Friday, February 14, 2014

An Urban Parson: Part 2, The church pollutable or the church unpollutable.



So these post will be much like the Country Parson of Herbert, not in amazingness but in the fact they will be a series of post written not in experience but in preparation for upcoming experience. I am using the term "urban" loosely to mean non-suburban and a pastor seeking to relate to an urban Main Street community, be it rural or metropolitan. My theory is that the relationship a pastor needs to have between their Burroughs in NYC or their rural Main Street is in many ways inherently similar.

Church pollutable or the church unpollutable...

There are two concepts of inclusion... The first concept is that we have to create a false "clean" space where offensive or problematic elements are not allowed to enter... Church then becomes a false "clean" space where any offensive or problematic elements of the self are not allowed to enter. The second concept of inclusion is basically we open up the church to the unclean reality of ourselves and the world we live in, that we do indeed slide down the slippery slope of sin and perdition following Christ in his descent unto hell.

The first concept I call the church pollutable. Church leaders and communities have to constantly censor themselves (a very different reality than to censer themselves) trying to make a picture of a perfect community that outsiders will enter and find an edenic place. The constant fear is individuals, ideas, or situations that will pollute the vision of the church they are attempting to paint. This is not a liberal thing or a conservative thing... sex positive and sex negative communities can do this... Tridentine Mass or Inclusive Liturgy congregations can live this reality out... the rule can be "no gays" or "no homophobes"... What matters is that there is a definition "this is clean" and "this is dirty" and a constant fear of getting dirty, of the church polluted.

The deal is that this does not work, it has never worked, it is inherently a dishonest and manipulative system. For a while things can appear to be working but eventually the broken human character will make itself known and "Eden", in what ever machination liberal or conservative it may be, will be found corrupted. It is, in the end, the action of a family in denial about addiction enabling and coenabling a mask to keep up appearances. It is the attempt to make a bucket a buck├Ęt. It is an attempt to create by human action a church whose existence depends on God's action not ours.

The alternative, which I call the Church Unpollutable, is a concept of church where the concern is transforming the world into holiness and embracing the problematic elements we all bring into community. The church does not fear being unclean but fears not following Christ into the uncleanliness of the human condition. A church that does not try to create a faux heaven but seeks to follow Christ into the depths of hell. A Church that depends on a faith in God who will bring them into light not on maintaining themselves in a light by act and censor.

The main different here is a matter of comfort. The Church Pollutable seeks to create a place where a group of people feel comfortable and will react strongly when any element enters that makes them uncomfortable. The Church Unpollutable seeks to create a space where everyone acknowledges they are uncomfortable and to wrestle with the uncomfortableness of life. Or in more traditional language it is a matter of sin. The Church Pollutable seeks to create a place where a group presents itself living above sin and will strongly reject any element that calls that into question. The Church Unpollutable recognizes that we are sinners and wrestles with the sinfulness of life.

The difference is that of a show house and a home. Some people will reject any organization that will not strive to ever keep everything in pristine condition with thin plaster over any crack or flaw. People with similar concepts of pristine condition will continue to aggregate together and spend exceptional amount of energy keeping a house ready to be shown. My request is for community that will let the cracks show and be willing to seek to create a home, with all the mess and craziness that involves, and let the house showers look on aghast. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

An Urban Parson: Part 1, an officeless office...



So these post will be much like the Country Parson of Herbert, not in amazingness but in the fact they will be a series of post written not in experience but in preparation for upcoming experience. I am using the term "urban" loosely to mean non-suburban and a pastor seeking to relate to an urban Main Street community, be it rural or metropolitan. My theory is that the relationship a pastor needs to have between their Burroughs in NYC or their rural Main Street is in many ways inherently similar.

An Officeless Office...

My seminary building is a lot like many parishes... It is on a Main Street, literally, but situated in a way that no one would ever naturally try to enter it. When it comes to having any actual relationship with the reality of the community it is not ever going to happen by people naturally coming inside. It is also never going to happen by any meeting or plan that gets put together inside the seminary compound.

Now to be clear I am all for seminary compounds. I maintain a carol in the remotest corner of the library stacks and can get work done there I cannot get done anywhere else. The church has to maintain places and worship that allows for isolation. Jesus fled the crowds and the disciples on a regular basis for good reason (mainly the fact that people have a tendency to be frustrating as all get out). One can reflect in isolation, one can learn from mistakes in isolation, one can even go so far as to strategize scenarios in isolation... What an individual or group cannot do, isolated in a seminary or church compound, is effectively plan or relate to the community around them.

Sitting in my carol or church office, gathering a group of parishioners or seminarians in the parlor, to plan out ministry and mission will in the end create plans only capable of falling flat on their faces. These plans relate to the neighborhood as to exclusive consumers. The church might use bread from a local bakery at its Eucharist but it views the bakery as a place from which to purchase and consume not as a space that allows the church to enter into the Holy. The church might create a meaningful and viable community garden on their land but see it as a way the neighborhood can consume the church's theology about Eco-Justice. These are things that might look "missional" or "emergent" but are simply a continuation of capitalist Christianity.

The cure for this is "officeless" and even "homeless" clergy. Now I am NOT advocating that clergy should not have studies and safe secure places to live. What I am saying is that clergy should not have "offices" like a doctor or a CEO and that parishes should not have "conference rooms" like corporations, aka remote places that people go to for a specialist or where data, marketing strategies, and growth prediction algorithms are analyzed on high. Now to be clear there is essential spirit filled ministry in data analysis, marketing strategy, and growth prediction algorithms, the church needs to support and recognize the value of these ministries for itself and the world. Life giving Godly mission cannot live on theory alone, however.

This is why it is essential that the local coffee shop or diner be likened to the clergy's living room or office. Any Main Street has that place, the place that organically forms a hub for the community where people talk, the mayor shows up to get the beat of what is going on, where the owner is a central part of the local better business bureau. This is where the clergy has to be. Not to set up in the corner an extension of the Parish's isolated space a few blocks away but to become an empathized and knowledgable part of the community. To be sought after to interact with the community not because their is an office in a church down the street but because as an individual they are a valuable part of the community that is part of the heart of the day to day life of what is going on.

It is only when this happens, when the community's living room is also the living room of the clergy, that actual Missional/Emergent church dreams can enter into the emerging mission of God in the world.