"How was church?" a friend asked.
"It was great, how was yours?" I responded.
"It was awesome. We had over 150 people!" he answered.
"Um, so....that's what made it awesome?" I said.
This was a phone conversation that I had with a friend five minutes ago. He doesn't get it. Why is it that the logistics of "church" can sometimes overshadow what God does among the people who gather "as" the Church? As if there's tranformational power in numbers. Well that kinda makes sense - doesn't the Scripture say something like, 'Where two or three are gathered there am I but where one hundred or one hundred fifty people are gathered there am I eeeeven more!" ?
Okay, so what was it that I could say "great" about to the above question? Well, I suppose it wasn't just this morning - more like the past several days. This morning I gathered as the Church with people from the House Church Network that I mentioned in a previous post. This gathering of people consisted of several people from some of the other house churches, in addition to some of us who formerly went to the house church that stopped gathering. This morning was a time for us to worship the Lord together and reaffirm our commitment to these kinds of relationships - interconnected from person to person and from house to house.
During our time together, several people shared about what God was doing in their contexts and we prayed with each one that shared. The concept for our paradigm of living out our faith is to explore ways of being the Church where ever we are - either in a work context, in the apartment complex, in social contexts, or even in a traditional church context - and for the network to do whatever is possible to support what God is doing in each of those interactions while acknowledging that each context is an expression of "Church".
Then I did it. I told them that I have been spending time with ... (slight hesitation - here it goes).... the homosexual community. Gasp! Further, I told them that I was gay . . . .
Well not really - the word has so much baggage attached to it so i had to water down the word by using the phrase, "struggling with same sex attraction", in order to keep them listening before tuning me out prematurely. But for those in the room that didn't already know (many of them already did), I pretty much "came out".
So I read to them some Scripture in Acts 10 talking about how God sent Peter to Cornelius' house. Peter said, "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean"(Acts 10:28). Peter set aside the previous notions that is was taboo to connect with the Gentiles because God told him three times, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (Acts 11:9-10) and as a result, he and the others with them witnessed "that the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles....then Peter said, 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' " (Acts 10:44-48). Peter knew how controversial such an activity was among his fellow apostles. So he had to explain himself in Acts 11.
I felt like I was doing the same thing. Explaining myself. Why have I been spending my Sunday mornings at gay churches? Why did I go out for coffee with a gay pastor? Why have I been spending time at the Gay and Lesbian Center? Why have I invited a gay person into my own home for breakfast yesterday? Why did i go to a gay bookstore yesterday afternoon with two other gay guys and buy a book at that establishment? Why have I invited another gay person into my own home for dinner last night? Why did I go to lunch with a group of gay guys this afternoon?
Because I'm making friends and because they are my friends. I'm not spending time with them because they are gay. I'm not spending time with them because I want to save them or change them. I'm not spending time with them because I'm planning on starting a house church among them. My agenda is not to have an agenda. I am simply building relationships. I am spending time getting to know people who are worth being known. In that and in me, perhaps Jesus can become known. God will do as He will in those relationships. Besides, Jesus was the kind of guy that spent time with these "kinds" of people, so blame Him.
Now, i'm totally exaggerating - the people in the network of house churches are great and totally accepted me. In fact, that's what we're all about - taking our faith to the fringes. So I wasn't exactly having to justify my activity out of fear of being ostracized. But the thing that made the morning "great" for me was allowing them to relate and connect with me as me - not the Eric that was straight (or even straight acting), but the Eric that really has to live with the hot topic of homosexuality in tangible ways. Whether they accepted me or not, or whether they felt like they could talk to me about it or not, at least it was officially "out there".
So i'm spending time with a variety of people - many different people in many different pockets within the community. I trust that it's not that Jesus is with me as I go, but rather that it's me following Jesus wherever He goes. I'm not going around preaching to people. I'm simply going around being around people. And it's so refreshing! I'm learning a ton about others and myself. Keep in mind, too, that I have an introverted personality type. And i'm having a blast!
