March 10, 2009

why we live the way we do... [pt 1]

Our family is in the middle of a bunch of changes again. Nothing to worry about. We're not moving to Bangladesh or anything crazy. But I don't feel like I can say quite yet what they are simply because not all of those shifts are still concrete. I haven't sent a newsletter for the Collective in over a month simply because I haven't known what to say quite yet. But whenever things begin to shift in our lives, I begin to ask myself, "Why do we live the way we do?" I started writing some things down in response to that question and decided to share some of it here...

Bill Hybels has often been quoted saying, "The local church is the hope of the world." I remember first hearing Hybels say this years ago at a Willow Creek conference. It rung true to me and convinced me to remain involved in Christian leadership. I still agree with this statement–although I think his understanding of "church" is misguided. In 2007, I spoke at the annual Mennonite Church USA conference in San Jose, CA about the unsustainable state of the Church in North America. At first, my statement and Hybels' seem contrary. But I believe that the local church put into a local context, understood not as institutions, particular places or events but rather as the people of God called to participate with him in the renewing of all creation is still the hope of the world. What is no longer sustainable is an understanding of church as a particular place, time and event in which only a few have power and authority.

My agreement with Hybels' quote only grew this last summer. In August, Brooke, Paige, Matty and I had the opportunity to visit multiple faith communities of different shapes and sizes across the country. We found several communities attempting to uncover God's agenda in their neighborhoods rather than building their own agendas. Some had buildings. Some didn't. But all of them were deeply embedded within and committed to their surrounding community.

Many of us may no longer be familiar with the term "parish." A parish is a region or geographic district that a church considers their primary location of ministry. It includes those that are a part of the local church, but may also include those outside the church but within that geographic space. In many ways, that is what these communities have done. They have renewed a parish mentality; they have made their neighborhoods their primary space for living out the Good News of God.

On our trip we were inspired by communities doing just this. It renewed our commitment to seeing these kinds of communities emerge in San Diego. We were encouraged by the work of communities such as Church of the Savior in Washington DC and Vineyard Central in Cincinnati who have spent years living out justice and beauty in hard hit neighborhoods. And there were the small, young grassroots communities meeting in homes and cafes that were rooting themselves in neighborhoods showing grace, love and consistent presence like Water's Edge in Grand Rapids and Revolution in Fort Collins. Or churches such as Englewood Christian and Trinity Mennonite with long histories within denominations doing an amazing job of speaking prophetically to their traditions while reaching out to those disenchanted by those same institutions. In each case, we found new hope in the potential impact of a local faith community committed to each other, God and a particular place.

We've recognized for awhile just how important it is for all us to return to more localized ways of living. In our current economic squeeze, many are writing about the importance of more localized economies. This last year, we read Bill McKibben's Deep Economy in which he recommends this. And Brooke has often shared in her health counseling that more localized diets are better for our health. This summer, we saw the possibility of this when we visited farmer's markets, stands and co-ops across the country. We were also inspired towards this by Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. But we also came back from our trip realizing that the transformation of our city depends in part on vibrant faith communities. Rather than commuter services of people driving to a particular location for a few hours, we came home anxious to stir up the idea of people of faith embedding themselves into communities. Not much different than what the prophet Jeremiah encouraged God's people in exile to do in Babylon.

... more to come.


Chris Smith said...

"vibrant (local) faith communities"
Great stuff! Thanks!

Ragan Sutterfield, myself and some others here at Englewood have been dialoging a bit recently about the church as a "local culture" -- rooted in the notion of such a local culture from McKibben, Wendell Berry, Liberty Hyde Bailey, etc.

I can email some notes from that conversation, if you want.

love and shalom, bro...

Jason Evans said...

Yeah, I would love to see that! Thanks!

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