About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Purpose of the Church

I've been doing a lot of summer reading and writing, especially musing on what difference "the church" -- the Church as God's people and the Church as institution -- is supposed to make in the world, and also about what difference growing up in a church has made to my life and vocation personally.
Publicity around the Pope declaring that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church leaves me disheartened since it says to the world at large that the Church in general is mainly about who decides who is in and who is out. On the other hand I've just finished reading Graham Standish's book, Becoming a Blessed Church, which suggests that the way for people in a congregation to live faithfully is to learn to be prayerful and discerning about listening for what God wants, both in their individual vocations and in the congregation's vocations. He talks about the difference between a "functional", "program" oriented approach to the life of a congregation (so common in mainline Protestant churches) and a spiritually grounded approach that puts God first. I recommend this book and also his wonderful little book Humble Leadership -- an important spiritual resource for anyone in leadership, in the church or in the secular world. It was my morning spiritual reading for the last week or so and an excellent way into prayer.

Isn't it odd that this should be news? That our lives in churches ought to be and can be grounded in God's guidance and the life of prayer? Have we in mainline churches become so focused on institutional survival that we are forgetting the deeper call to Christian discipleship that the church is supposed to be there to support, serve, deepen, foster, for the healing of the world?

Have also been reading about healing ministry in the Church and was interested to note that the ideas of "healing"/ making whole and "salvation" - restoring to God's purpose -- have gotten conflated in Christian tradition. So "salvation" comes to be about who gets into heaven and who doesn't, when the root of the word is "salus"/ more like health - wholeness. The dream of God is for the healing of a broken world, the restoration of right relation between Creation and a loving God. The Jewish call to "tikkun" -- the healing of Creation -- also names this well. Our language about salvation in terms of "who's in and who's out" has taken us off the track, I believe, of what God's desire to "save" us really means.

This takes me back to my favorite quotation from Evelyn Underhill's The Spiritual Life, where she uses the phrase "to save the world" in a context that clearly is about healing a broken Creation rather than about somehow winning souls that are lost. Here's what she writes, in a radio broadcast on the BBC in 1936.

The Church is in the world to save the world. It is a tool of God for that purpose; not a comfortable religious club established in fine historical premises. Every one of its members is required, in one way or another, to cooperate with the Spirit in working for that great end: and much of this work will be done in secret and invisible ways,. We are transmitters as well as receivers. Our contamplation and our action, our humble self-opening to God, keeping ourselves asensitive to his music and light, and our generous self-opening to our our fellow creatures, keeping ourselves sensitive to their needs, ought to form one life, mediating between God and His world, and bringing the saving power of the Eternal into time.

I go back to this quote when I need to re-center my understanding of the Christian life and the purpose of the Church.

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