My friend (and div school housemate) Deanna Thompson has written a grace-filled plea for more direct address of the life hereafter in our theology. Her words affirm what I found in my work on an article for Word & World earlier this summer -- that we are too reticent when it comes to talking about life beyond death.
Of course, none of us knows for sure what happens beyond that great threshhold that awaits us all. But Christian hope has never been hope for this life alone. Thanks for the reminder, Deanna.
Thirteen years ago, I helped start a new worshipping community in Uptown, and the single hardest thing about it was coming up with the name. We brainstormed for weeks on end, and nothing seemed right. Then, all at once, "Spirit Garage" fell into place. And the tagline "The Church with the Really Big Door" immediately followed.
While I'm not one to favor automotive metaphors, it worked well for our community. In fact, a few years later we found ourselves renting a theater space called the Theatre Garage.
Now, in 2010, I'm about to do this all over again: start a new worship experience, gather a new community, attempt to articulate what we are about to people who, perhaps, have given up on church. 'We have a name: Bonfire. But we don't have that crucial tagline yet: that pithy phrase that will make it OK for someone to come in the door and check it out. It's been noted that most churches with "weird" names come out of an evangelical tradition of "decision" theology. They have a goal they want to get you to, and they will tell you how to get there. At Bonfire, we're going to open up the stories and see what happens.
Tomorrow night, not by accident, we're looking at the story of Moses and the burning bush, when God gives God's very ambiguous name. I'm praying God will name us in the weeks to come as well.
I admit I was a bit dismayed to hear that the public radio program Speaking of Faith is changing it's name to "Being, with Krista Tippett." While I understand the cultural forces -- along with the new national audience -- that shaped the decision to move away from the "f" word, it raises good questions for anyone who finds their "native" language being shaped by forces beyond their control.
"Faith" in Lutheran parlance is a leap, a risky reliance on God alone that has nothing to do with rigid certainty and everything to do with a relationship of trust. When Luther relied on "faith alone," he was saying that he couldn't rely on his own righteousness OR on the "right-ness" of an institution. He risked his life for this kind of faith because it gave him the freedom to be God's child, sinning boldly and relying on grace instead of institutional approval.
Unfortunately, our current religious climate has turned both "religion" and "faith" into bad words, words that imply an exclusivity that is finally contrary to the Gospel, IMHO. The graphic that accompanies SOF's announcement says it all: they see the movement as one from static to dynamic.
It's a live question for ECLC as we get ready to launch a new worship experience. We're naming it "Bonfire," a word that has deep resonance for the kind of holy space and community we hope to have here. But we know that for some people any image of fire is going to be problematic (especially in light of recent anti-Muslim demonstrations). How do we communicate -- in a tagline or less -- that this holy ground is actually an open circle, a dynamic space to encounter a living God rather than a dead word? I'm not sure, but I'm not yet willing to give up on language that has deep meaning just because some parts of our culture deem it too dangerous.
I've written before about what I've learned from my kids' swim school. This past Sunday's lessons -- "I set before you life and death" -- were an opportunity to think again about what it is we're up to as we go about setting up church programming for the year.
As a pastor, I get irritated when I sense that families are just "squeezing in" church between multiple other enrichment activities for their kids. It's easy to be resentful when you knock yourself out creating a good Sunday School or confirmation program, only to have folks show up haphazardly, "consuming" church the same way they do everything else. Do we need to charge tuition to get people to value what we do?
But maybe it's as much our fault as anyone else's. Even my kids' swim school has to remind parents occasionally that swimming is a skill that could save a life. How much time and attention do we -- especially we on the more liberal end of the spectrum -- give to the WHY of matters like faith formation? If X and Y activities for a 5 year old are equally fun, how is church qualitatively different? If X and Y high school programs are equally good boosters for a college application, why push the church youth group?
You don't have to be threatening the fires of hell to communicate that faith is a matter of life and death -- that a conviction in things unseen might finally be a more life-giving foundation than all the other things we could do to fill our days. Maybe the church needs to get better at telling people why this is important.