I was reading a short story (one of my son’s college English assignments), and the theme for the paper was how the story refelected the experience of exile.
It ended up making me reflect on how my own theological place to which I have come seems like an exile. It has distanced me from much of the political arrogance of the Progressive movement, even though I admire many of the members, and try to afford to them some understanding that some of my recent critiiques I’ve come to hold in regard to “Christian Progressives” are relatively recent (last 2 years). And it is from within that type of theological upbringing that I have come to a place where I can find the intellectual and theological “tools” to find so much in Radical Orthodoxy that attracts me. First and foremost, the emphasis on the ecclesia; the church, as a truly radical polis. (I say this well aware of some of the crtiiques of Hauerwas’ subtiitle for In Good Company, which is: The Church as Polis). As an ecclesiologically impoverished former Baptist, I believe RO has also helped me to recover some of the awareness of the significance and effects of the eucharist in its account of the significance and centrality of the church.
My experience with The Church of the Saviour has also been a crucial element in preparing the ground for me to latch onto the ecclesia emphasis of RO. The Church of the Saviour has planted firmly in my soul the centrality of the church as a living, breathing, expression of God’s alternative society (indeed, even “the only real option” for life as it was meant to be lived. All the other expressions are “the world’s alternatives” and are variations on operating out of assumptions about life that emanate from the nation state rather than from a people called apart.
But knowing how I have spent some 30 years identifying myself with expressions of church and faith that fall under the umbrella of Progressive or even liberal, it’s hard to distance myself from a source of community there. It was RO and authors such as Hauerwas and JKA Smith that exposed me to the rather hefty sociological/philosophical analysis and history that I had come to take for granted. But my theological education, both formal and informal continued education, gave me the tools to be willing to accept some critical distance, and recognize some of the remaining political encumberances that still exist in progressive/whatever movements that claim to have shedded their political biases. It is this history from which I have come that has kept me a little , shall I say, “hesitant” to judge “prior movements” too harshly (“prior” in the sense that I perceive myself to have “advanced beyond” to some “deeper understanding”). I actually believe I have, in many ways, but I am also acutely aware of how far I am from some of the truly sacrafiicial lifestyles and commitments made by many in the progressive movements. The fact remains that as much as they may have been captive to some number of political assumptions about what constitutes a politic worthy to be called church, they nevertheless have numerous examples amongst them of taking some radical journeys into places I have yet to be, or make any serious moves toward those “marginal places”.
I feel this most acutely as I read such blogs as Dan’s (On Journeying With Those In Exile) or the story Shane Claiborne tells in The Irresistable Revolution.
And I feel it every Sunday I find myself at home like today, wondering how I’m going to start somewhere, knowing that such things can only start with some calling together of two or more with a vision. In this post I have tried to get at how much more difficult the last two years of growth have been for my confidence in whether such people or places exist. I have to believe that it does; that they do; but I am really feeling like an exile from the church. I don’t seem to have a local place where people are asking such things. I still hold out some hope that in some way this blog will hook me up with something happening somewhere near me. I haven’t dismissed the possibility that such a thing can “grow within” existing structures, but I also know that the resistance to some of the “wineskin bursting” that will be “wanting to happen” as God calls us into the unknown and untried is often exemplified (the resistance) in existing structures and expectations about church. And so it seems likely to me that such a thing with the structures of accountability and openness to call have to be conceived without regard to existing edifices. (Oh boy, whenever I do a post like this it always becomes too big and , with me, rambling and frustrated.)