Somehow, everything is connected. My thoughts haven't all connected yet, today. See if you can follow a trail through this.
First, I've been pondering a video I watched from leaders at Willow Creek Church. I often resent Willow Creek things, as I grow tired of hearing how we United Methodists can beat ourselves up because we're not like them. (As in, not drawing huge crowds. Not growing.) On bad days, I feel like we're about 15 years behind them--just now telling ourselves what we should do now that they tried back then.
So, I'm intrigued by these new questions they're raising today--about rethinking how we do church. They define the mission of their church much like the UMC's official mission: making disciples of Christ. They further definite that as helping people grow in love of God and in love of other people. (A pretty darn decent definition.) Their new realization is that all the programs of the church (worship, small groups, classes, caring programs, service opportunities) don't really help people grow in love of God and love of other people. In fact, the people who define their love of God and others as most central to their lives are least satisfied with church programs.
They're challenging us to definite discipleship as more than showing up at church. And our "job" as churches as more that putting splendid programs together.
Diana Butler Bass, whose work on the practices of our faith I've admired for quite a while, commented on this in a blog entry at Sojourners.
On good days, I'm aware that many of our old, tired "mainline" churches are still doing some of these things that really matter: allowing people to participate in growing a deep faith that will sustain and nourish them as their faith deepens. I hope we can hang on to that. Or find it anew. Maybe we can use it in partnership (even) with the Willow Creeks of the world.
As a pastor, I feel really lucky to get to share moments of stirring honesty, reflection and hopefulness as I talk with folks willing to share their spiritual journeys with me. This week, I got to spend time with someone whose life and work I admire a whole lot--someone who really gets the "love God and love neighbor" thing. She's especially good at loving neighbors who are poor, and at choosing to offer herself to those who have suffered injustice.
She does this, though, separate from church. She's seen how churches can be. Her love of God, though, will not let her go, nor will her ever-growing love of neighbors.
And then I see people in my church--people who come regularly, and even have leadership. My heart breaks when I see them fall far short of the vision of divine love that's possible, and not even seem aware that they're missing out on anything.
I know, it's dangerous to judge. But this week, set next to these ideas from Willow Creek, I'm wondering how we fall so short in really giving the people who come to church a vision for the Kin-dom of God.
(I hear the words of one of our faculty members at the Youth Theology Institute back when I WAS a youth: "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger." And I want to figure out how to help.)
Though I've never bought hamburger at the carniceria on the corner, I love their cow logo. It's detailed enough to feel elegant, and yet SO SIMPLE. It gives me pleasure as I turn onto my street.
Just below it, though, is a "Water Center." Nowhere do I see as many "water centers" and water stores as in my poor neighborhood. It feels vaguely dirty to me that people are capitalizing on insecurities of water safety, in a neighborhood where so many immigrants come from places where there really is not safe drinking water in the tap or the well.
I want to live in a country where we know there is and will always be safe drinking water, readily available in taps in our homes and in drinking fountains on our streets and in our parks. I'm tired of the bottled water market telling us we need to buy plastic bottles of water. Too much plastic (and too much oil). To much transportation waste.
So I make a point of drinking from glasses filled straight from my tap, in my big kitchen window on the street. A witness for our water supply. And a prayer that we will invest in our increasingly dilapidated water system. Everyone should have access to safe drinking water.