I’m still plugging away at Eugene Peterson’s newest book. I have to admit that it is a little unnerving. His entire thesis of practicing resurrection hinges on his assumption that the church is the place where this, best, happens. The church is, funny thing that the church is, God’s. And we get what he gave us.
I struggle with church nowadays. I belong to a church, but honestly I’m not really plugged into the church I belong to. I work seven days a week and scarcely have time for my own family nowadays let alone someone elses family or God’s family. I spent the better part of my 20’s and 30’s tending to God’s family–to the neglect of my own–and now I have, for all intents and purposes, neither. It’s not funny how irony comes back to bite one in the ass every now and again; mine still smarts.
And Eugene Peterson, one author who has shaped me more than any other single author, is telling me that is the place I most need to be if I am to mature, grow, develop, become and practice resurrection. It’s a tall order.
I am out of sorts being a pew-person, a parishioner, a member of a church and not the preacher in a church. Frankly, I don’t know how people do it week after week–sit there and not get involved. I want so badly to be involved more deeply and yet, for what ever reasons the Lord has, I am prevented from doing so by circumstances involving work and school. It’s not an excuse; it just is. It kills me to be so restricted that I cannot be involved.
I used to spend more time at the church than anyone, now I spend the least amount of time of everyone. There on a dusty shelf in the downstairs part of my house sits a covered in glass ordination certificate…going to waste…going to dust…
Church as the body of Christ is not obvious. But neither is Jesus as the savior of the world obvious. We learn to penetrate the obvious ordinariness when we think in terms of inscape and manifold wisdom and shadow work. But for as long as we employ secular values and insist on having church as we think it ought to be, formulating this ‘ought’ from what we see work in our culture quite apart from God, we will never recognize the church that is right before us. For as long as we think that the church is in competition with the world, a way of outdoing the world, we will never get it.
The contrast between world and church in this regard is stark: American culture is doing its dead level best with its celebrities, consumerism, and violence to keep us in a perpetually arrested state of adolescence. Yet all the while the church is quietly and without false advertising immersing us in the conditions of becoming mature to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 145-146)
I think this is part of the reason why I am no longer preaching. I was unable to give a church the church they thought we ought to have: bustling, wealthy, without suffering, without squabbles, without tears, without this; with that. And no matter how much we prayed, those prayers were not answered; no matter how much we implored the people for leadership, none stepped up until it was time to ask me to leave. (That’s courage of conviction; a true understanding of leadership!) No matter how long we waited, we are waiting still.
There is a reason why I’m stuck in neutral right now. I’m not sure what yet, but there is part of me that hangs on just so I can find out what it is. In the meantime, while I’m parked at this rest stop, in park, with the parking brake applied, I’m going to deal with the church we have, the church that is, and sort of observe from the outside for a while. I’m going to pray and listen and learn and grow so that I will never become one of those types of people who think I know better what the church should be, one of those people who, armed with the keen insight of what I think a church ought to be, makes it my ambition to shape the church into my image. I’ll leave that up to the Lord whose church it is anyhow.
Instead, how about the church that is? How about finding a church, being a church, worshiping with a church that just is? That’s what I like about Peterson: he has no illusions about what the church is, and he loves her anyhow. He is perfectly content to teach his readers to accept the church that is broken and wounded and suffering and miserable and full of all sorts of terrible people. He’s fine with that. And so he will love them, pray with them, preach to them, and care for them.
So for all my complaining, maybe this is what Jesus wants me to see. Maybe it is I who was trying to reshape a church instead of loving a church the way the church is. I’m willing to confess that. A major part of this current transition is to learn that very thing: to love the church again. I confess that loving the church is something I have quite forgotten how to do. It’s no easy confession, but I stand by it.
Truthfully, though, I’m not sure I know how.