What rocked your world, changed your life, shifted the ground beneath your feet?
Can one's world be rocked by something incredibly unsurprising and predictable?
I was almost completely unsurprised by the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference this year - the proverbial righteous wrestling for power in the church is so old hat by now that the acrid floor debates and disappointing vote returns were nothing new to me. What hurt more than the outcomes of the discussions and debates, though, were people's reactions after Conference was over - self-satisfaction and self-righteous claiming of God's favor (a "mandate" if you will) or foot stomping and door slamming as they declared themselves done once and for all with this oppressive institution.
I suppose all that isn't surprising, either, but Annual Conference was something of a watershed event for me. It exposed all the latent and rankling ill-will we feel toward one another, all the divisions and deep divides between us. Someone even went so far as to issue death threats under hotel room doors - to one of their sisters in Christ.
Like the earthquake that shook the East Coast this summer, I don't think big world-rocking things happen suddenly, all at once. The pressure on these plates has been building for decades, probably centuries, and the quake was just that final expression of frustration. We feel the ground shifting only after we've pushed it past its capacity to hold solid underneath our demands. I think that's what's happening in the Church, or at least in my particular little piece of the church. All the tension's coming to bear and the structures are starting to quake.
Honestly, I am entirely fed up with those shabby structures. But I'm also bound up in them along with everyone else. I ache to be free of them and at the very same time I know that I love what they're built upon too much to just run away. Sucks.
If Annual Conference exposed all the faults in our Body, it also laid bare all my own carefully covered up frustrations. I woke up at 3am one night not long after conference, thinking, "Oh, what the hell. Just say it. Just say what you've got to say. Just say it." And I wrote this. And I got flak. But that post still reflects exactly what I think, even after five months of cooling and calming and retreating and self-editing.
I am so weary of this infinitely slow process of break-down and so ready for new growth to emerge. I visited my aunt and uncle's church this morning, a downtown church plant with solid and thoughtful Reformed theology, good and invitational music, and an emphatic embrace of practices of hospitality and mercy. I'm sure if I entered into deeper theological conversation with the people there, we'd realize quickly our differences, but to worship with a vibrant and growing and thoughtful body on this Advent morning was such a relief. The sermon was, in part (we're talking 40 minutes of "teaching," y'all), an exegesis of Isaiah 7-9. The minister explained the whole "root of Jesse" deal, that phrase that crops up again and again around this time of year.
Ahaz was a Davidic king of Judah - one of the promised Davidic rulers, a sign that God was with God's people always. But Ahaz pretty much sucked at being a King. Atrocity after atrocity, perpetrated under his rule, and he didn't give one tiny damn about any of it. He just let it go on, even dumped the temple's contents out in the street to further piss off God. So the people of Israel were, understandably, a bit confused: weren't these Davidic guys supposed to be GOOD kings, God? What the heck is going on here? That's when Isaiah gives the metaphor: yes, God has promised you salvation, and God has promised to be with you always. But that doesn't mean that it will be quick or easy. You see, y'all are like a giant tree, and you're going to get cut down. Cut down to a STUMP. An ugly, useless, stump in the ground. It's going to hurt, and it's going to take a long time. But then, eventually (oh, let's say 735 years from now), a new branch will start to grow out of that old stump. It will bud and flower and an entire new tree will grow.
A promise is a promise. It just takes a while to come true.
There are days that I believe that, and there are days that I don't. There are days that I think we can soldier through all the crap to something better, and there are days I'd rather we just torched the entire thing today and be done with it. But today, it is advent, and so we wait. We wait and grieve and throw our hands in the air in disgust, and we hope. I'm not sure what else there is to do.