Moth to a Flame

There once was a time, a very long time ago, when people were drawn in great numbers to a new religion. What, they must have wondered, do these people have that brings them such joy? In a world filled with inequality, political and social corruption, economic hardship, and I’m sure a multitude of other ills, there were communities of people who gathered together for companionship and mutual support. They called themselves followers of The Way. It had something to do with a guy named Jesus who died some years back. They said he came back from the dead, and his teachings guide their daily activities. Rumour had it they prayed and studied together. They dined together on a regular basis, but there was something unusual about the meal they ate. Whatever it was they did, they were changed for having been part of these groups. Perhaps they had a certain glow, a change in attitude or perspective. Perhaps they manifested a peculiar kind of joy. But there was more than just those qualities that made them stand out.

As these communities grew, the local authorities began to suspect they were up to no good. There were just too many of these gatherings taking place. What if they were plotting some kind of revolution? Orderly societies cannot allow cell groups to concentrate like that. Who knows what could happen! These followers of The Way were, shall we say, encouraged to disband. They were given opportunities to clarify their intentions, and were in many ways prompted to restructure their lives and activities to better harmonize with the surrounding sociopolitical culture.

These people of The Way, however, were willing to endure great hardship for this new religion. What were they thinking? Some even went so far as to lay down their lives for whatever it was that was so valuable to them. Can you imagine that? It seemed like the more they suffered, the more other people wanted what they had. It must have been a very powerful religion to inspire them so. Clearly there was something of tremendous value, that was worth everything to pursue.

Does The Way that we still follow, so many generations since those early years, still draw us with a mysterious attraction? Do we show others a peculiar kind of joy? Our activities may still make others wonder what it is that we do exactly, but do they cause people to say, “I want what they’ve got!”

What do you think?

Where do we go from here?

I’ve been reading some blog posts from other ministers to help generate ideas for this blog. There’s a lot of chatter out there about how the church is stuck in some kind of slump where we’re clinging on to the past to the detriment of the present and future. The chief complaint is about the tension between stability and change.

I read one blogger who worked with Jaroslav Pelikan’s thoughts on tradition and traditionalism: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Where traditions are important parts of our identity, hanging on to them as all we can ever be (traditionalism) undercuts tradition’s value to us. So what we get are churches that make idols of the past (the building, the words of worship, previous pastors, comfortable ministries, etc.) such that the Holy Spirit’s movement to continue to transform us into all that God desires for us is stymied. Granted I just painted that summary with a very broad and short brush stroke.

I find the same kind of tension as well. I don’t know if the average parishioner sees it, but it’s quite prevalent in some of the churches I’ve visited. If in fact the Holy Spirit is doing something new with the Church – and I do believe that’s exactly what’s happening – then perhaps a better way to frame the tension might be discerning how Christianity is learning to realign itself with this new thing.

It’s hard to break old habits, especially when those habits have been assigned something as profound as piety. Leaning on the support and surety of the past to guide us into the future is an important gift our forefathers and foremothers gave us. It seems to me that setting some of those things aside feels akin to locking our foreparents away in dank nursing homes and throwing away the key. On a theological level, it may be closer to not honouring our mothers and fathers, as stated in the sixth commandment. By the same token, every butterfly has to break out of the protective chrysalis. Resurrection can’t happen until there is a death.

I don’t know if I’d call it some kind of slump that we’re in, but I think the tension of change the Church is experiencing is certainly hampering the movement of the Spirit. Somehow we’ve got to navigate our way through this tension to find where we’re hanging on too tightly to a sure and certain past, and turning our heads and hearts away from a vibrant future. Or from the other side: what traditions are true and universal and what new things are just flashy novelties. It will require both ends of this spectrum to reconsider what the Spirit is trying to tell us.

What do you think?