Living in the village

I met with one of the world’s forerunners concerning mysticism last week. Krüger is the author of Along Edges, Sounding Unsound, Metatheism, and Signposts to Silence. They’re seriously good books and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They are also incredibly challenging, so consider yourself forewarned.

While speaking to Krüger, he dropped a number of gems. One of them relates to the usual tension between (1) trying to establish something (like plant a church) and (2) withdrawing to live as a hermit (like the hermits and ascetics). Yet there is another option that isn’t often explored, which is that of (3) living in the village.

It is important to recognize that Christianity is first and foremost institutional. It is concerned with planting churches, maintaining churches and growing churches. And, to roughly quote some leaders I know, “Everything begins and ends in the church and it is all about the church, so we must make planting churches what we do.” But as soon as you gain an understanding of world(view)s you can’t unsee the problem with making the ekklesia as the people synonymous with a geopolitical nation or institution. Instead you will see how the doing church paradigm preferentially reads history and how that reading is not supported by the relational presence of God. This is, however, a discussion for another time. What’s relevant is that the mystic-to-be is often caught in the power dynamics of the institutional church as a participant-protestor. And here the pressure is on to join the institution of the church to either plant churches or serve in churches to maintain and grow them. And many are caught up with the conjunction between the church and the ekklesia as well as the ekklesia and the relational presence of God. It becomes incredibly hard to find the right language and therewith the right way foreword. The other problem with this is that as the mystic and mystic-to-be wrestles with the disjunction between the ekklesia, the relational presence of God and the institution of the church that they are often cast in the role of an enemy of the church tying to break churches down. They are often accused of not planting churches and therewith their concerns about the institutional church are often invalidated. This is often coupled with those who run institutional churches fighting with them. However, the opposite is true. The mystic and mystic-to-be is often an exemplar of what “doing the stuff” is about. They have often been on the ground with the people as one walking with God. They often stand before others as people who have first stood before God. And therewith they are people who hold a nuanced and subtle critique of the institutional church as people who have come to know God not through the institution but in Person.

It is here that (3) living in the village comes in. The mystic and mystic-to-be can live in and among those who are in the church as well as those who are not. And therewith they can practice the presence of God and enter deeply into living and loving with themselves, others, the cosmos and God. In doing so they can serve and mediate between people groups without having to make the politics of the denominational or commercial expressions of the institutional church. It is here that institutional disavowal is a priority. For the kingdom of God or reign of God is only and ever personal. It is all about the Person that God is and not the business of doing religion and running businesses or nations in the name of God. It is not geopolitical as in establishing a kingdom or nation nor is it an institution like a temple or denomination or a business like churches are today. Sure God draws near and withdraws, but this is to people wherever they are. It is not to validate one institution or political group over another as is evident from the life-cycle of renewals.

Furthermore, option (3) living in the village is even more important in a postsecular society. The mystic and mystic-to-be is not looking to leave one religion and choose another. They are not trading religions and religious institutions. Instead they are transitioning from the-idea-of God, however in-/accurate that may be, and the relational presence of God. They are living in the village among atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc. as people who have inherited their faith along with their ethnicity and nationality. Here institutional disavowal applies equally to each of these religions as well as their corresponding ethnicities and nationalities. Instead of leaving their religion to choose another they are instead leaving all religions and their associated nations, denominations and not-for-profit businesses.

Sure those committed to the institutional church may not understand this but they can ask questions and come to understand. And they may feel like the mystic and mystic-to-be stands against them. And they may in a secondary sense, as in not standing for the institution and nationalization of faith. But what they are primarily doing is standing for and with God, people and the cosmos. To move forward such institutional disavowal is important and therewith a rejection of the power structures and commercialization of religion, spirituality and mysticism.

The notion of (3) living in the village perhaps needs a little clarification. In our day and age the village is both local and global. It is local in the sense of our face-to-face relationships. Here are the immediate relational connections incorporating those that are shallow and perhaps limited to working together and those that are deeper and involving playing together and the sharing of the meaning of our lives. Yet our relationships also include the global and far-reaching network enabled by technology and mutual interests. Here our relationships are as real though not face-to-face and as meaningful though mediated by video and voice technologies. In each case there are people we resonate with and in the sharing of life find opportunity for deeper connections and the mutual enrichment. It is a glocal (global and local) community where people share their lives and contribute to each other. It is here that the ekklesia meets not for the purpose of establishing hierarchies and systems and services but for the singular most valuable reason – mutual relationship. Those committed to the institution church struggle with this the most. They fail to see how people “meet together” and can’t measure it in any other manner than attendance to and membership of the institutional church. Yet the ekklesia transcends religion and its institutional expression as nationalism, denominations and businesses. It is something natural, mutually supportive and enriching that does not need an agenda or purpose. It is relationship for no reason or purpose, and therewith and therein finds and expresses the greatest purpose and fulfillment. Those who don’t get will fail to appreciate the complex simplicity of embracing the love of self, others, the cosmos and God while those who “get it” cannot pursue any other course.

