As I've heard from several people in my life, it has been far too long since I've created a new and brilliant post on this blog. I'm attempting to correct this error, so anyone still interested in following along with my musings should look for more regular posts in the near future. It has been awhile since I've written, so I don't know how coherent this post will be. As always, remember that I often speak in generalities to make a point so by no means are my thoughts meant to be representative of some elusive whole. At any rate, I hope you continue to enjoy my up and down journey...
I have a lot of qualms with the current state of the church, that is no big secret. But as those of you who have been following my journey are aware, I attempt to balance my complaints and cynicism with a sense of personal responsibility by asking what I can do about the problems that I see. One of the biggest problems I have with the church is the retreat away from the cities to the affluent suburbs.
When my friend Matt and I were in San Francisco last year, we met with a pastor of a small church down there who brought this phenomenon to my attention in a whole new way. He grew up in the city and told us that all he remembered of the church from his childhood was them leaving the city. Church after church would spring up, face adversity, and retreat. Later that day we went on a prayer walk with a prominent leader in the Christian and Missionary Alliance and he began repenting for the ways in which the church had abandoned the city. During that short trip to San Francisco, I had a new realization of the way in which the church was ultimately responsible for what it now fears in the "evil" of the city. This has happened repeatedly throughout church history. San Francisco at one point was even home to an influential Bible College that retreated to a smaller town in Northern California. I once even heard an elder in a church speak from the pulpit about a church he used to pastor in what used to be "a nice middle class neighborhood". The city soon sprang up around this church, including a brothel that opened up down the street, and the congregation began praying about how to respond. They quickly sold their building and retreated to a "nicer" area outside of the city.
People in the church today seem to fear the city. But I think that we are ultimately to blame. We abandoned the city and left a vacuum. We are responsible for the state the city is in; the injustice, the oppression, the evil, the perceived lack of spirituality. I actually like the city, I find it less frightening than the suburbs, but I also admit that there are many problems in the city and can see why many people find it frightening. But I believe that we are ultimately responsible for those things that cause fear because we left, we abandoned the city.
I was thinking about all of this the other day and came to a humbling conclusion regarding my attitudes toward the church. It seems to me that many churches retreat from the city because things get hard and scary and confusing and they're not sure what to do. So they leave. Essentially, this is what myself and many people in my generation are doing to the church. Things get hard, we're not sure what to do, so we retreat. That begs the question, are we ultimately responsible for the perpetuation of the problems we see in the church?
When I think of the way in which I retreated from the church several years ago, I see many parallels with the church's retreat from the city. Things got hard, I felt trapped, I felt like I had no voice or ability to effect change, I was confused. So I abandoned the church, not sure of what else to do. The problem is, I think that for the church to go in the direction that it needs to go, there need to be people intimately involved who are asking the right questions. And if everyone asking the right questions retreats from the church, a vacuum is left. Then we begin to fear the church and retreat to the suburbs of cynicism and bitterness. Once we've made this retreat, we lose our voice in the church, much like the church has in many ways lost its voice in the city. Regaining that voice takes strength, persistence, and will beyond measure. And I do not believe it can be accomplished by our strength alone. But if we are serious about attempting to change the problems we see, we must fight to regain our voice. Or we can just remain comfortable in our suburbs and point out the problems in the city.
So this is a call to arms, to all those who have retreated from the church. It's time to rise up and by the grace of God regain our voice. Whether we like it or not, the church was Christ's idea and central to the outworking of the Gospel. So if we are true followers of Christ and passionate about living out the Kingdom of God on earth, we must regain our voices in the church and begin living out the change in which we believe. This will not be an easy road. Ahead of us lie many hurts, many battles, many misunderstandings and long nights of anger and frustration. But we cannot allow ourselves to be responsible for the church becoming something that we fear. I dream that one day we can take all of our frustrations and questions and use them to effect change in bringing the church into what she is called to be. Ahead of me lie more pain and hurt than what drove me to retreat in the first place, but I cannot allow myself to remain in abandon of the church any longer. It's time to leave the suburbs behind and return to the city.
As I was reading last night, I came across this Franciscan Benediction that spoke to me and seems an appropriate way to close this post:
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.