differently

April 4, 2020

1 CorWhen, or if, we open the writings of the New Testament, and we step inside the door and sit on the floor with the ancient brothers and sisters, we can find ourselves going to church in a very different way.

Different to pulling into the carpark, taking a notice sheet and sitting on a pew.

Different to  pouring a coffee, clicking on the zoom link and adjusting the camera view.

We can go to church through humble imagination. It just takes a little work and adventure.

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As we read (preferably out loud and slowly) the writings of the New Testament we hear people in community accosted by wonder and confronting transformation, gripping stories, soaking in a society of desperate injustice.

We hear the grunts of older men – the gurgles of babies – the direct speech of children – the eye-rolling sighs of women – the accents of urban and rural and enslaved and captured and imported tongues.

We see the gesticulating jazz hands of the flamboyant traveller – the stiffness of the over-beaten slave – the tears of the grieving mother, not yet reached her sixteenth birthday – the quiet tiredness of some – restless pacing of others – and  welts and pus and infection and scars and growths and callouses and deformities and pocks and shakes and limps and twitches and coughs and retches.

There they are, in life together and pull together the many threads of meaning that lead to this one idea – being in Christ.

There is a lot of spitballing in these texts. Listening carefully you can hear voices reaching for ways to speak of things their deep spirits know but which words sometimes fail. They move from image to image, metaphor to metaphor, cliche to cliche, quote to quote trying to say the things.

It can sound like an argument, it can sound like an epic adventure, it can sound like a meditation, it can sound like a prayer, a lament, a political rant.

All of this, and I’m still sitting in a dusty corner on the floor in chapter 1 of First Corinthians.

This bunch knows no denominational assembly or diocese;  there are no non-ordained christians.

All the children are called saints. All the saints are called children.

Orthodoxy is blowing in the wind, yet to be caught in the sails of Constantine’s fleets on the way to docking in the harbours of the councils of conflict and conformity.

For now, the game is on!!!

Have you heard this? Have you thought of it this way? Yeah, but what if… Look who’s here!  Think about this… You did what!!??? Shut up – you talk too much. Why?! Pass the bread. Are you kidding? What does she think about this? Then let’s sing. I can’t believe he just said that out loud. Wow!!! But what about…? Time for prayer. More wine over here!!

This is not anarchy, nor chaos. But it is dynamic and alive.

They are as vulnerable to the cults of celebrity speakers as any of us. As seduced by a relatable leadership figure who promises a bit of hope and order in uncertainty and combines political positioning with the posture of prayer. As susceptible to the stirrings of revolution and the yearnings for being left alone to live in peace. As open to a hopeful  new idea, as closed to difficult changes. As compelled by their embodied and ensouled humanity to love and be loved.

And here in the words of the New Testament, back through layers of interpretation, translation, editing, curating, collating, copying, combining,  scribing, saying, speculating, sensing…back across a mammoth expanse of cultural and social distancing, we can join their spirit seeking rituals and lives.

Here we may find voices who are both more certain of faith yet less dogmatic than we are used to. Who seem more agile in ethical and spiritual acrobatics with no safety net, but are socially bound by realities we can’t fathom. Whose theological orientations spin our compass far away from familiar christian categories, and yet centre on Christ in an almost obsessive manner.

With all their troubles, these texts hold out to us a community of theology-makers. People who are figuring it out together…as they live. There are hints in the lines that remind us that although there were leadership figures, and some had acknowledged gifts, they weren’t waiting for the next sermon, missive from the bishop, podcast from an evangelist, or pastoral letter from the moderator, or prayer guide from the office – which was never coming. 

Many churches have lost the art, or at least the confidence,  in the kind of DIY faith the New Testament texts model. Many ministers and congregations alike have grown dependent on outer structures which sustain a socially gathered community life and yet can suppress a spiritually resilient life.

As we respond to practical limitations in this time of social protocols, our spiritual realities will be exposed. Are the deficits we feel most keenly in the changes social upsets, and are our contingencies aimed at ameliorating the social needs of our religious cohort? Or are we informed and energised  by our spiritual imperatives. What are those spiritual imperatives?

This is not to dichotomise sociality and spirituality. These are not separate silos in personhood. Our sociality though is a part of our whole personhood – and our whole personhood is through and through, spiritual. Our flesh is spiritual, our mind, our senses, our energies, or intelligences, our arts: spirituality is what holds our whole. Or to use more conventional theological terms, in God we live and move and have our being. This calls us then as spiritual beings and beings in community, to attend to and address our situation in not just social terms alone but  explicitly and intentionally spiritually.

How do we do that? Do we know when we are doing that? Can we tell the difference? Do we believe in the difference? Can we express this difference?

When we go to church differently, with our ancient brothers and sisters, we step into a system of social oppression and limitations that are so unfamiliar to many of us. What can we learn from an unauthorized version of church, a marginalized church, a poor church, a socially scandalous church, politically vulnerable church, a church that considered the Risen Reality of Jesus, Human one of God,  present and cosmically ultimate. What a church to find oneself in!

St Martin in the Fields

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Perhaps sometime in the weeks ahead – choose to go to church differently. Really differently. Open the New Testament (or the Hebrew Scriptures) and come through the door, sit on the floor and be with those who are collective theological DIY masters.
What do you discover?

 

 

 

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