As an introvert, I know myself enough to know that I need a few days to sift through all my thoughts and experiences after events like this. Two very full days (though I was there about 4.5) of working, talking, moving, worshiping, praying, thinking, resting, worshiping together. The constant interactions with people are a blessing, but in order for me to get anything lasting out of them, I need time afterward to process the experience. So I have spent my down time this week thinking things through. Trying to cement memories and moments in my mind to draw on in days to come.
One of the beautiful things about events like this where people gather to wrestle with common ideas, issues, and interests is the ease of a common bond. I had the chance to talk, pray, worship, work, and fellowship with others who wanted to wrestle with questions of peace, justice, love, hope, etc. It was an incredible experience and one I can't wait to being working on again very soon. I hope that Lion and Lamb 2014 is even better than the 2013 version. I want us to continue to invite others to join us as we engage this issues and work to build the Kingdom of God around us, to work on the future of the Church. While I don't know if everyone who attended knew just what they were getting into by so doing, I feel like it's a pretty safe assumption to say that everyone at least had some interest in the Church and where it is going.
That's been a big question on my mind for some time.
A brief survey of the church world would probably show you the following trends: congregations are generally shrinking, fewer people attend a church regularly or would even call themselves a Christian, the ones in the pews are getting older, public perception and opinion of Christianity is, shall we say, less than stellar. Before anyone gets all worked up, these are general trends, and there are always exceptions. there are plenty of churches growing, people growing in their faith, and people who see the Church as a powerful force for good and change in this world.
Those "exceptions" are truly what interest me. I'm tired of the constant negativity. I'm tired of dwelling on what we don't have instead of embracing and utilizing what we do. I'm tired of hearing about the impending death of the church. Ain't nobody got time for that.
You see, God is at work doing a new thing...
The Lion and Lamb Festival was a cool example of this new thing. I don't want to take any credit for that. I'm disinclined to make statements like "that was just God speaking through us" because I don't feel the smallest certainty that I have a claim on what God is doing. But I can say with certainty that I am not alone in the questions I have.
How should we live as citizens of an entire new Kingdom in the midst of our present world full of violence, pain, sorrow, brokenness? How do we build the Kingdom of which Jesus spoke? In a world at war, how do we wage peace? In a world of pain, where do we begin the triage of Kingdom building? In a world of sadness, what word do we bring to share real joy? In a world of brokenness, how do we start putting the pieces back together?
If only it were that easy. If only I had those answers.
But we might. We. Us. All of us. Me and you and everyone we know.
There is so much power in knowing that I am not alone. That you are not alone. When I can't carry the weight of those problems, I can at least take comfort in the fact that I'm not the only one trying to carry them. It's kind of arrogant for me to think otherwise, to think that I'm the only one who cares about our broken systems. These questions I wrestle with, these problems I want to engage?
They've been part of humanity for as long as we've been around. And for as long as the Church has been around, she has tried to engage them and address them, to varying degrees of success and with varying passion. And that's what I felt from the festival experience.
People who came together because they shared those passions. When we starting planning, we were talking about issues of peace and hope and justice. We wanted to bring together other folks who wanted to talk about those things as well. People who had great ideas and people looking to put those ideas into action. People who were asking questions and people who might have some answers. People with a passion for justice and those who have seen the dark side of the our broken systems. All these pairing and groupings of people who were excited about the future of how the Church could address them.
For too long, the Church has been defined in the public eye by the loudest voice(s). Those who scream hate and judgement and doom. The guy with the bullhorn telling people outside an abortion center they are murderers. The "church" that pickets a funeral. The folks who leave a pamphlet at dinner instead of a tip. Those folks who focus so much on a future heaven that they ignore the beauty of this creation that surrounds us. The groups who condemn folks for simply being who they are. Those voices are loud, and they get attention.
One thing I've noticed in scripture- Jesus doesn't seem to do much of that. He brings people together, people on the fringes of society, people that no one else wanted to even acknowledge. He spent his time teaching, sharing, loving, feeding, healing. He spoke kind words to people and saved his harshest criticism for the powerful and the systems they controlled. And even then, when he dealt with people, it was in a loving manner.
These are small acts. Simple acts. Nothing radical. Nothing even really all that difficult. But maybe if we do these kinds of things, if we act the Christ-followers we claim to be, then maybe all those folks who aren't interested in the Church and what we have to offer might be a little more intrigued.
Maybe we build from there.
We work to provide health care for folks, care they can afford without breaking them further. We start helping people deal with grief and pain and all our many problems together. We work to create living wages for all people so that they can afford to eat the food they serve to others. We start being better stewards of this earth and treat it like the masterpiece it is. We realize that all people are created in God's image, even if they are different from us.
And then, we start to see the Kingdom sprouting up around us. We see the fruits of our labor ripening. We see fear disappear replaced by grace. We see the beauty in this world around us in the face of someone else. We seethe Kingdom being built brick by brick, piece by piece (or maybe peace by peace?).
This is our call. We don't make disciples by being jerks. We don't invite others in by closing doors. We don't share the love of this God who loves us so generously by spewing hate.
We answer the call by loving and serving others. This isn't anything new. I am certainly not the first to say this, and I probably won't be the last. But I might be the first person you've heard say it, and for that I apologize. I'm sorry that we've done a poor job of following our leader. I'm sorry that we have misrepresented the loving nature of God by doing just the opposite. If it wasn't so tragic and harmful, it might be funny. We have messed many things up so much that they are unrecognizable from their original form. We have messed up. The word "gospel," the word we use to talk about the story of Jesus Christ, means "good news." Good news doesn't speak from fear or hate or anger. It speaks from love and grace and peace. We haven't always been speaking the language of love.
But I can see that some things are changing. I saw it last weekend. If I'm looking hard enough, I bet I can see it every day. My hope is that it will become so obvious that you can't help but see it. My hope is that we start seeing these pieces of the Kingdom fall into place through our actions, inspired by the grave we have been shown.
The simplest I can make the message of Jesus is this: to love God and to love others as ourselves.
My hope is that we can simply live up to that simple statement. And I know that I can't always do so. But maybe we can. Maybe together, as a community of faith, we can. And maybe we can open the doors so that others will want to join us.
We are going somewhere. We are doing something new (though actually rather old in concept). But ultimately it is God that is doing something and we just want to get on board.
Grace and Peace...