We’re living in funny times. It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten who we were and what that means for who we are. It makes for interesting times. Whether we’re talking about what we mean when we discuss ideals such as ‘universal health care’ or ‘democracy and social responsibility’ there seems to be a disconnect. Maybe (even more worrisome) is that we seem unable to find ways to have the conversations. And – when and if we do – too often they are charged in a way that invites judgement and anger. Then – of course – the cycle repeats with less engagement, more apathy and a sort of self-fulfilling story that no one seems to care or is only seeking what’s best for numero uno …
Lest we imagine that the context in which we find ourselves – church and faith communities – is any better at traversing the changing landscape, listen to Sunday worship conversations that explore generational differences. Or pick up a copy of The United Church Observer and read the Letters to the Editor.
What we thought was normal – institutionally – is now marginalised and those who are left behind keep trying to fit this new round world into our triangular one. Those still in the brick-and-mortar church sometimes focus on finding ways to get people back, bring the young people home, or invite others to fill buildings once bustling, which now sometimes only echo laughter and play long since assumed to be absent. If we can just tell people what we believe, we hope they’ll believe it too … and sometimes if experience seems to translate into failure, our own apathy sets in.
So I’m wondering about conversations and intention. I’m wondering about exploring this changed landscape in a new – old way. What if we acknowledged – even if difficult – that our language no longer makes sense outside of the church walls? At the same time, our desire for relationship and community has not changed.
What if we wrestle with accepting that outside of our walls needs have not changed since we were sent out to share the Good News? People are still hurting and in need. Children are still exploited and need a place to be the blessing they are. Women continue to confront violence and people are still judged for who they are, but who our culture would rather shape into something ‘normal’ and non-threatening.
The funny thing about language is that we often assume it’s the reference point – the go to gauge of what binds us. Sometimes we give preference to our ideas and knowledge at the expense of others. But what if … even for just a moment … we imagine that the early Christian communities did something very different. What if instead of embracing cultural norms and assumptions, they explored understanding one another first? What if – in those difficult and awakening days – our early Sisters and Brothers listened to one another and those around them? And – in those times of deep hearing and awareness of connexion – then they formed words to explain what they saw, what they heard and that new language was the gift of the relationship – or just one of its by-products?
There’s no mould or perfect answer about how to navigate cultural changes that are – in many if not all ways – unprecedented. But what if you, your faith community left the walls and started conversation not geared toward neither changing others, nor converting them. What if you, we, and I asked our neighbours who they were and what they wanted? And maybe, they might ask us too? And … just maybe … without any indications of what the future might look like, understanding began as we saw ourselves as human, blessed and valued? I wonder what would happen next …