My friend James shared this quote from Dorothy Sayles:
“Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as “a bad press.” We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine — “dull dogma,” as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama… This is the dogma we find so dull — this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and the hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore — on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.”
Having just finished two books – “The Underground Church” and “Christianity After Religion” – with a similar message, it seems opportune to talk about just what it means to be, as a church, joyously dangerous.
What is it to be joyously dangerous as a church? It means …
Seeing Church in a new way
From a New Church perspective we are churches both individually and corporately. As a body, we gather around creation, expression, and practice. Church, as one individual put it, should be a yoga studio, not solely a lecture hall, more of a table than a pulpit.
Embracing Engaged Creativity
Churches and individuals face a relatively stark dilemma – do we spend our time and energy on entertainment or do we spend it on engaged creativity? That is uncomfortable. We live in a time where it is so easy to frankly do nothing. Last night, it took 5 requests to get my son off of YouTube. And, candidly, I am no different than my son. What if entertainment and engaged creativity actually were opposites?
Drawing alongside of suffering
Christian churches originally were founded not, interestingly around scripture, creeds, or institutional structures. (There were no such things for several hundred years). They were founded around a shared sense of purpose, much of entailed finding God not in power but in powerlessness. In a pluralistic world, a religion is largely judged by the benefits it brings to its non-members.
Saying the hard thing
There is great agony in speaking to the silences that are hard to break. In speaking into them, to use Rohr’s words, the call is not necessarily about establishing one certain answer but about taking the questions seriously. Example abound. Christ’s clearest call was to follow a model centered on the path of compassion, non-violence, taking care of the poor, pushing aside self- centered need for power, pride and possessions. How do we live those clear calls? He said little to nothing about worship forms, homosexuality, or second marriages. New Church theology supports that same approach.
Speaking to what the Word clearly speaks to is hard for me at times because it runs counter to my interests. And maybe that is the point.
Speaking the comforting thing
Many first search for church because life has fallen on hard times. We need to speak works of comfort constantly to serve those who need held. That does not take a “menu” of the “right things to say.” It takes phone messages, texts, and email with simple messages of daily connection and hope.
Allowing the Word to actually change our wallets
We don’t obsess about money and funding at NewChurch LIVE. We have been incredibly blessed through the support of the congregation, the General Church of the New Jerusalem, as well as Foundation support. And, moving forward, it is important to note, this work does not “come on the cheap.” I wonder – I mean it as a question for which I don’t have an answer – can we take church seriously without letting it impact our wallet? We tithe because we do support the mission and program of NewChurch LIVE but more importantly, it is a real and concrete way of letting the mission shape behavior. There are many ways to do that – tithing being one – and it is a conversation worth having.
Living the little stuff
It is so easy to allow such an endeavor to overwhelm. But what if God placed this church and us as individuals in touch already with the worlds we are to heal? What if we followed Mother Theresa’s famous words that “We can do no great things. All we can are small things with great love.” What if we took Swedenborg at his word that we start working on our spiritual lives by simply not doing the wrong thing and instead finding ways to serve ever widening communities? The big stuff always starts with little stuff, and practiced over time, actually will make us more than a little dangerous!