Friday, April 12, 2013

Searching for What Comes Next

I had a good talk with a friend of mine the other day. As much as the conversation was a sharing of similar struggles, it was encouraging to know other people struggle with similar things.

There's a sense among some Christians (particularly, but not exclusively younger evangelicals) that what we're doing now isn't exactly right, but that what comes next is frustratingly elusive. It's even more frustrating as a pastor - someone who's supposed to know what to do when it comes to this God stuff.

We're trying lots of different things - house churches, pub churches, communal living, aimless wandering - just trying to hit on exactly what it is that we should be doing.

Obviously the easy answer is being present and loving wherever you are - but that's vague and unsatisfying when you're trying to figure out what exactly it means to represent the Kingdom of God in your world.

I'm fantastic with abstractions. I can talk you to death about ideal situations and faceless concepts. I'm all about the "shoulds" and the "oughts." I just struggle with how to translate those into action, especially when things are broken or mangled or less than ideal (read: always).

My perseverance is lacking. I want to see progress, growth - and almost always it's defined by my preferences.

I'm learning patience more and more. Patience seems to be the key. You can't force anything in life. Training for ministry is getting better, but there's still this underlying (if gratefully unspoken) notion that the pastor should be pushing people in a certain direction. We should have specific, measurable goals so we can prove our success and spiritual stewardship of the divine call.

There's a lot of truth there; it's tough to say any of it's wrong. But it just doesn't sit right. I know I've said it too often, but goals become quite futile if you're planning to live forever.

Peter Rollins takes a lot of crap for telling people that their pursuit of God and participation in religion is distracting them from reality, but I think in this sense he's exactly right. We focus so much on what we should be doing and whatever definition of "good" or "holy" we happen to embrace at a given moment, when we'd be better off focused on the people around us.

When my grandfather died I wrote a short memorial. I talked about how my cousin Angela had clearly been grandma's favorite - but that my grandfather's favorite person was always the one standing in front of him. He had that ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the world at that moment - because you were.

I wonder if the solution for what comes next is, like much of faith, oxymoronic. Could perhaps our way forward be simply to stop worrying about a way forward. Now that's darn tricky in a congregation with bills to pay and a service to perform every Sunday, I'll give you that - but difficulty is rarely a sign of error; it's often exactly the opposite.

I've spent my life taking the easy way out, even if it meant a lot more work for me. Doing a group project entirely by myself was way better than actually meeting, negotiating, and trusting the others assigned to my group. Leading a congregation would be easy - sure it comes with headaches and heartbreaks, but anyone with half a brain can go through the motions satisfactorily. Doing it well is the real challenge.

Now I find myself in the midst of something much bigger than myself and completely foreign. I suspect that describes the situation for many people of faith, many pastors - lots of my friends. It doesn't seem to fit the patterns of my youth or the categories of my culture(s). What it does contain is people.

I'm not sure if the dying dream will lead to something recognizable. The religious structure I've come to expect may not have an equivalent future. We're all searching for what comes next and we're terrified it might not exist. At least we're searching together... and that alone gives me hope.


Anonymous said...

And the greatest of these is love. Show your neighbor wherever he is, but you must also show him Jesus.

Ryan said...

I'd argue that showing love is showing Jesus. God is love - that is the point. If you can encounter a person consumed with the love of Christ and not see Christ, something is wrong. When we bifurcate love from "Jesus" or "gospel," we reduce it to a transaction, a prayer, a religion. Faith is what we do everyday - either Christ flows through that or he doesn't.