After gathering with friends in the house church network this morning, I went to lunch with a group of friends who went to ODM that morning, the new gay church that I started checking out - the one i mentioned in "Jumping the Walls". Anyway, one of the guys at lunch asked, "So you're dating two churches?" I laughed. He knows that I'm starting to go to ODM but that I had just come from the house church network gathering (but also that I had been going to The Tab). In response, i told him that I'm not church-hopping. I'm building relationships with the Church as the Church. I'm just living it.
So it was a good day. Actually, a great several days. In fact, a wonderful two weeks of being away from work. I start back tomorrow - beginning with a huge stack of stuff to do on my desk and a staff meeting. Another friend of mine hung out with me at my place this afternoon and it was a great time of connecting and processing about what's going on in our lives. I even met some of my new neighbors. A couple were moving in today and I met them as I took out the trash. They were having difficulty bringing in a piece of furniture (it was too heavy for her), so I helped by carrying it with him up the stairs to their apartment. We exchanged names, apartment numbers, and hand shakes and I offered any sugar or a hammer if they were ever in need.
It'll be nice to get to know them more.
Hello. My name is Matt, and I'm a "Two World Collision" junkie. Eric, I find myself checking your blog often for the continual unveiling of your journey. There's some great stuff here.
I had never considered the idea that a person might not be church-hopping so much as simply connecting in relationships with many different types of communities. In fact, I've been wrestling lately with the concept of church membership. Of course, membership serves its purpose, and signifies a commitment to a group of fellow journeyers. However, what happens when that concept of 'membership' becomes too elevated? What if our membership becomes a status symbol, a public showy sign of my identification with an institution that often happens to convene in a particular building, a commitment by which I am characterized? When did church membership become about pieces of paper and official transfers and less about people sharing their journeys?
I'd rather belong to a group of people and let them belong to me. I'd rather have membership in the joys and struggles and triumphs and wincing pain of my companions as we journey together. So in that way, I'm a 'member' of your world and you are a 'member' of mine. Thanks for sharing with me during this time when our paths intersect.
I'm sincerely honored Matt...and humbled.
The very notion that many of our previously held beliefs (or rather traditions) regarding "church" may not exactly be biblical is challenging because we sometimes attach our sense of salvation to them. However, it may explain the ineffectiveness that marks many of our lives. It's not that God is ineffective (because He indeed continues to move mightily among us in this world) but that we have lost our saltiness. The western Church has lost its flavor, or rather, has left a bad taste in the mouths of many people who would otherwise be welcomed with open arms into the Body of Christ.
The sad commentary is that church culture presents an illusion to its "members" that everything is fine. But what does the surrounding culture feel about the Church?
If the Church were removed from a city, would the city even miss it? A friend of mine recently authored a book (which i won't cite for the sake of my own anonymity) and said "church as we know it prevents Church as God wants it". As Jesus said to the woman at the well, we worship neither at this mountain or in Jerusalem but we worship in spirit and truth. That was a major shift in paradigm - He suggested not a "place" to worship but rather a "how" to worship.
I'm not suggesting that people don't find a home church to build roots in relationships and find ways to utilize their gifts and talents in the Body of Christ. We can't constantly be roaming to and fro because in order for relationships to be nurtured, we have to be around - it takes time. But if our allegiance becomes overly focussed on the structure of "church" more than our allegiance to Christ Himself and our relationships with those He loves (everyone), then there's a problem.
I think we live in a generation of relationships. The very culture of "church" is spectator oriented and keeps the world at a distance. Let's live among people so that Christ can be known not simply through our proclamation of Him, but by our very lifestyles, witnessed through personal relationships.
I like how you put it - "I'm a member of your world and you are a member of mine". So true...and if not, let's choose to make it true.
I like the blog, keep the thoughts coming. Some days it makes me sad about the world we live in but other times it is inspirational. Check me out sometime...
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