How is this church different?
Spiritual refugees can’t always see why Galileo Church is any different than the boring, irrelevant, exclusive, and painful experiences of church they’ve come from. They’re right to insist that stylistic differences – a guitar instead of an organ, jeans instead of Sunday dress-up – are not sufficient to earn their trust. They challenge me to articulate something more than our snarky resistance to vocabulary like “committee” and “fellowship,” and our now passé commitment to the inclusion of beer for church events. Here’s what I say when they ask:
1. About God: we trust that the Deity is ahead of us, not behind us. God is the God of the future, not the past. God didn’t just used to do stuff, a long time ago in a Bibleland far, far away; God is still doing stuff, always a little further out from our comfort zone than we would like. And thus getting a handle on exactly Who God Is is not something we imagine we can do. We just try to keep up and stay amazed.
Someday, we trust, God will get everything God wants. (“The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward justice,” somebody said.) If we want that, too, God’s future will feel like heaven to us! If we don’t, if we’re invested in the status quo, well, God’s future will hurt like hell. We find images of that future in the Bible – mountains demolished, valleys raised up, the last made first, the first made last, the despised and forgotten sitting happily with Jesus. We want to want what God wants, because in the future of God’s imagining, it will all be true.
2. About Jesus: we trust that his life of ministry was as significant as his death, and that you can’t appreciate one without the other. His life was the fullest expression of God-Among-Us, God’s Logic, God’s Own Self ever. We are much more likely to share stories of his shocking, inclusive, earthly life spent among friends and enemies than we are to dwell on the bloody details of his atoning death.
We’re not even sure what “atonement” means, except that God routinely takes the crap we’ve got (crucifixion, anybody?) and makes beautiful stuff out of it. We insist: If Jesus had not lived the kind of life he did, they wouldn’t have killed him. Thus his resurrection becomes a vindication of his choice in life to love beyond the borders of religious propriety; and thus we are saved, because he loved us beyond the borders of religious propriety. Boom.
3. About the Holy Spirit: we trust that it’s the Spirit of Living Jesus inhabiting us, so that we are kinder, bolder, and more imaginative than we would be on our own because Jesus was the kindest, boldest, most imaginative person ever. And we’re pretty sure his Spirit is at work in people who don’t even know it’s happening, which is delicious. We feel strong and smart and gutsy with this Spirit weaving us together.
4. About people: we trust that people are beautiful and beloved. All people. Even us. So we try to act like beautiful and beloved people, even when we don’t feel like it, interacting with the beautiful and beloved people in our lives and in our world. This makes us happy, because people are fantastic. We are fantastic. You are fantastic.
This requires constant attention to the flattening of hierarchies, so that race and money and religion and gender and sexuality don’t prescribe how we relate to each other. This is the morality we lean into – the corporate morality of Christ’s (metaphorical) body (that’s us) living into the promise of the dissolution of human distinctions. Whew. That’s a mouthful.
So you can see that we’re aware that the beautiful and beloved people of God are also broken. We’re much more concerned about the deeply systemic brokenness in our world – the way power is used and abused, sometimes to our benefit without our even knowing it happened – than we are in each other’s individual little sins. Most of us are pretty good most of the time, and God is merciful; but all of us are caught in sticky webs of systemic sin from which the whole world, even the dirt we walk on, will one day be redeemed, because God is just. Thanks be to God. (Redeemed = set free. The churchy language sticks with us sometimes.)
5. About the Bible: we attend to the Bible as one, continuous story about God and how the beautiful, beloved, broken people of God relate to God. Sometimes they get it right. Lots of times they don’t. Everything in the Bible points to the God Who Is Ahead of us, calling us forward, never back. Nothing in the Bible is a stopping place. We take the Bible quite seriously, letting it show us how patiently God waits for us to figure stuff out and take the next step toward God.
Oh, and: the Bible is never boring. If it seems that way, you’re doing it wrong.
So that’s how I explain it, for now. I’m aware that these things could change over time – I couldn’t have written this essay at 27, or 37, so what makes me think it’ll still be true at 57?
I don’t know if these words resonate with you, friend refugee. Do they feel true enough (and distinct enough) to make a difference in your experience of our church? Is there balm here to heal your wounds, nourishment here to strengthen your bones?
I guess the last difference in our church from your last one that you might be interested in is this: we believe that the church is for you. You, the skeptic; you, the cynic; you, the wounded; you, the strong one working to keep your head above water for another day. God is for you, so we are for you. You are why we exist. Come and see.