A big Thank You to those who made it out, and also to those who submitted responses to the questions.
We really loved hearing what church means to you. We enjoyed hearing how each of you became part of Knoxville Pres. The metaphors and adjectives you used to describe your home church were wonderful: family, home, welcoming. accepting, inviting, and more.
We gave our definition of church. That being the people of God living on the mission of God together. The first part of that definition deals with the global church, the people of God living on the mission of God, and the final world assigns the general definition to the local - together.
We talked about the marks of the church. In holding with the Book of Order, we said that while on one hand, we agree with Knox and Calvin that the marks of the church are the Sacraments, the Scriptures, and Church Discipline, we believe this is an incomplete list. We believe that the overarching reality of being the body of Christ is the incarnation. As the Divine incarnated into humanity through the person of Jesus, so Jesus incarnates into our present world through the life of the church. If we are not living out the "sent-ness" (or incarnation) of Christ, we can practice communion, preaching, and church discipline all we want, but we are not the church.
We believe the avenues through which we live out the mission of God together to be: family, learners, and servant-missionaries within our context (we'll talk more about this one in early November)
We talked about the lifespan of faith expressions. Everything has a life span. We don't like this part, but it is true. We discussed dealing with the idea of lifespan from two different vantage points:
1. Biological. This typically happens when we recognize that we are just too "old" to deal with the necessary change that is required to be the new expression of the church in a new time. We said there is nothing wrong with this, as long as we accept it with dignity.
2. Mythological. The example we use is the phoenix; the phoenix literally goes through a stage of deconstruction, to be resurrected anew.
We talked about the gospel as both bad news and good news. A good example of this is found in Acts 19:20-21:1, where Paul brings the Gospel to the people of Ephesus. When Paul begins to teach the gospel of Jesus, it results in a riot. Why? If it is good news, why a riot? Simple. The good news of Jesus often conflicts with the "gods" or shallow platforms on which we have built our identity and way of life. In the case of Ephesus, the god is Artemis. Like true religion, one cannot check faith at the door and enter the work world, or for that matter, any other arena. True faith threads itself through every fiber of our life, and the people of Ephesus understood this. The worship of Artemis had a great effect on their business and political practices, and the effect was profit. In other words, to live according to the way of Jesus was going to actually cost them financially. The people of Ephesus understood, to "bow their knee" to a new god (Jesus), would not simply have eternal consequences, but would affect every other arena of their life - including their business practices. Note: If Paul were to get in a time machine and travel to the twenty-first century United States, with no clue that some of us claim to worship Jesus, and was told, "Paul, we aren't going to tell you anything; we simply want you to observe, and then based on your observation, please tell us which god you believe we worship." Paul would simply look at our cathedrals, sports arenas, driving concern for bottom-line profit, gated communities that shield us from the poor, and consumerism, and he would conclude that we were either worshipers of Artemis or Mithra. The idea that we claim to worship Jesus wouldn't even cross his mind. Back to the point - the gospel assumes we don't compartmentalize our life. If the gospel has eternal consequences, then even more so it must have immediate ramifications. And those ramifications have to do with the entire scope of life - one cannot claim to be Christian and then practice the business ethics of Artemis, or the war principles of Mithra. This is why Jesus said, Before you say yes to me, count the cost, because to follow me will effect every part of your life. And initially, this is bad news. (It shouldn't be lost on us that this counting cost conversation comes right before our call to be salt and light, in the book of Luke). Typically the first part of our life that it effects is the "idol" - that being the thing, person, body image, education, relationship, hobby, or event we have built our identity and livelihood around and on - which is initially bad news! *If you want to read more about this, we recommend the book, The Idolatry of God. BEWARE: it is very theoretical and can get a bit abstract at times).
Who do we want to become? We loved this part of the conversation, and we do not really have the space to rehash all of it. So we want to summarize what we believe and what Peg brought up, which we believe to be true and have so for several weeks. When we started the series on Ephesians, we talked about the utilitarian nature of this part of the country. We are not so much talking about utilitarianism as a philosophy (which we aren't convinced leads to a much brighter path), but utilitarian as nature or adjective, which literally means, "designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive". Utilitarian as nature is opposite of the aesthetic life. When the utilitarian nature is lived out by a person or people, especially a people in survival mode, it becomes usefulness and practicality at the expense of beauty and joy, because they seem unnecessary components to survival. The economic situation in small town Midwest is pretty bleak, especially right here in Knoxville. When you look at what agri-business has done to farming (read Wendel Berry to get a better understanding of this, if you don't already) and the creativity that at one time was innate in this vocation and the mass exodus of manufacturing jobs, we have become a culture that finds its identity and viability in the ability to be useful and practical, at the expense of beauty and joy, and thus put our efforts to find life into things that continually under deliver. This has become the norm. I believe, that if the church in small town Midwest is going to be the living embodiment of the gospel, to be the incarnate Christ, our good news is a call back to beauty and joy. Not as secondary or tertiary, but primary. Beauty for beauty sake. Joy no matter the circumstances. Beauty and Joy as fuel for life. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting." Wouldn't it be amazing to help our culture read the handwriting of God again, and thus regain the joy that accompanies true beauty? Many have called these ideas the transcendental values, because they can transcend all cultures and circumstances, and are the life blood of the soul.
Here are a couple practical ways to engage this idea:
Movies: Have you seen Chocolat or Babette's Feast? These are great modern-day parables for places that have lost the deep appreciation for beauty and joy and maybe a prophetic parable to those of us who want to see it restored.
Reading: Google C.S. Lewis on things like joy; the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Imagine: For us to lead any person anywhere, we have to model it in our persons. For the church to lead a culture anywhere, we have to model it in our corporate personhood. The task, if beauty and joy are the aim, is to discover together how we can, as Christ's local body in Knoxville, be expressions of beauty and joy. That, my friends, is worth imagining!