Peacemeal had our last Gathering in May 2009. We’ve had three and a half great years of fellowship, friendship, worship, and mission. Thanks to everyone who has participated in our life together and may God bless us as we move forward enriched by our time together.
We had a great conversation tonight about the future of Peacemeal (thanks to Daniel Gunn for facilitating our discussion!). We didn’t reach any conclusions about where we go from here, but we did have some good honest sharing about the life of our community, what inspires us, what drags us down, and what holds us back. After getting home, I was checking out some blogs and found this article (referenced on Jonny Baker’s blog) about emerging churches within traditional structures. I thought of Peacemeal as I read this description from Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs:
Although emerging churches are diverse in their expressions, they embody a number of shared practices. In our book Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (2005), we defined the emerging church as “those who take the life of Jesus as a model way to live (one), who transform the secular realm (two), as they live highly communal lives (three). Because of these three activities, they welcome those who are outside (four), they share generously (five), they participate (six), create (seven), they lead without control (eight), and function together in spiritual activities (nine).”
We see those patterns holding today. These communities center on the life of Christ and his mission. They playfully remix popular culture and ancient spiritual traditions to make their faith their own. They live in tight, hospitable communities. Rather than participate in verbal apologetics, they live their Christ-patterned life in public ways, in hope that others might be inspired and do likewise. These communities value participation—seeking to lead from the back and from the margins rather than from the front.
So, perhaps one of the questions for Peacemeal is how are we going to “center on the life of Christ and his mission”? What will that look like for us? How will we do that in a way that makes our community different from other congregations and parishes in Scranton? In what ways will we “welcome those who are outside”? While I’m sure all of our recent conversations about Peacemeal have been important and will continue to enrich us, I’m also aware that focusing too much energy on survival is the surest way to perish. Only as we turn our gaze outside of ourselves to welcome in the poor, the struggling, the lonely, and the outsider (as well as the creative, the self-possessed, the happy, and the well-off) will we regain our sense of calling, mission, and joy. And as we do this, we may find ourselves growing to a more viable size – not because we are enamored with numbers but because we believe that the goodness we have found in this community ought to be extended to others. We are small, but with twelve followers Jesus changed the world. I know that sounds cliché, but we shouldn’t dismiss the power of a small number of people willing to commit their lives to the conviction that this-could-change-everything. May God bless our deliberations and discernments in the coming days and weeks.
I was just reading a post by Paul Fromont at Prodigal Kiwi(s) in which he notes the following shifts that have occurred (in the last 50 years or so) in the church’s relation to culture. While such lists are always overgeneralizations, I thought this was worth reproducing here as a way of helping us think about Peacemeal.
From the centre to margins: in Christendom the Christian story and the churches were central, but in post-Christendom these are marginal.
From institution to movement: in Christendom churches operated mainly in institutional mode, but in post-Christendom we must become again a Christian movement.
From majority to minority: in Christendom Christians comprised the (often overwhelming) majority, but in post-Christendom we are a minority.
From settlers to sojourners: in Christendom Christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story, but in post-Christendom we are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home.
From privilege to plurality: in Christendom Christians enjoyed many privileges, but in post-Christendom we are one community among many in a plural society.
From control to witness: in Christendom churches could exert control over society, but in post-Christendom we exercise influence only through witnessing to our story and its implications.
From maintenance to mission: in Christendom the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo, but in post-Christendom it is on mission within a contested environment.
One of the hard questions that arises from this is how to sustain a community that is no longer a centered, settled, privileged, maintained institution. All of those things, while they may be problematic in relation to following Jesus into homelessness and radical discipleship, do help us sustain communities over time. Can we keep a marginal, sojourning, missional movement alive without the stabilizing forces of institution – buildings, budgets, staff, etc. Or do we need some of both? And how do we do both without doing damage to the witness of a marginal community that sees is renunciation of power (and thus its renunciation of security) as part of the call to follow Christ and be instruments of peace?
This last weekend I was at North Park Seminary presenting at their symposium on “The Idolatry of Security.” I approached the issue by comparing the responses to fear in two biblical stories that frame the Christian story of redemption – the garden of Eden and the garden of Gethsemane. In the first, Adam and Eve knew fear for the first time, and in response, they hid from each other (made clothes) and from God. In response to God’s queries, they passed the buck and, essentially, passed off the punishment of death (God had said: “if you eat of this tree you will die”) onto someone else (Adam: “she made me do it”; Eve: “the serpent made me do it:”). What I find remarkable is how well this story sums up for us all of our fears, for they all return in one way or another to the fear of death, the fear of the other, and our willingness to sacrifice the other to make ourselves safe.
In contrast, Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane feels fear for the first time (or at least the first time we read about it in the Bible), and instead of hiding and sacrificing the other for his own security, he subordinates his desire for safety – “let this cup pass from me” – to his desire to be faithful – “not my will but yours [God’s] be done.” In so doing, Jesus calls his followers to renounce the false security of violence and power and so to risk everything in order to gain everything – or, as he puts it, to lose life in order to find it. Jesus calls his followers to embrace an ethic of risk even as the culture of fear views risk-taking as morally questionable. Jesus calls his followers to participate in God’s economy of gift in such a way that the blessings poured out upon them continue to circulate, not only across the differences of gender, race, tribe, and nation, but across chasms of fear and through walls of hate.
In a blogpost yesterday, my friend Craig Detweiler wrote about his response to hearing of the suicide of David Foster Wallace last Friday. In it, he quoted Wallace from a 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College. Wallace said:
Here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
Wallace was an incisive critic of the blanket commercialization that threatens to capture the things that make us human (like love and health and wisdom and justice and beauty) and sell them back to us in the form of entertainment and novelty. His voice will be missed.