Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Oriented to Faith - Ch. 3 & 4

At the church I attend, we often refer to one another as "brothers and sisters in Christ." We also use the term "Church Family" regularly. When I was growing up, I distinctly remember that the typical term used was "Church Body." I still hear the term "Church Body" used here and there, in our church and in others. However, there seems to be a growing use of the term "Church Family" lately. Maybe I'm imagining the greater frequency of this term, but I honestly don't remember its regular use in my childhood or adolescence.

I wonder if this is due to some of the family brokenness seen in the world today. 
I wonder if divorce, distant parents, and siblings who never interact has people looking elsewhere for family.
I wonder if the Church implicitly saw this desire and moved to meet the need for a familial bond, thus using the term "Church Family" with more frequency.

It's a good term for the Church to use.
But how much does the Church actually act as a family?

For many of us, especially in the Western world, people in churches are friendly toward one another, but certainly don't live as family with one another. Many of us simply check in with one another once a week. We don't know about the struggles and joys that our fellow church members experience during the week--the difficulty with the co-worker, the night terrors, the delicious meal on Friday evening, the drawing the child made on Tuesday, the afternoon spent cleaning out the basement, the depression, the illness, the wonderful silent walk together through the woods, the situation with the bully at school, and the trip to the grocery store. We might share some of these stories, but we haven't lived them with one another.

We aren't able to see into a person's soul in the way family is able to do so. If I'm depressed, my wife knows it. If my brother or sister is going through something difficult, I can tell.
The same is not necessarily true for two church attenders.

So what would it take for a church to function as a true church family

In these chapters, Tim Otto points out that the "biblical family" was not the same as our modern conception of a "family"--a house with two parents and a few kids. It included dozens of people in a small village together. This kind of family was necessarily, because many people were needed to grow food, raise livestock, and work together in the family business. Elderly parents needed care.

Today, though, we have cars. There are elderly care facilities. People can find their own jobs and buy their own food at a store that has it all laid out neatly for them. The practical need for a large family village is no more. The task for modern families, therefore, is reduced to the emotional bond. And if that emotional bond is lacking, things like divorce will follow. There's no longer a practical reason to stay together.

Otto lays out this issue with the modern family in order to make a point: true family requires practical self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice for the good of neighbor is something to which Jesus calls his people, and as the family of God, we need to act in self-sacrificial ways for the good of one another. This requires closeness over a long period of time, and it also requires doing acts of service for one another. As Otto says:
"Maybe loving as Jesus loved isn't in spectacular acts such as hanging on a cross, but in serving one another by washing the pile of dishes in the sink and cleaning the toilet. Yes, Jesus asks for radical self sacrifice, but he often expresses this in small things. Perhaps in the daily tasks of living with one another, bearing with one another over the long haul."

What if the Church was like this? What if church members knew one another well, because they were with one another through the highs and lows. What if church members did small acts of love for one another regularly--not merely when they were asked, but because they know themselves to be family?

Maybe that's what it means to be "brothers and sisters in Christ."

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Oriented to Faith - Ch. 1 & 2

I was invited to a book club that I am only sporadically (if at all) going to be able to attend. Still, there's a lot of wisdom in the pages of this book, so I'm going to write some thoughts on each week's reading on this blog.

That's the plan, anyway. I'm terrible at blogging with regularity, so we'll see what happens...

With all of that said, here are some thoughts and stories that came to mind after reading chapters 1 and 2 of Oriented to Faith by Tim Otto.

Tim Otto makes clear early in this book that he is not going to answer the question, "Is homosexuality sinful, or should the Church affirm gay relationships?" Rather, the underlying question of his book is "How is God working for the good?" What is God doing through the debates about LGBTQ in the church? How is God working in the lives of LGBTQ Christians? How is God working through the disagreements found throughout the Church today about gender and sexuality?

As Otto says: this question forces us to consider the perspectives of others, rather than simply focusing on whether or not our own perspective is correct.

In an effort to help us understand the perspectives of others, Otto shares his own experience of growing up gay and Christian; as well as he and his friends' experiences in ex-gay ministries. It's a raw and painful read, punctuated by this statement:
"I wish that somehow...I could have found myself in the arms of the church. I wish the church had communicated to me that it could be trusted with my deepest secret, with my sense of alienation, with my self-loathing. I wish in the church I had found myself loved."

wrote a post last month about my current perspective on LGBTQ. Much of my effort in that post was to detail my own change of heart and perspective on the issue. This change was partially due to the relationships that I've built with LGBTQ Christians and the stories they've shared with me over the years. So many of my friends' stories mirrored Otto's story. People were pushed out of ministry positions, or in some instances were pushed out of their church families altogether.

These stories affected me. They changed me.

I wonder what may have been different in the lives of some of my friends, were some of their churches to privilege the question "How is God working for the good?", rather than "What is our position on homosexuality?"

I wonder what may change in our churches today if we start asking the question "How is God working for the good?"

Honestly, I wonder if it's even possible for churches today to move away from such a primary focus on policy and position statements about LGBTQ.

My church's leadership has been seeking discernment on this issue for years. Currently I'm affirming of LGBTQ relationships, but the rest of the leadership isn't in the same place. I kind of love that we're okay with being in a different place. I love that the leadership at our church doesn't see this one issue as the single issue that will define our church.
And yet, I wonder how it's going to work. If it's going to work.
So many churches today desire complete consensus on this issue.

I get it. There's so much pressure to have consensus.

So can 21st century churches orient their ministries around the question "How is God working for the good" rather than working toward a quick policy position and calling it a day?

I honestly don't know. I hope so. But I don't know.

What I hope will happen in my church and in others is that people will begin to listen to and learn from one another.
I hope that some Christians who hold a traditional view of sexuality will listen to the faith and experience of LGBTQ Christians.
I hope that LGBTQ and affirming Christians will listen to the faith, belief, and the strong commitment to holiness held by more traditionalist Christians.
I hope all Christians will acknowledge the ways in which the Church has hurt people.
There's so much wisdom and growth that the Church desperately needs right now.
I think these conversations will help us all.

This is not an easy proposition. But I think it's possible. At least, I hope it's possible.

It's a lot more time-consuming to pursue faith and relationship over policy positions. It can be painful to enter into these kinds of conversations.

But these kind of honest, faithful relationships could potentially give Christians like Otto the kind of trust and love that he desired from the Church.

I think it's worth it.