On “On breaking with the church”

Spoiler alert: This is a rant! There is a time to call a spade a spade and it is here. I simply have to get this off my chest and, perhaps, it will resonate with more than the handful it deeply offends.

The article “On breaking with the faith” has been celebrated by many committed to the institutional church and a colleague in particular. What’s more is that in the immediate follow up “On keeping the faith” the author adds nothing. It’s the same old expected and “right thing to say”. And, curiously, is nothing different to what those de-converting and deconstructing and encouraging others to do the same are themselves doing.

But what irks me with an article, authors and colleagues like this is that they choose to fail to engage meaningfully with those deconstructionists who are not only de-converting themselves but also helping others to do so. It is an article so self/church-centered that it cannot engage with, listen to or dialogue with those it sees as “wandering off the path of faith for the arid wilderness of unbelief.” At the heart there is a false contrast between authentic faith as institutional Christianity and those deconstructing from such institutional commitments as leading themselves and others into “new beliefs”. At the root the problem I have with the article and my colleagues high admiration thereof is that it relies on the politics of agreement to fly under the radar as a prime example of the continuing failure of institutionalized Christians to listen to, dialogue with, understand and mutually respect those de-converting and deconstructing. People are not leaving Christianity for another faith but instead leaving a faith that is far off track that it believes it is what Christianity “is”. They’re leaving a faith that has gone astray and remains as arrogant as ever in refusing not only to acknowledge the concerns but in arguing that it remains the Catholic and Orthodox faith albeit as Evangelical Protestantism.

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We’re better together

Human beings live, work, and socialize with each other. We are inherently social individuals who may have our own private inner lives but who also need the company of and interaction with others. And when doing things together, and for the reciprocal benefit of ourselves and others, we prove to be mutually enriching, enabling, and contributive. It should not be surprising then that exercising and practicing spirituality is both a social and a relational endeavor rather than individualistic or self-centered.

Christians often contrast spirituality as self-centered and faith as Christ-centered, with the institutional expressions of Church demanding the sacrificial activity of going to a church, becoming an official member, and then volunteering and giving financially toward the work of the Church in service to God.

The problem I have with this contrast between spirituality and faith is that it’s a false dichotomy that isn’t being sufficiently critiqued. It also makes any questioning and critiquing of the institutional church synonymous with an offense against God. The truth is that we are not simply better together but instead only when mutually enriching each other through contributive participation. We need to question what the practice of our faith is, and the degree to which our religious institutions are enabling that practice or crippling it. And when seeking alternative gatherings, question whether we are simply changing the manner in which we organize our gathering or properly transitioning from gathering to meet about God to meeting with God.

Church, practiced as meeting only about God, may be likened to gathering for a meal where the guest of honor never pitches and where you may only ever or and eat a starter. On the menu may be a whole host of potential meals, but you don’t have access to them. Over time, a deep hunger grows within you and is coupled with a deeper frustration that something is amiss and disappointment that though you’re eating you are never truly able to get either full or nourished. But you are told to buy into the support the institution because it is the Church. You believe you are doing the right thing by doing so, perhaps even believing that you need to go to a Church in order to relate to God. But when do you meet with God? How do you meet with God during Church? How does Church enable and nurture a relational spirituality rooted in the immediate presence, voice and activity of God? Many attend and serve in Church for years and are quick to ask how we know we are hearing the voice of God or discerning God’s presence and activity. This is foundational stuff and evidence of the degree to which the Church may replace a relationship with God.

By doing church, many are doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Let’s meet differently for the purpose of meeting with God.

In the next post we’ll look at meeting with each other and the following post meeting with God.

The church as organism

When deconstructing church many analogously refer to the Church as an organism rather than as an institution. This enables a critique of organizations and institutions which take on the label of “church” and demand membership from believers but which are in fact only Christian flavored and inspired institutions whose essence is a legal incorporation as not-for-profit businesses and public-benefit-organizations. This distinction enables us to critique Church without rejecting the Ekklesia as a body of people headed by the risen Lord who remains relationally connected with His people, leads them in His ongoing mission, and unites them in Himself as a cross-cultural people. We therefore speak of the people as the Ekklesia and the institution as the Church. Where the essence of the Church is legal the essence of the Ekklesia is personal.

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The church as people or institution

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Christianity has long maintained a detachment from the self and attachment to Christ as part of individuals maturing toward Christlikeness. However, as an institution, and not-for-profit business, the Church proves quite the opposite. It is as though attachment to Christ had become synonymous with attachment to the Church.

A commonly held and reinforced assumption is that following Christ of necessity, and through divine ordination, includes membership to the Church. This view originates from the pulpit, is reinforced at church conferences, and gets regurgitated during conversations. The whole goal of church appears geared toward getting visitors to become members and volunteers who turn bring others into Church. And the purpose of a calling from Christ, or in response to the pulpit, is understood overwhelming by churches to mean schooling people toward professional careers in ministry as related to planting, maintaining, and growing churches and, if we must, parachurch organizations.

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