Being Church

April 1, 2004 — Leave a comment

Stacey comments in one of my earlier posts:

Why can’t this be easier? why can’t people fall in love with Christ and get a move on, for pete’s sake? why must we constantly label things and define these new realities? why can’t we just BE the church? okay, that’s all naive crap in a lot of way, i’ll grant you. but i hope you hear the emotion of it. that’s where i’m coming from right now. peace.

Naivety is one of the attributes that’s missing from the church at times. Part of Jesus’ teaching on being as children to enter the kingdom is a regaining of a sense of naivety, of what Mike Yaconelli called “Dangerous Wonder.” There is nothing wrong with idealism. After all, God is an idealist, seeking to create a perfect world full of love and peace. It’s the systemic anomaly (to use the Architect’s words from “Reloaded”) that leads to our categorization, competition, and division.

There are several types of naivety. One type is the kind that many of us are running from, a willingness to put our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of the world around us. This is the naivety of evangelical conservatism, which believes that if we just ignore this world (often by creating our own alternative reality) then all will be well in the great beyond. This is a naivety which believes that defining all things as black or white, good or evil, holy or secular frees us from having to think and engage and deal with the gray areas of the world. It’s very much a childhood of rules and boundaries — not a bad thing but a reality that can become oppressive over time.

Another type is less about the childhood of rules and tests, and more about the joy felt on our first visit to Disneyworld. Faith is focused in fun and joy and getting what we want and need. It’s a naivety which isn’t able to discern between plastic palm trees, and the beauty of nature. Folks in these traditions preach an easy gospel, filled with Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace, which has few responsibilities or demands.

Is this what folks who are involved in “this thing we find ourselves in” are looking for? No. There is a value in these types of naivety, for sure. But what I hear folks desiring is a sophisticated naivety. It’s a desire to recognize the world for what it is and to engage in the act of co-creation with the one who made us so that God’s ideal for the world may come to fruition. Yet, the act of co-creation in a place that doesn’t want transformation leads quickly to cynicism. Our desire for naivety is to not be cynical, to be able to (as we talk about in United Methodism) “love as God loves.”

Part of my heritage as a Wesleyan is a belief that we are (to use Jack Wesley’s words) “moving on to perfection.” In fact, I took a vow (which I mumbled a bit) that I believed that it is possible for us to be made perfect in this life. This is a radical and naive statement. And yet, it reflects a naivety that says we’re working toward the ideal place where God’s kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven.” That is the type of naivety that many of us are longing for — a desire for us to be able to “be church” (as Stacey says) without all that baggage we accumulated over the years. It’s a desire to move further along the road toward perfection. But we’re impatient, wanting to get there now.

It’s a tendency that has been true throughout the history of the church. The reformers that most of us stand in the shadow of today were the emerging leaders of their day. Their desire was to help the church “be church.” We stand in a long tradition of impatience — we’re in good company.

After all, what I don’t know too many children who aren’t impatient. It goes with naivety.

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