I’m reading Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne, reading it for a presentation I will be doing at the Practicing Resurrection conference in August. I’m struck by his very moving story of the homeless woman and children in the St Eds cathedral, as the roman Catholic archdiocese is seeking to evict them. To his credit he doesn’t enter into either anti-institutional church nor anti-Catholic diatribe. But his account does still have that purist notion that church happens when Christians get it right .
I understand the impulse: make a difference, right wrongs, live as though and so that the world will be different. I too can get impatient. But what is getting it right? (and just so you know I’m no longer talking about or to Shane) Church is an odd thing. Read the letter’s of Paul, those Saints in the city of such and such weren’t getting letters from the Apostle to pat them on the back for how good they were doing. Paul generally wrote because those churches weren’t getting it right. In fact most of the New Testament are letters to the churches because they were messing it up, and missing the point! In Acts a quick read may leave the impression that in those first days of the Church after the Spirit descended there we had the perfect church (Luke kind of wants us to think this) but then there are Ananias and Sapphira, and the controversy over the care of the Hellenistic widows. (Division and segregation separate but equal at the moment so close to all those amazing things we think we’d get it right if only we wer closer, if only we could experience those things) it’s likely that the Church never has gotten it right, and maybe just maybe we are missing something about the Body of Christ and Christian faith.
Moralism can slip in so easily. At first, any form of moralism fits so nicely, its’ comforting, we know what to do, and who to judge. You can be a moralist about how to or not to engage corrupt systems, as much as one can be moralist about what one should or shouldn’t do in the privacy of ones own home and heart. The church is a hospital, rehab, center and school for those in recovery from the World. But also the church is none of those things.
Back to those messed up churches of Paul, those Saints who haven’t got a clue about what it means to follow christ, (sound familiar). Paul doesn’t encourage them to live more strictly according to the Rules, private moral , or justice and activism, but to be joined with Christ in Christ’s suffering, and death. This is neither literal nor figurative, but mystical, and it’s a process. Doing the right thing in either personal uprightness or social justice will not produce the fruit we truly seek without this identification with Christ.
The transformation we seek isn’t about getting it right, whatever that might be, but about being transformed in and with others and the world. We don’t make the transformation, we open ourselves up to it.
This transformation certainly is in the midst of standing with those who suffer injustice, but it is also in the midst of Christians even official christians members of the church getting it wrong. Certainly if we isolate ourselves from others, judge others, complain about those people, we do impede our own openness to God’s transforming work, we perpetuate the Wold in ourselves and in the world around us. However, God isn’t hindered in the work, accomplished in Jesus Christ, of our transformation and that of the world.
We don’t change ourselves or the world, we can only be united with the one who is changing us and has overcome the World. Then we are propelled into the multiplicity of actions and contemplations that the Spirit equips us to do. We can’t get it right, but we can be made right, be transformed and so can our world. And the Gospel is that it has been and is being so transformed.