Churches talk a lot. Of course they do, but back in July, I wrote about two things which I figured churches talk about more than others: love and money. I suggested that, quite often, it’s not so much that we talk about them a lot as how often we talk about them, well, badly. I’m not always sure that I’m helping improve that – I hope that I am, of course – but I think I need to add another topic to the list: community.
No, wait, that’s not really fair. This one’s a little different. Sometimes I think it’s not so much that we talk about it badly, it’s that we could do it a whole lot better and a whole lot more. We do talk about community well, and I think we often have a really good vision of what it should look like. As long as it’s our vision and others follow it, he said sarcastically.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but hear me out. We want the church to be a community of faith within the larger community, a family with hands reaching out to the larger family of our society. But often, membership in that faith community can appear to be exclusive. You need to believe this, follow that and fit in. What if you don’t? What if you have questions about God and faith and what they might mean in the world – in your world – and you just want to explore that with others?
I grew up in a denomination of the Christian church different to the one to which I now belong, and I worked in others as a musician along the way. It’s always struck me that identity was a really challenging issue for some people, regardless of what church they wished to belong to, because identity so often involves protecting who we think we are. And why not – if you want to belong, shouldn’t you share the same beliefs?
Yes, but it’s not that simple anymore, is it? While more and more people have a sense of God and a real desire to explore spirituality, less and less are willing to conform to the traditional models that the churches have offered. Some will even point to the inconsistent legacy of good and bad that is the church’s history and wonder where God is in that.
So am I advocating an anything goes approach to God? No, not really. That’s something that the “new” church can often be criticized for – in its quest to be everything to everybody it is no longer anything to anyone, it is no longer relevant. No, of course there does need to be an awareness of common, shared beliefs, that’s what we gather around. But our identity, I think, needs to be permeable, that one does need an awareness of one’s own distinctiveness while being open to that of others so as to be able to engage them.
Ah, engagement. I guess that I don’t think the real issue is around defining beliefs, so much as how we engage each other on the journey we are living. I wonder, sometimes, at how quickly some churches will tell people what they should think, rather than ask them to think. Just as important, how are we doing that? Are we telling people where God should be in their lives? Or are we asking them to consider where God is in their lives? And if we’re asking that question, shouldn’t we ask it in a way that engages them? And shouldn’t we be open to hearing the answer, in whatever form it comes?
So. Where’s God in your life?