There are no easy answers to the struggle with church. But, it is vital that we in the church, listen sensitively to those who struggle with our institutional expressions and that we seek to respond openly and authentically to the challenge they present. If we refuse to heed the genuine plea being uttered, we deserve the extinction that often seems to lurk just around the next corner.

My attempt at a response continues with two further points, one today and another tomorrow, then two concluding comments Friday and Saturday:

3. Point #2 (posted yesterday) leads naturally to my third point. Human beings are communal. We need other people. We were not designed to live in splendid isolation. We need to find meaningful life-giving ways to be together that penetrate beneath the surface of normal daily human discourse and interaction. We need to embody the deepest values we hold in relationship with other people in order for those values to to deepen and grow. We are not disembodied spirits. Our spiritual lives need to take place in time and space with real people. We are nurtured by the presence of others, by the sound of their voices, and the beauty of our shared surroundings.

Richard Rohr says, “You must build your tent somewhere in this world.” Many tents are too easily folded up when they no longer feel comfortable. It is so easy in our culture to slip away whenever there is the least awkwardness or discomfort. At its best, church tries to build as large and as lasting a tent as possible. We believe that love calls us to the often challenging work of community that does not just fold up its tent at every uncertainty or discomfort. Church calls us to dive into the deep waters of the inner life and to live in the world from a place of truth and light that, respects but is not bound by, changes in mood or culture.

Church invites us to take a deep-dive into mystery. It calls us to live in communion with a depth that exists beneath the rational processes of everyday life and the constant change and flux of culture. It holds before us the possibility of transcendence. It seeks to model the possibility of a parallel universe unfolding alongside and within the horizontal material realm of time and space. In our worship we are invited into sacred time, celebrating a different rhythm than that which characterizes the surface of life.

It is not clear to me who will fulfill these depth functions in the absence of intentional communities of faith that have the capacity for some permanence in the midst of the constant obsession with surfaces that characterizes so much of what passes for human community today.

There are so many places we can go where we are made to feel we belong to the degree that we some superficial standard. There are so many groups where we are acceptable because we have reached a certain status or meet a prescribed set of expectations for belonging. In the church we seek to affirm the value, dignity, worth, and belonging of all people regardless of status, achievement, any worldly standard of behaviour, or even any rigidly agreed upon dogmas.

This is the beauty of an open table and a shared meal at the heart of our religious observance. You do not have to pass any dogmatic or morality means test before coming to the table. You need only to know that you are hungry and poor to share the spiritual nourishment Jesus left us. We exist to express to all people that they are deeply welcome simply because they are created as valued and beautiful children of God. It is not enough just to think these things, to be told them, or just to say them. This is not a mental exercise. We need to learn these lessons in our bodies by acting them out in an agreed upon set of actions that embody, shape and reinforce our life in faith. We pattern this truth into our lives by regular participation in the embodied action of worship.