The Work of the People

MAY 28, 2017 - Visual Epistles

"Come and See" What?

The subject line read “No Excuses.” It was a recent email campaign from a local church. After somehow linking excuses to capital campaigns, it said, and I quote, ͆A modern parable might begin like this: The kingdom of God is like a capital campaign.” 

The people in this church are, for the most part, kind and good people. They hired well intentioned competent folks to help them raise money to pay for the upkeep and staffing of a building. The competent folks leveraged momentum of a predicable Easter service attendance spike to launch a capital campaign. What resulted was coercion through tortured metaphor.

This situation isn’t unique in the North American church, in fact it’s typical. The assumption seems to be God only works and is present within in the structured walls of a church building. If you are going to participate in God’s kingdom, the only way is through the safe, mediated systems that fit with and inside a church building. So rather than the church being an entity that supports you in your vocation, your vocation is to support the church and it’s vocation. On the face of it, supporting the church’s vocation sounds like a good thing...on the face of it. 

 If the church’s vocation is to gather for the sake of going out, most churches have lost the point of their going out. They’ve lost the point of their agency in world. The going, in any kind of embodied way, is dead. For the most part being in solidarity with suffering and being present to pain doesn’t happen. Co-creating in love, demonstrating abundance doesn’t happen. If being present to the reality of the world does happen, it happens on an individual basis and it’s secondary to gathering. If this is in doubt, check the church budget. How much goes directly or indirectly to gathering, how much goes to being present to a neighbourhood? 

What does it say about what we do on a Sunday morning when our invitation to come and see is an invitation to help duct tape fruit to a vine that isn’t producing fruit? What does it say about what we do on a Sunday when our invitation to come and see isn’t an invitation into co-creating a world of generosity and abundance, but is instead an invitation to passively contribute money toward gathering for the sake of gathering. 

Consider this, if you wanted to dig a well, you could keep yourself very busy with well digging without having first determined where to dig the well. You could be very organized in your well digging work, keep detailed track of financial costs and time expenditures, measure and iterate to become increasingly efficient at well digging. If you were focused on well digging, rather than water, you could demonstrate measurable improvement in  your well digging activities over time. As long as you kept funding the well digging, as long as you had a temporary and alternate water supply, as long as you were satisfied with, say an intellectual picture of the water you were digging for, rather than actual water, you could keep up your water directed well digging activities indefinitely and never have to worry about where you are digging, or if you should be digging wells in the first place. 

But what if you could no longer deny that fact that your alternate supply of water was limited? What if you knew you HAD to find water? You wouldn’t be as concerned with well digging as you would with finding water. 

It’s easy to become busy with the business of church. We expend a great deal of money and energy on church as we know it. We do so effectively and efficiently, tracking all the numbers that come with the business of church. Again, our budgets reflect this. 

What would it look like to invite folks into discipleship, vocation and becoming fully themselves? 

Come and see, not yet another mirror of our culture, but an example of another way. Come and see a way to be fully human, fully yourself, good, bad and ugly in a place where you are included by grace, where you are vital and active in a community of love.

Marlon Hall was good at running programs and systems that fit with and inside a church building. His was celebrated for it, held in high regard as an exemplary leader. One day he came to a very difficult realization. He, the people he served and the community they collectively served were not growing in their kingdom-likeness.   So he stopped running programs and systems and started listening for vocare, a call, a vocation. 

This video captures some of Marlon’s thoughts on vocation, calling and worship. 

After watching, here are a few questions for further consideration: 

After watching ask yourself these questions: 

1. If the electricity went out on Sunday morning, could you keep doing what you’re doing? If you couldn’t, is that an adequate definition of “being the church?” 

2. Does God’s Un-kingdom (relinquishing power for the sake of love) require buildings and electricity? Why or why not? 

3. What do you make of the notion that Jesus primary disposition was one of presence? In other words, he was most concerned with relationality. A graceful, grace-filled relational flow of accepting, affirming, non-judging relationality. In other words he was most concerned with being within the Father, while the Father was within him. 

4. What if church was about you being present with yourself, to discover yourself, as you are, and help you learn to accept and love yourself? What would that look like? 

5. What if church was about  you being present with others in order for you to understand how to serve a purpose bigger than yourself ? What would that look like? 

6. What if church was about you being present with The Creator in way that connects you to a love that holds the universe together? What would that look like? 

7. In what ways did Jesus’ identity impact his vocation?

8. Jesus no longer calls us servants, but brothers and sisters. He calls us into our divine identity. By being what Paul calls “en Christo”― meaning we are simultaneously in Christ while Christ is in us―we are invited into the very flow of Trinitarian love. If our core identity flows from en Christo―the image of the Divine within us which simultaneously holds us―what does that mean for our vocation? 

9. If, as human beings, we make meaning by making something of our world (buildings, stew, paintings, a household, a system for working together) what would  it look like for us to collaboratively “make something of our world”  while each of us remains en Christo? 

10. Worship means worth-ship, or ascribing worth to something. Worthy means deserving of worth-ship. If God is worthy, i.e. “worth it,” what is “it?” In what ways do identity, vocation and worship inform each other? 

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About Altɐr

We believe there is an alternative narrative to the prevalent narrative of scarcity and fear. We believe God is moving and is behind an alternative narrative of abundance and freedom, a narrative in which fear gets defeated and love wins.

We believe God’s narrative requires we altǝr our perspective, that we step, in faith, into God’s upside down reality. In God’s reality we listen for, live and speak God’s upside down voice of faith, hope and love, not striving for ourselves but serving our neighbor. For all these reasons, this is Altǝr.

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