Saturday, May 19, 2012

Where Are We Going?

In the last few years, I have had a recurring experience with books. I love to read and do my best to find time for a book, even when I have lots of other things going on. It usually doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, if I can sink my teeth into a good book, I can become a much better person, a much more pleasant person to be around.

What’s happened over the last few years is that the inflow of books into my collection has exceeded my ability to read them all. It’s a little difficult being in seminary and trying to keep up with all the required reading for my classes as well as the reading that I want to do on the side. So, many books lay in piles around rooms in my house and in my office at the church. Occasionally, they will be shuffled around and toted here and there in a moment of motivation, but many times they go untouched.

I’m not really sure of the criteria for what rises to the top. It’s usually just an impulsive moment as I grab a book off of the pile and thumb through it. Sometimes it's the recommendation of a friend, or a few friends, who were struck by a specific book that's been sitting on the pile.  Oftentimes, I can tell whether I’m going to get into it or not by just the first few pages. And to be honest, over the last few years, there have been many books that I have tried to get into 3 or 4 times only to be stifled for one reason or another.

“Chasing Francis” by Ian Cron was one such book. I knew Ian when we lived up in Connecticut. I attended a Sunday night service where he would preach during my days after college. There was a synergistic feeling in the gatherings as many young people would come together to worship. I spent some time here and there with Ian, enough for me to have gained an enormous respect for him.

When I found out that he had written a book, I was intrigued. Even though we had left Connecticut, I had still heard about the things that were happening at the church that he had planted in Greenwich, CT. My wife and I have a friend who had been going there and was really getting plugged in. Before I knew it, I was seeing Ian’s name in a lot of different places that I had not expected. He was doing videos with a group called “The Work of the People” and a second book was on its way.

I’m not sure when I bought “Chasing Francis,” but it was probably at least a year ago. Back in February, as I prepared for my trip to St. Paul, MN, I grabbed a few books that were sitting on my shelf at home and threw them haphazardly into my bag. I intended to get to at least one of them as I traveled to middle America. Having made many attempts and false starts into Cron’s book before, I somewhat expected a similar experience this time around, but I was wrong.

Between the Richmond airport, a flight to Chicago, and a subsequent flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul, I came within 30 pages of the end of the book. As I finished the last few pages one evening, I realized why I had opened and shut the book many times before. This was precisely the time that I was supposed to have read this book.

Here I am, coming to the end of my seminary experience. I have been blessed to have had an incredibly supportive wife, family, and church in the process. I have made some incredible friends that I fully plan and expect to continually connect with in years to come. And if anything, I probably have more questions as I approach the end of this journey than I did when I began. And that’s all right.

As I read through “Chasing Francis,” the main character found himself in a place where his faith had been figured out, there was no mystery to it anymore. He had become a CEO of an organization rather than a shepherd of a church. This theme has weaved through so much of what I have read in the last year.

You see, I’m tired of seminaries that churn out executive-type pastors who can plan and organize the crap out of things, leaving very little room for the Holy Spirit to work. While there are probably some exceptions, I don't get the feeling that the seminary that I have been attending is churning out these kinds of leaders. I have seen people transformed over the last few years, they have become different people, people ready and willing to accept that faith is full of tension, and sometimes full of more questions than answers.  One friend and his family are up and moving to Haiti as they are being "wrecked" by God, following the difficult call on their lives.

Over the course of Cron’s book, the main character goes on a pilgrimage to find what has been lost. He rediscovers the beauty and mystery of his faith. He begins to seek out a new way to go about living out his faith and is eventually voted out of his church (not that I’m looking toward a similar demise myself). He recaptured the mystery and tension of knowing and being in community with the God who created him.

This was an incredibly timely read for me because I have been growing more and more frustrated with myself, with the Church, with Christians. I have grown tired of falling into step with the status quo and have longed for something that recaptures the brilliance of my faith. I long to take off the sepia-toned glasses that have lulled me to sleep, and exchange them for Technicolor ones instead.

I saw a glimpse of this during Advent last year. I saw how we can creatively worship God in a way that defies “how we’ve always done it before.” Sure, there’s always the danger of repeating things enough that it just becomes rote, but that’s why we need to creatively think through how we worship God together. It’s not a job for those who are on staff and paid within the church, it’s the job, no, the responsibility of everyone who considers themselves a follower of Christ.

Just once, I would love for people to actually show up to a corporate worship gathering with the expectation that they will see God in a new and fresh way, that they will see Him knock their socks off. It would be such a refreshing change from the typical “I’ll put in my hour” attitude that so often pervades our churches.  But the change doesn’t start with anyone else but me. I can rant and rave about others, but the only one that I can change is me. What am I going to do to make a difference? How am I going to approach things differently than I did before?

I think that those of us who consider ourselves Christ followers can make a difference in this world. Not because we’re so wonderful, but because God is. If we would let God be God and stop getting in the way, I would expect that we would see things go a lot differently than they have been going.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that there’s a lot of potential, if we would just step aside and let God lead us. Where are we going? It depends on who we’re following. If we’re the ones who are leading, we’ll probably just end up chasing our tails, winding right back where we started. If God’s the one who leads, there’s no telling where He’ll take us. Sounds like an adventure to me, and that’s an adventure that I’d like to be on.

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