My perspective is changing outside of the Christian bubble that is Taylor. Funny how that happens (...not really). As great as I think Taylor is and as much as the people there have blessed me and the integration of faith in my education has blessed me, I am very much aware (especially now) that Taylor's campus is far far far from the real world. And even though their doctrine is solid and the school is so focused on community and global engagement, there's no way it can be understood from learning about these things through chapel speakers or classes or even short-term missions. Which makes me more ready/excited to be done when I thought I would never want to leave...
My internship with The Mercy House in which communal living is at the center, reading Shane Claiborne's "The Irresistible Revolution," plus this Life Together Conference I attended at Englewood Community Church in Indianapolis this weekend have begun to transform my perspective of what "church" means and what being a Christian looks like.
Though my fellow interns and I joked about all the "buzz words" that were used during this conference (and they definitely were a little annoying after hearing them all day), they are definitely SO important in beginning to peg down what Christian living involves. Those key ideas/words include: "community," "communal/mutual discernment," "stability," "peace-making" (rather than peace-faking and peace-breaking), "stubborn loyalty," "humility," "branching," "engagement," "missional," and last but certainly not least, "reconciliation" (I wish I had tallied how many times this word was said).
In some ways I feel I am becoming so liberal and hippyish, which I think is kind of funny coming from a large Evangelical church and conservative background. I can't deny that it gave me a great foundation in my faith, and I definitely still hold to the doctrine of the Bible, to the Apostle's Creed, to the gospel message... Yet, I'm feeling now I'm better seeing the gospel message for what it is.
After reading "The Irresistible Revolution," I now consider myself a pacifist. My heart now breaks for our nation's "enemy"--the Iraqui people (children in particular, as my heart goes out for all children everywhere). And while I still fully believe that as Christians we must strive for righteous living, I am seeing the error of my ways in judging another's life and whether they are living "righteously" rather than accepting them and loving them for who they are. I'm realizing my love and my own committment to Christ has the potential of pointing them to Christ and his commandments, and discipleship flows forth from love.
I'm realizing service projects and short-term missions are not enough. I'm realizing church is not just a place Christians go to be fed Sunday mornings (which I did for 2 years at The Mercy House). I'm realizing that people driving in and out of church Sunday mornings isn't really doing anything for the body of Christ. I'm realizing all of the downsides of megachurches (spending money on building projects that could go to people who need it, people driving in and not getting involved with one another or in outreach to the community, the fact that people become numbers, the emphasis solely on preaching the gospel to convert people, etc.) I'm realizing the good in churches branching and being planted in other areas when they become too large. And when I previously held this notion of "how can I be a light in this dark world," I'm realizing I don't have to fear because there are so many people in this world seeking just this--community with one another in an effort to bind together the body of Christ and to push TOGETHER to make the things we dream about a reality. This still overwhelms me, especially as I see all the poverty and depression in Anderson and feeling kind of hopeless, as I realize how broken not only this town is, but the whole world--even (maybe especially) suburbia. But we dream and we pray and we act--together--to do the best we can to live out what Jesus has called us to...
Some great ideas/thoughts/questions I wrote down from the conference this weekend:
-Communal discernment--take questions to the church body rather than make individual decisions/Consensus decision making--we are EQUAL in Christ (the "head pastor" doesn't have final authority)
-"Either the church exists for itself or it doesn't exist at all"
-Eating meals together (simple, but so life-giving...and Jesus and his disciples ate all their meals together. the idea was brought forth that maybe Jesus meant eating the bread and wine "in rememberance of me" meant even that we should eat and drink PERIOD in rememberance of Jesus...though i'm not sure i'm in agreement with that and it sounds heretical, it's an interesting discussion topic...)
-How do we create a place of stability when we are called to places of instability?
-Mutual submission--being humble enough to say "I don't know" and joining together, working through the issue in humility
-Stubborn loyalty--you become stubbornly loyal to the guy sitting next to you that believes something completely different than you
-"It's hard work to get people to be vulnerable when vulnerability has hurt them in the past."
-"Be in it for the long haul. Our actions over time will bear witness."
-"You must first be reconciled as a church body, THEN push reconciliation beyond the church. The church must be a reconciled body in order for God to use us to reconcile the world."
-"Empty self so you can be filled with the fullness of God" (idea coming from Philippians 2)
-BALANCE! "You can't continue to do the work of the kingdom of God if you don't rest"
-"Live day after day seeking the kingdom and we will get caught up in the sufferings of Christ...we don't have to be 'heroic' [to suffer like Christ]."
-Communities are never stable--they grow and break--but if they are rooted, they will continue on
-"If we were free agent individual Christians, we couldn't do nearly as much. We need to bind ourselves to one another and to Christ through coming together as a church body. We need to bind each other to PEOPLE more than to a plot of land."
So...this inspires me to be more than a church-goer and a "good" Christian the rest of my life. More than a classroom teacher 5 days a week (if that's what I end up doing). More than a person who maybe serves in a soup kitchen once a week. More than a person who goes on another short-term missions trip somewhere. This inspires me to dream big. To partner with a church to provide tutoring or maybe music education to kids who need it/want it. To invite children into my home and give them meals and love and care. To hold a Bible study or book club or just have tea and listen to music and talk about life in my home with my neighbors (whether churched or unchurched) and members of the church body. The possibilities and the opportunities for deep and rich community and discipleship are endless...
And I decided one thing for sure: I never want to live alone. While I feel I fluctuate between introvert and extrovert, I love people. I need people. And I'm realizing...people need me. And sometimes I underestimate what I can give to other people through the blessings and gifts God has given me.
And I LOVE living in this broken, eclectic, messy, gender-mixed house community in Anderson, IN and getting to know people at The Mercy House who have this very vision of reconciliation at the heart of its mission and doctrine.