Thursday, January 29, 2009

Find God Here, part 2

[DISCLAIMER: I know what is contained in part 2 to will no doubt be met with a negative response from the reader. I do not mean to dress down your church. I only mean to share what I have come to believe.]

let's continue our thoughts about our expressed desire to meet God in our churches, and the danger and presumptive expression contained within that desire.

to be honest, i have been in “exciting” church services, services that seemed to exude the presence of God (if you believe in such things), only to step back afterwards, wondering if what i really experienced was God at all. since i have already confessed my cynicism in the earlier post, i now would tell you that this is a cynicism i have never really attempted to overcome.

while i do enjoy a church service where there's a good spirit, where the worship leader and worship team or choir is inspired and uplifted -- because i usually walk away from that uplifted as well -- i do not presume to say that i have met God in such a service. let me tell you why. a good sociologist, using say the tools of the sociology of knowledge, can radically deconstruct everything we do on a sunday morning, explaining the social location of our practices, and by explaining them they explain them away.

read, for example, peter berger's book, the sacred canopy, one of the most challenging (though dated) works of this kind. one walks away from that read with acid wounds etched in the soul. (if it weren't for his second appendix it would have been over for me).

anyway, one walks away from such understanding with a marked sense of sobriety when confronted by all things marked holy, wondering which promises of the huckster contain the hidden hook. this has meant two things have stayed with me:

1) even though all we do has a sociological explanation, i have come to believe that there is more than sociology to all we do. that is, i still believe God is somehow present in this world, and may even work through the sociology of humanity;

2) which means i have come to believe that we must look for the presence of God as a communal reflection and not an individual one.

in this regard, dietrich bonhoeffer has a phrase from one of his writings that has kept me sane during this ongoing discussion: "christ exist as community." here we see the, “where two or more are gathered in my name...” statement by jesus teased out in full. then, to quote an earlier post that touches on the present topic as well, i share from walter brueggemann who was writing about israel's relationship with God:

"...Yahweh, as known, trusted, obeyed and feared in Israel, is there in Israel only because of the sustained mediations that incessantly focus on Yahweh's oddity. Without these sustained mediations, Yahweh, who is so odd and irascible, so wondrous and awesome, would disappear from the life of Israel and from the life of the world...The reality of Yahweh depends upon the compelling case made regularly by the witnesses. And the witness make their case in utterance and gestures of mediation." (which brueggemann footnotes that for us this is "Word and Sacrament")

taking bonhoeffer and brueggemann together, i believe the idea here is that, when we meet in congregation, when we meet together in the name of jesus, when we meet with “utterance and gestures of mediation,” we somehow invoke and summons the presence of the present expression of the christ, which we only really recognize by looking backward, over time (sometimes over a long accretion of time), to notice how we have changed. that is, as before, jesus does not swagger and envelope us. no, he is still incognito, and soft and silent as an evening snow.