Here is the church, here is the steeple…


Maybe it’s just the late winter blues, or symptoms of the cabin fever I touched on in my last post, but lately I’m feeling a lot of frustration. And more and more, I feel like that frustration is aimed at the Church/church. I use both the “Big C” and “little c” incarnations of the word, because I think it has a lot to do with how we define, react to, and live in both.

Now, I need to be clear that my use of the word “frustrated” isn’t meant to assign blame to people other than myself. In fact, when I cut through the emotion of it and find the honest heart of it all, my frustration is as much or more with myself than it is with the institution of the C/church. In many ways, I’ve painted myself into a corner. What that means and how I got here are subjects for a different post and another time. But what happens when we paint ourselves into a corner is that, to get out, we’ve either got to make a mess, or wait for the paint to dry.

So, for now, I’ve decided to wait for the paint to dry. (Although I am sorely tempted to just go ahead and make a mess. A big one.) But waiting in and of itself leads to another pair of choices: do I just wait, and watch, and become numbed by the experience; or do I do something, hopefully constructive, with my time while the paint dries at its own pace?

Part of what I’ve decided to do as I take the latter course is to explore what got me to this point and how to avoid it in the future, or at least learn from the experience so that when it does happen (and it will, no matter how hard I try to avoid it), I’ll have some tools to help me deal with it. And through that exploration–which has inolved a lot of prayer, reading, journaling, and conversation–I came across a blog by author Phyllis Tickle on the emergentvillage.com website talking about how we might define or describe what C/church really is, both historically and in today’s world.

The discussion following the article is fascinating. Nearly 60 responses as of this morning, and I’m sure more to come. The conversation itself is a beautiful thing. You can check the links and read it for yourself. I’m not so much interested in what the actual definition IS, as I am in the discussion for its own sake, because as one respondent put it, I think it’s maybe not so much something to be defined as it is to be discovered.

Another thing that has been part of this process for me is to finish reading Brian McLaren’s “New Kind of Christian” trilogy. I started by reading “A New Kind of Christian” several months ago after listening to an interview with McLaren on a Fermi Project podcast. Within the past week, I’ve finished “The Story We Find Ourselves In” and am in the final chapters of “The Last Word and the Word After That.” Now, depending on who you listen to, McLaren is either one of the most brilliant or most dangerous forces in emerging Christianity today. In some ways, I find both descriptors to be accurate. Brilliant in his ability to articulate legitimate questions of scriptural and doctrinal interpretations, and dangerous in the challenges those questions create–both for the reader and for the C/church.

Some folks have labeled McLaren’s writings as ground-breakingly insightful; others have called him a heretic. I tend to side more with the insightful side, not so much because I find myself captivated by his exploration of theology (drawn to it, perhaps, but not quite captivated by it), but because I am enthralled by the danger of it. And that feels right, in an almost inexplicable way. It feels right to see the Gospel and God’s story as something both beautiful and dangerous, and it feels right to wrestle with traditional interpretations, to test them, and to find that truth is not something we can pin down with easy definitions or static doctrines.

At the same time, McLaren’s writings disturb me. Not in a “heretical” sense (I think we as Christians need to be very careful with words and labels like “heretic”…I think such things often say more about who we are than they do the people we’re trying to label), but because they force me into a deep examination of my own beliefs, where they come from, and how I live in them and by them. That kind of self-assessment is never easy…nor should it ever BE easy. But I think it’s critical to our growth as participants in God’s kingdom-story if we truly want to align ourselves with that story.

So, this path of exploration and discovery continues in the face of my building frustration. Predictably, it raises more questions than it does answers. Hopefully, I’ll emerge from this experience with a better understanding of C/church. Maybe this frustration is really only a symptom of a larger restlessness to explore new discoveries of C/church. Meanwhile, the paint slowly but surely will dry, as long as I don’t make a mess of it.

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2 thoughts on “Here is the church, here is the steeple…

  1. Joe-

    As of two posts ago… I can smell spring too. There was water in Sewanee’s streams and the first of the trees are budding now. I can’t wait for fishing!

    I’ve read the first two of the New Kind of Christian Series, will be getting to the third one soon. I couldn’t agree with you more about the healthiness of questioning the origins of your faith, and that these books certainly help in this process. In my (brief) experience, that old maxim the more i learn the less i know has held true. In some of my religion classes and other theology i’ve read certain truths (small t) that i felt certain on have been destroyed, however in these examinations i am able to really lay a better foundation for the bit Truths that can’t be shaken.

    How i read scripture has been changed by understanding it in a different context, and realizing that it was actually not until the great schism that strict literalism emerged… but how i read scripture or someone else reads it does not for me undermine those great Truths, ex. God is good, loves us, Jesus is the greatest revelation of that love.

    Anyways, jsut some thoughts… Enjoy the blog so keep it up. See you in May!

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