Have you noticed that the church today is driven to be liberal or conservative, liturgical or contemporary? That tiny word—or—has destructive power. It causes us to make choices about who God is and what God is doing. It implies that God is either for us or against us. It's as if we are creating a church that is on one side "black" and on the other "white," rather than the gray that exists in between. We gather people in our churches who agree with us and reject those who don't. Liberal or conservative, traditional or contemporary, house church or programs—these may be different issues, but ethically mean the same: If you don't agree with us, you aren't welcome. The root of this is that the "other" makes us uncomfortable, and the goal of the or church is comfort: Do it our way and make us comfortable or we will ask you to leave.
I can see this division isn't a new concept in the life of faith: The children played a jig in the marketplace and people refused to dance. When they tried the opposite and cried out in mourning, people still would not join them. On one hand John was ascetic, on the other Jesus is accused of being a drunkard, and in both cases people had cause to complain. In an or world, no one ends up happy.
At Jacob's Porch, the ELCA campus ministry at Ohio State University, Columbus, we began exploring different worship styles. We held on to the time-honored liturgy of gather, word, meal and sending but found room in this to play. We wanted to create a relational, rather than presentational, worship experience. This means we wished for people to worship with one another rather than on their own. So we invited people to eat together, pray with one another, discuss openly during the teaching, and use a variety of ancient and modern practices (passing the peace and testimonies) that caused people to interact with those around them. Quickly our church grew from 15 to 50.
One young lady came to me complaining about the service: "This just isn't Lutheran," she said. I asked her, "What is Lutheran?" His response: "Well, we don't talk to one another." Hmmmm. In this or situation, the idea was that we either worship the way we say it should be or it isn't Lutheran.
But the gift of Lutheran theology is the tiny word and. This word draws in the whole kingdom. We are saint and sinner, freed and slaves, merciful and in need of mercy. We are a church whose theology isn't in the black and white but in the "gray-ce" (grace) that is in between. Living in "gray-ce" means we have room to live out the faith to which God has called us and we still have room to wrestle over matters of faith without fear of rejection. When we live in "gray-ce," it allows us to be "gray-ceful" with those with whom we would disagree because ultimately it's not our theology, worship practices, leadership styles, mission statements or anything else we may create that saves — nothing saves but Jesus.
We have grown at Jacob's Porch and are pleased to see what God is doing in our community. This makes our church a messy, uncomfortable place, filled with people who disagree. But perhaps that is the truth of who we are. And we are OK with that.
Check out this week's articles:
Be it ever so humble: Lutheran help follows refugee families back home to Sudan. (right)
CEO or shepherd? : Some say a congregation's leader needs to be both.
Blind Boys sing out for New Orleans: Gospel group pays tribute to Katrina workers.
Also: Bishop elections.
Also: Care of creation.
This week on our staff blog:
Julie Sevig blogs about the various "to do lists" in our lives.
Andrea Pohlmann (right) blogs about a warning for drivers.
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