Perspectives on ChurchMany thoughts about church have been floating through my mind over the last four months. As I put these thoughts together, there are several people I have gotten to know in the book-sense. I have read a number of books by these authors. The authors range from Barbara Brown Taylor to Donald Miller to Anne Lamott. This is an eclectic group of people – a former Episcopal rector to a popular Christian writer to a popular novelist.

To kick off this series of posts over the coming week, I thought starting with a few of their reflections on the topic of church would be interesting. Their notions have not influenced my experiences, but they resonate in various ways as I leave a church and try to find a new one. These are not the typical perspectives on church. In their uniqueness, they stop us and encourage us to think a little more about what church is or should be.

Barbara Brown Taylor

Wake Up to the Sacred: An Interview with Barbara Brown Taylor (The High Calling, September 21, 2009)

Can you elaborate on what you mean by saying that the call to serve God is first and foremost the call to be fully human?

Sure.  I say that first of all to flush the low opinions most Christians have of what it means to be human.  This always strikes me as odd, since the Christian church has gone to such trouble through the centuries to assert Jesus’ full humanity.  So I focus on the word “full,” suspecting that both Jesus and the church have something to teach me about what it means to live fully into my humanity with other people and all creation.  If I don’t start there, then my service to God risks being so spiritual that it is really no earthly good.

LEAVING CHURCH: A Memoir of Faith? (The Ooze, September 3, 2008)

What is Sabbath sickness and how did you find a cure for this ailment?

TAYLOR: I devoted one whole chapter of my book to this. Sabbath sickness is what happens when you stop trying to earn God’s love for at least one whole day each week and consent simply to be loved for no good reason. The cure is to practice this every week, paying close attention to all your reasons why you do not deserve to be loved without reason.

How can church reach those whose lives are breaking down and they don’t feel welcome in a church setting?

TAYLOR: That’s what Christians are for—people of the Way—who are on that Way whether they are in church or not. The church can reach those whose lives are breaking down simply by forming Christians who know how to practice compassion, how to listen, how to withhold judgment, how to bake casseroles, how to look after other people’s children when those people are too confused or grief-stricken to do it themselves, how to give away their money and their time without expecting any direct return, how to be quiet with people in a noisy world, how to see God in the lost and the least, how to work for justice instead of just talking about it, how to make decisions that will benefit the widest number of people, how to swallow bitterness and choose peace, how to love God so much that they see God in every person they meet. Church is not a building. It is a community of people who know how to do these things and do them.

What’s saving your life now?

TAYLOR: Trying to be a Christian. Trying to live like that, every hour of every day.

Donald Miller

TheDoor Interview: Don Miller (WittenburgDoor, July/August 2008)

DOOR: What attracted you to Rick’s church, Imago-Dei?

MILLER: The churches I had been going to was sort of suburban, evangelical churches, conservative in both theology and political opinion led by a staff of white men. I didn’t have a lot of problems with them except the idea that my personality just didn’t fit with these guys. What led me to help Rick in terms of starting this church was not so much that I believed in a great vision or was moved by God, I was desperate. It was either that or just stop going to church altogether. So we started this church a few years ago, and it’s become a thriving, healthy thing, because they really love, and it’s been wonderful. When I think about church it’s now a positive word that goes next to my heart pretty powerfully and warmly where used to, it was cold, and miserable, and depressing.

Anne Lamott

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott:

Most of the people I know who have what I want – which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy – are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians – people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful. I saw something once from the Jewish Theological Seminary that said, ‘A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be a part of a greater meaning.’ Our funky little church is filled with people who are working for peace and freedom, who are out there on the streets and inside praying, and they are home writing letters, and they are at the shelters with giant platters of food.

When I was at the end of my rope, the people of St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on. The church became my home in the old meaning of home – that it’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in. They let me in. They even said, ‘You come back now.’

As I read these clips, what I think about is church as a place to:

  • Live fully human
  • Be a community of Christians who act
  • Be full of love
  • Work on ourselves and help others