There are some things you never really know until you experience it. You may hear the stories, be moved with inspiration and hope, grow in curiosity, but unless you actually live it you will never really know what it is really about. Most of life is filled with this draw, this pull, into experience. What is life if it is not lived?
When we walk the way of Christ, we are drawn into experience. We are not given rules and answers. Instead, we are given stories (weird ones) and relationships with people (weird ones). We are called out from the isolated corners we have crafted for ourselves and drawn into connection with creation and creator.
Walking the Way of Christ is not easy (Luke 9:23-25). It does not make sense (1 Cor. 18-25). It opens our eyes to see in a new way (Luke 24:30-31) and teaches us to love in a new way (Luke 10:25-37).
The Way of Christ is dusty and dirty. This strange way leads us down paths we would not choose for ourselves, to places and people we could have never imagined, all the while deepening our connection with where we have come from. From dust you have come and to dust you will return. And though we are but dust, our creator has come close to breathe life into our lungs – our very lives – and lead us into a life of experience.
We do not walk alone just as each of these experiences are not for ourselves alone. We are called to oneness; to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth; to walk the Way and invite others to walk with us. Our varying gifts serve not to set us apart but to strengthen our connection to each other and our walk together. We support each other when we are strong and rely on each other when we are weak.
There is a group building exercise I’ve participated in and led at different points in my life as a youth minister. The group forms a circle and holds hands. Every other person leans forward while the other half of the group leans backwards. The only way this exercise works is if everyone completely gives in to the power of the group together. In a way, we all have to “let go” together (not literally) and trust the power of the group as a whole rather than our own ability to hang on to our neighbor’s hands.
Congregational life is when and where the Body of Christ can come together and “let go.” This is where we can experience the breath of life in a new way. Congregational life also exemplifies the weirdness and non-sense of following the Way of Christ. Weird because people are weird and worship is weird and rituals are weird. Non-sense because all of our sense tells us to run away from the weirdness, not deal with all of the baggage and stuff that comes with dealing with people, and to trust only ourselves. But it is precisely because of all of this weird non-sense that we need to be infused with the breath of God’s life. There is no way we could do this thing, to be the Body, without the Holy Spirit. That is also why we are in constant tension together, living the both/and of being Saint and Sinner.
We are living body; an ecosystem sustainable only by the power of our God. There are many parts of this ecosystem. Many of these parts are invisible to our eyes – seeds rooted and growing underneath the dusty, dirty grim of our day-to-day lives. Or maybe they are just yucky and gross to us, things we would rather un-see, like ants or bugs. But those yucky, gross things are doing important and necessary things to contribute to the growth of the ecosystem too. Through it all, there is transformation. Things will not end up the way they begin.
The church is in flux. We are in transformation. Church life itself is changing because we are changing. There are endless articles and conversations about the death of church and why it’s changing and what we can do and how to fix it. So much so that I’m pretty bored with the conversation. Because that’s what it all is… just talking. Where is the experiencing? Where is the living? We are called to living and experiencing the Way of Christ, together. It is taking a turn that is scaring some people into inaction. It is taking a turn that is causing people to fight or flight. But that is not what the Way of Christ calls us to. The Way calls us to experience. The Way calls us to keep walking and living together. The Way calls us to continue connecting, even though it’s weird and difficult and doesn’t make sense.
The Way leads us into holy moments where God comes close to breathe new life into our dusty lives; holy moments where Christ stands among us, inviting us to come and see. Recognize each step as its own experience, its own lesson. Realize those who walk with you, ready to hold you up when you stumble, reliant on you to be there for them when they need someone too. Remember who and whose you are, beloved child of God. Remember who and whose you are, church: Body of Christ. Walk, breathe deeply, and don’t be afraid to play in the dirt. Life is happening there!
This is the first installment in a series. You’re invited to read the second piece, “Into the Muck” next.