Today was a good day, a piece-meal sort of day; a day where bits of information swirled together with faces new and old in a lovely old building with leaded glass doors and choir stalls.
Today I made the connection, thanks to a helpful facilitator, that change often means loss. That we are afraid of change because it always hurts, because the price is very high even when we didn’t buy it but are subjected to it. Today we talked about raising up disciples and not just being in stasis, holding on, paying the bills, depleting the endowment. Waiting to die.
I guess I’m here to tell you that change does hurt. I’m raising my hand in my old flannel shirt and I’m testifying for you.
I am living proof that the vessel that was broken and pieced back together with whatever sort of glue you had one hand is a vessel that can be filled again. I know that that is true.
We talked today about where our altars are, not explicitly, but that was what I wrote in this notebook that has carried me through two years of school and bad, bad times. I wrote, where are our altars? Where is the miracle of the broken body of Christ? I envisioned our kids at my home parish, the way they carry reverently the wine and the bread, the way they take a box of cereal or a can of corn from the offering for the food pantry and process proudly up the aisle while we sing. The way they kneel then, before the altar, and watch the miracle of the Eucharist occur with itchy feet and wandering attention; present, nonetheless.
Today we talked about a Consumer Church, a church that folks shop for, about what that is. My own two cents, for what they’re worth, is that a church that fits us to a T isn’t a church that will push us to change, but one that will make us feel good. It isn’t a church that will ask us to experience loss. And a church that doesn’t push us to change, that doesn’t require our skin in the game, our own blood and our own sweat and tears — a church that doesn’t do these things isn’t raising us up to be disciples, it is placating our deepest fears, at risk of being too risque, is it a place where we are coddled; not a place where we are molded and formed.
I am through with being coddled, I would rather know the awful truth and figure a way out from there. I guess I would rather grow, even when it hurts, even when it involves changing the way I think about myself or the way I think about God.
Today we contemplated whether or not a market driven religion (that is, one that brands itself, stays on message, markets to folks (read, young families) by providing entertainment)…. does a market driven religion lead to a market driven truth? Is that really the truth, then, if a church made it that way to bring me in? If they told me it was easy, required no examination or sacrifice on my part? Do all of our attempts to market to folks, to sell ourselves, do they result in a congregation that prizes a personal relationship over common worship? Does that mean the idea of personal responsibility is disregarded?
It does, I think. And then we find a place where the work, the behind the scenes mouse in the kitchen, cleaning the bathrooms when there isn’t a sexton, wash your own robes and shovel the snow — all of that work is handled quietly by only a few as the consumers come in and worship and feel good and go out again. I’m pretty sure that method isn’t raising up people to be transformed, I am pretty sure because it isn’t asking anything of them.
I wanted to say today, as we bandied about ideas about the sort of church we are now, that instead of lamenting our losses we should celebrate our gain. Our gain is that right now we stand on the cusp of a new chance, we are more like those first Christians than ever. People think our love is radical and crazy, they see us all standing here, unarmed, without the fire power of the NRA, and they scratch their heads.
The government isn’t owned by us, the world at large doesn’t care what we have to say, we are figuring out how to organize this thing, how to get this message out, how to be church in a society that has shifted away from our organized liturgies but agrees with our message of welcome, our message of an undying and eternal love.
I wanted to say that our God is one who is constantly crucified and risen and creating, that we are passionately invited into covenant with that God, invited with longing into a place where we too are called to die, rise and create alongside the trinity.
I wanted to say that there is a price, and the price is blood. The price is an upending, a willingness to be emptied and to break open, the cost is the itch as the glue settles into the cracks that have formed.
Church, I am itchy with glue. I am itchy with the desire and the willingness to show you what it means to be broken. I am willing to walk with you when you allow this. I will plug you into that church basement machine that takes yourself, your sin and your flaw and fills you up again with living water, with that distillation of your childhood, yourself, and your calling. I will learn to be gentle with that needle.
I will have a tent revival and we can all sing Taize and bawl. I will do what it takes to show you there is more, just behind the curtain, and that it hurts.
I will show you that we turn loss (change) into transformation by loving tenderly, by praying into it, by losing the world and our hearts to this mission of good news.
We can come together, and when we do our learned mercy and justice will flow like a cooling stream from an overflowing fountain, one made of the saltwater of the tears we have shed for all that we have laid down — that fountain will flow and bleed into and fill all of the cracks that separate us; all of that dark and empty space.
My spiritual discipline for Lent is attending (and sometimes leading, you all should come) sung Compline. My other one is learning to sing the sixteenth notes that Handel thought it would be fun for me to sing as part of his Messiah. I keep singing, he was despised. And willing myself to be also.
I am mightily tired of ornamental music but I will learn it. I will see an exasperated and much beloved friend as I struggle, I will envision his white mustaches quivering as he says, pointedly, it’s up and down the scale, that’s all.
Up and down the scale.
Come be itchy with me.
Be carried forward to all of the altars our big world has and be broken.
Be blessed and consumed and sustaining.
Do those hard things. Take heart.
Thy rebuke has broken his heart. But that is not the end of this story.
My dad wondered today if my grandpa had met Billy Graham yet, and I said I think he has, I think Rev. Graham probably preached last Sunday in the big outdoor bandstand of heaven as the breeze rattled the grass and the kids sat, itchy in their seats, just like us.
And the whip on Grandma’s meringue was to die for, and Grandpa Ken helped with the singing, and Grandma D rocked those babies in the cry room; knowing that her soul was already saved, that salvation was a done deal, even as a sleeping baby sweated all over her nice blouse.
I think the good news is that there is more. I think it is that you (I try not to use that word, but I mean it now), you don’t have to live this way. In fear and despair, clutching all of the things that you think are yours because you’ve worked so very hard. You don’t need those guns. Because a foe will come for us all and our weapon cannot be fire, it cannot be death and more death — it must be a message of mercy.
The good news is that it doesn’t matter. That change hurts. That your Lenten discipline may already lay abandoned on the road to Galilee and that it’s ok.
The good news is that you can choose to be different.
You can choose to find out what a disciple looks like and feels like.
The good news is that change means loss, but that your loss is all of the things that would hold you back from your own journey to holiness, your own transformation.
Church is different now, friends. But changed, and not ended.
I love you still. Come with me.