Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Spinning Thing

Warning: I'm more of a pastor/poet than physicist, by several light years.

When I was a kid, our family spent a week each summer on the California coast. One of the highlights of that week was a trip to the boardwalk. One of the highlights of the boardwalk was the fun house, where for a quarter, you could slip into a magical world of crazy mirrors, tubes that turned, wave machines, slides, and best of all, the spinning thing. I don't know it's name, but it was this game you'd play, whereby 6 to 8 of us little kids would sit on a platter attached the ground. The platter began spinning, faster and faster, until one by one, kids begin to slide off. The object was to stay on as long as possible, so we'd scratch and claw as we sought to cling to the spinning thing, but invariably, the thing would win and we'd slide off onto a waxed floor, where we'd slide even further, landing only God knows where, in the fun house.

Later, in physics class, I learned the scientific principle governing the spinning thing: centrifugal force. Later still, like in the past five years, I've been learning about this same principle as applied to our collective life in Christ. Reading through the book of Acts in my early Christian days, I don't think I ever fully grasped how similar the young church was in mindset to we kids clinging to the spinning thing.

After all, the church was told from the beginning that the would be spun out of Jerusalem, "to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth." Then they clung - to the heady power and fellowship that was found in earliest days of the church, right there in Jerusalem, right after Pentecost. "What, me leave? I'm fine right here, thank you very much." When we've connected with God and found some good friends with whom we're sharing openly and intimately, our instinct for stasis kicks in, and we begin to cling to what we have, rather than follow the flame and the cloud as it leads us into new frontiers.

The good news, though, is that the wheel begins to spin faster. Persecution breaks out in Jerusalem and some leave. It becomes increasingly obvious that this new chapter is going to include both Jews and Gentiles, because a whole new category of people is being created: "little Christs" who will make God's live visible. Our ideologies are spun out, as we wrestle with who actually constitute the "saved", and it slowly dawns on us that even those who (gasp) are uncircumcised, can know Christ. Even Roman soldiers are meeting Christ! Women are finding a voice. Slaves are finding a place at the table on equal footing with their masters. The wheel keeps spinning, faster and faster, in individual lives, lives of churches, and lives of nations, so that as the church grows old, it becomes this globally interconnected web of Christ followers, sharing their unique gifts across cultural chasms as heralds of the reconciliation of all peoples and all things that will come someday in fullness.

We'll look back and see that we clung to the spinning thing, that we resisted change, that we sought to freeze the present. We did it when we resisted our kid's growing up. We did it when we refused new relationships. We did it when we complained about the changes at church. We did it when we kept our prejudices and fears intact, choosing to kill the movement of God's spirit instead.

Ultimately, we pray, the spinning thing prevails and we let go, however reluctantly, of the past. When our family moved to Seattle, we left a town where the phone book consisted of one 8.5x11 piece of paper. We were afraid to leave our comfort zone, but the spinning thing had won, and we were flung into the thick of urban living. That was 14 years ago, and our church has subsequently grown from 250 to 2000, all because the wheel was spinning fast enough that we were forced to let go of our own dreams and plans. Thank God. He knew what was best for us.

I'm convinced that the force which breaks us free from the spinning thing is the centrifugal force force of the Holy Spirit. He knows just when to dial up the speed and fling us out of our existing geography, relational web, way of doing things, beliefs, prejudices. And if we cling (thanks be to God) He keeps dialing up the speed until we surrender. What are you clinging to: beliefs, geography, job, beliefs, prejudices, relational capacity, daily routine???


At 31/8/09 15:39, Blogger j said...

That was a much-needed gut check. Thank you Richard.

At 1/9/09 13:34, Blogger Sherry said...

Thank you for this post.

The ending of your 4th paragraph;

...becomes this globally interconnected web of Christ followers, sharing their unique gifts across cultural chasms as heralds of the reconciliation of all peoples and all things that will come someday in fullness.

I am reminded of the words in our Sunday Eucharist Liturgy;

And so, in the fullness of time bring us, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, *Blessed Francis, and all your saints, from every tribe and language and people and nation and species, to feast at the banquet prepared from the foundation of the world.

*Francis, because we are here and he is that Patron Saint of San Francisco!

Thanks Richard for always challenging your readers.

At 6/9/09 11:32, Blogger addie said...

My husband and I have been attending for about a year with our little girl who is nearly 3... We had lived in seattle together for 5 years, both knowing we had a need for community in a church setting... i had been going to MOPS for 2 years and convinced him to come along. Every week it seemed we were being spoken to directly. We were touched and challenged in new ways. And began to feel fed and like we belonged... something neither of us had had from a church in a long time, if at all.
We recently moved to Tacoma, trying to make the drive 3 sundays now ON TIME.
This morning we just wouldn't have made it on time - after we all got ready, waited for my husband to get back from a farming adventure, we just wouldn't have made it. I felt crushed and alone away from home in Seattle... then I read this post. I am being spun...and it's not enjoyable. It is uncomfortable to think of "trying on" a new church, a new group of people, a new pastor. I am clinging to what I know and reminded that perhaps God has something bigger for us WHERE WE ARE. Thank you for the post, Richard.


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