The second principle Cron holds before us for an emerging church is community. And here, I think, I’m struggling. It’s not so much that I don’t understand it … it’s more that I can’t do it – or at least it costs me so much to do it properly. I have often preached at baptisms of children whose families barely darken the door of a church. It is a difficult context. Do you offer something that will attract them to come again? Or do you offer something that will feed the regular worshippers and reassure the baptism party of all their prejudices? (I know that the dynamics are far more complicated, but you get my jist). I usually end up saying something like this
If you are searching for a way through life, money problems, relationship problems, lack of self confidence, worry about kids, stress at work – anything that makes life a long, hard haul rather than a Fabreze advert. Then come and journey with us. We too are trying to figure out the best way to live, we too are struggling through life (desperately trying to move from survival to living) and we too are engaged in the messy business of being.
It never works. They see through it straight away. I think they know that if they came to church and proclaimed their stuff (‘me and the wife had an argument yesterday because she caught me looking at porn!’ – kind of stuff) then the church would blush, then get very defensive (or offensive – attack is always the best form of defence), then begin to quote scripture (or something like that!). I once heard a minister recounting a session she had led with other women on faith development. As she turned to write something on the whiteboard, she heard a woman say ‘the problem is, there just isn’t any love in the Church’. She said that she felt her heart had just been crushed.
Cron wants us to consider other aspects of kingdom community. He suggests that we are peacemakers and that we reject any notion of just war theory. He wants us to be very wary of the money we have and to ask ourselves if we buy into the ‘I shop therefore I am’ philosophy. I was a t a conference recently where Bishop Graham Cray suggested that if the church doesn’t make disciples then the world will through consumerism. We were all nodding in a kind of ‘he’s-right-thank-God-I’m-different’ kind of way. He then said ‘let he or she who hasn’t bought themselves something to make themselves feel better cast the first stone’. I felt like I’d just being caught lying by my dad! Cron goes onto ask if we can live radically generous lives. To give away all we can both in physical and personal resource. To give to others in such a way that it is clearly a radical alternative to the predominant way of living.
I know this stuff. I want to belong to a radically generous, peacemaking, journeying community. A group of people that can be so honest with one another and love one another into being. A community that loves people for who they are rather than for what they might be But I can’t! Why? My theology gets in the way, my ethics get in the way, my own fragile self gets in the way.
But that’s no reason for me to stop trying or longing for it. There are Christian communities out there that live such radical lives, and I yearn to be part of one in Hanley. Whether I pioneer it or find it already nestled in the mud and thorns of life.
So I keep journeying … always attentive … finding others who are travelling in a similar direction.