Wednesday, January 21, 2004

It’s January 21, 2004. While it may seem that I’ve slowed the pace in journaling and going downtown, it is not the case. It’s that I haven’t kept up with my actual “blog.” So below is an entry that was not recorded on my blog on the actual day that I wrote it:

Incarnate ministry. That’s where it must be! However, many churches have turned inward hoping, at best, to maintain the institution. The status quo is just fine for most churches. For these churches their attitude is, “you can come to us, learn our language, learn our interests and meet our needs.” That attitude, mindset, way of being doesn’t grow and isn’t alive. Can you imagine God saying that to us? There never would have been a Jesus Christ if that was God’s attitude. So we must reform our ways (semper reformanda). We must be a community that says, “we will come to you, learn your language, learn your interests and meet your needs.” That is essentially what the fist few verses in John’s gospel are all about: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” This way of being is incarnate! We can’t be happy with the status quo, with mediocrity or maintaining the institution, but instead must move beyond our comfort zones and look and move outside the box.

Here’s the problem: theoretically that sounds great but seems hard to grasp practically speaking. I haven’t ever experienced a church that, for the sake of the Gospel in this culture, was willing to think and move outside the box. (I’m using this metaphor “in the box” and “outside the box” because I lack for a better one. This metaphor has it’s own limitations but it’s the best I can come up with.) And I lack that experience because of the Christian tradition I’ve grown up in: the a capella Churches of Christ. They, for quite a long time, have employed the “can’t all churches that model themselves after 1st century churches look the same?” method. Therefore, all a capella Churches of Christ, whether in Togo, Africa or Tennessee, America, look the same! So you can see why I’m having a hard time grasping what it might look like to have a truly incarnate ministry.

And what will other churches within my tradition think of this kind of vision? Okay, so I don’t really care what others think but I do respect my heritage and don’t want to totally cut myself from the fold. I want to respect my tradition and want to be respected by it but in the same breath I’m also aware of my traditions limitations. Our motto in the Restoration movement isn’t too distant from the one proclaimed by Luther in the 16th century: we should always be reforming (semper reformanda) the way we think, what we do, and the way we speak about church. So wouldn’t it make sense that my tradition would embrace a new church that is biblically grounded but stepping outside the box all in order to advance the God’s kingdom? (yeah right)

The good news is that the church that is spiritually and financially backing this effort wants (in its heart) to let go and allow this new downtown church to take wings and feel free. I’m holding on to that hope.

It’s X-mas time and the city is abuzz in holiday splendor and decked out in holiday cheer. I’m sitting in a Borders near Wall St. and I’m overhearing a couple talk about and evaluate their X-mas purchases. I’m watching others walk in and out of Borders at a maddening pace hoping to find the perfect book, CD or DVD. Some are coming into the coffee shop to warm up (its cold and snow flurries are falling). Interestingly this Borders sits across the street from the American Stock Exchange. Actually that’s incorrect. This Borders doesn’t sit directly across from the ASE but because of the graveyard that sits in between the two (instead of some random tall building) I have a clear view of the ASE. So I here I sit in a retail store looking across at the stock exchange. Isn’t that what X-mas is all about? Money and the gifts that are bought with money? Most people think so and that is what X-mas has become. Especially here in the financial district that is inhabited by young, educated, upwardly mobile people! Here’s the irony: while the ASE is humming with activity as brokers investigate the latest stock trends and while the hustle and bustle of Borders borders on insanity, in between the two sits a church and its graveyard. Is the church humming with activity or is the hustle and bustle apparent there? Nope. In fact, the church is flanked by a graveyard (which gives me a clear view of the ASE). The graveyard is somewhat representative of the impact that church in general plays in the lives of those who inhabit downtown Manhattan: it’s dead, it doesn’t live or have any affect on anyone! That church, along with so many others around this world, sits empty and unused on this day as if it is pronouncing, “you’re right people, X-mas is all about money and gifts so evaluate those stock trends and buy Borders out!”

I long for the people of downtown to know that X-mas is about the coming of our merciful Savior. Yes, yes, yes, let’s all enjoy gifts, enjoy giving and receiving but let us not lose sight of what this is all really about.

Lord, thank you for the coming of our Savior. Thank you for his coming here and living among us. May this church plant come and live among this community! Amen.