When I first arrived at my job full-time in January 2001 there was one thing that I really really wanted to do, and that was to gather together artists from the different churches around Austin. Like a red cardinal's nature to produce red feathers, it's in my nature to assemble motley groups of people (crues). It was a great idea and not a little naive or presumptous.
It never happened. And by God's grace I'm glad it never did.
Five years later, however, it's finally happening. And I confess a weird, giddy, puzzled set of emotions about it. Tomorrow evening around sixty people representing over 40 churches and groups will gather at the home of John and Ann Cogdell, hosts of the erstwhile 31st Street Concerts . From Catholic to Pentecostal, emergent church to high Presbyterian, artists will meet in order to find out each other's names, to share their respective artistic happenings, and to brainstorm what things we could be doing together across the city.
The UCS philosopher Dallas Willard and author of The Divine Conspiracy and The Renovation of the Heart once remarked that if the churches of one city pooled together their different resources, financial and human, they would have more literal and figurative money than they would know what to do with. Like an anti-babel, there would be nothing that they couldn't do, all things considered (the will of God, the opposition of evil, practical wisdom).
His point, it seems to me, is not to swell us up with visions of theocratic grandeur but to consider how terrible it is that we, as corporate bodies, do not defer to each other's strengths or cover each other's weaknesses. So, in consequence, each of us does what seems right in our own eyes; not in any negative or selfish way but simply as an unquestioned default setting. Each church makes the best of what they have, which is a lot of a few things and not much of most of what we need to be the church, the Church.
This strikes me as demonic. I grant this may be a slip into hyperbole, but I don't think it is. What better tactic for Satan than to get each church to never think nor want nor know how to work with other corporate members of Christ's Body. It's like a software program right out of the Matrix. The program dulls our senses, fogs our eyesight, deceives us into believing that "It's too much trouble" and "They're busy, we're busy, so why bother" and "They don't believe everything that we believe, so why cooperate?"
Each of these lies can, I think, be rescued by a truth. To the first we can say, yes, it's a lot trouble and hard work to build a relationship with people you don't know. Even worse, with an entire organization. It's like getting a giraffe and a hippopotamus to run in a three-legged race. Completely frustrating. People who try it run into all kinds of stubborn emotions and methodological differences. It's often a nightmare. But does a nightmare reflect what's real or only what we fear in our waking life? Too easily Satan fools us into believing that what we dreamed at night--"it's complicated!" "it's frustrating!" "it's exhausting!" "it's distracting!" "they're stupid!" (and, yes, nightmares are full of exclamation marks)--will always be true during the day, i.e. in reality.
To such fears God responds, My grace is always all-sufficient. If Jesus prays for our unity, as he does in John 17, then unity must become one of the most worthwhile endeavors for the Christian and therefore truly worth all the trouble in the world. So yes we will suffer a thousand headaches of trouble and our work will be slow and tedious, but with the trouble will come a greater divine power, a profound sense of satisfaction, and the hope of an exponential, far-flung goodness of Christ. It will be like the difference between a backyard garden, pleasant only to my idiosyncratic self, and a vast orchard capable of feeding and delighting many of us beyond our wildest dreams.
(Ok, so this entry will post as a Friday entry, because, well, that's when I started writing it. But right now it's Saturday 4:49 pm. I got interrupted yesterday and now I've run out of time. I'd like to finish before the meeting. I don't want a Back to the Future spin on my entry. I have 11 minutes till I have to leave.)
In regards to the busyness complaint, I say busyness be damned. If Satan can't get us to commit to wickedness, he'll get us to commit to too many good things. That way we lose focus, always run ragged at the edges of our physical-emotional-mental margin, and never really feel like we've listened carefully to the voice of God. It's mostly an "Uh-huh, sure, Lord, that's right, what were you saying, right, ok, I'm sorry can you say that again." Just like a hurried busy parent.
The fact that we, as "theologically orthodox" Christians, don't all believe everything about everything should come as a comfort. Not even the best married couple ever does. It means we're each fully human, fully particularized. It's certainly not the worst thing in the world. But the short answer goes something like this. We can agree on everything that we/my church/group deems orthodox, or we can agree on the essentials (a creedal orthodoxy), or we can hold the essentials lightly, or we can reject any notion of essentials except the principle of civic religion that we tolerate each other. The first I would call any form of fundamentalism, the third is liberalism light, the fourth if liberalism heavy (in beer terms, a lager), and the second is where I'm landing. Agree on the creedal essentials: Apostles and Nicene for starters. In my hurry here I could be oversimplifying and skirting too close to heresy, but all I'll say is this. My heart is with movements like the Evangelicals and Catholics Together, Touchstone, First Things, Renovare, the now defunct The Vine, and the like.
In short, there is plenty that we could do together and the world would be the better for it. More shalom overtaking the landscape like an anti-weed.
Ok, I need to stop. I've got a fridge full of fine desserts, a pile of papers and notes, and a stinky body to take care of.
But I'm glad I finished this entry in the past tense. I'd hate to have written it after the event pretending I was before it. It never works. My emotions aren't easily faked.
I am nervous, I have to say. But off we go.