“We pray that God will create something new and beautiful in and among us for the good of all creation and to the glory of the living God. What we need is not simply a new way of thinking, although our quest leads deep into and through the mind. We also need a new way of being, a new inner ecology, a new spirituality that does more that make us opinionated or fastidious, but that renders our souls an orchard of trees bearing good fruit, rooted in who we are before God and who we are becoming in God.” – Brian McLaren
Jane Cornett was recently in Kentucky and happened to have opportunity to hear Brian McLaren speak at an Episcopal Church there. Knowing that I like to read McLaren’s books and that we had done a book study just last year with Everything Must Change, Jane brought me a signed copy of A New Kind of Christianity. (Thanks Jane J) While I have not had the opportunity to read it through yet, I have read some parts and really like what I have read. McLaren is calling us to a new way of being church in this latest missive. His call, as stated above, is to a new spirituality and a new way of being that moves us beyond having a thought or an opinion about who we should be to embrace a practice of faith that is rooted in God and our relationship with God.
The church is desperately in need of becoming an orchard that McLaren describes. One of the great surprises for me in moving to Essex County was the number of orchards and the variety of orchards. Also surprising was to witness how the farmer is prepared to trip so extensively the trees. It is in removing the non-fruit bearing branches that the farmer ensures the life, growth and productivity of the tree. The tree never looks the same from year to year. In the tree’s life, change is inevitable. The tree relies on the gardener to take the necessary steps to ensure it is healthy. The church relies on us to do the same. It is not easy to discern where to trim and where to leave things as they are. But we must for the sake of the God who loves us take our responsibility as Christians seriously enough to trim off those old branches of thought that no longer bear fruit, to make room for new and strong branches that will bear beautiful fruit in due season.
In his plea to the church to take on fresh expressions of faith, he is constantly rooting that call in the love that God has for us. As I read I am reminded of the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.” Discerning what the church can be is not just a job or a duty to take on. It is covenantal. That covenant is with God and God is always beside us and will give us the direction we need if we are prepared to listen. McLaren writes:
“We do not expect ourselves to be capable of completing this quest by our own strength, guided by our own flickering lights, so we pray, expressing our dependence on the gracious and living Holy Spirit, from whom we have received life and every good thing, in whom we live, move, and have our being, and toward whom we move in our journey through life.”
There has been much conversation in our Diocese since our Synod a couple of weeks ago about Fresh Expressions. Born in England, Fresh Expressions is a call to be intentional and incarnational about the leading of the Spirit to open the transforming love of God to people who are currently not members. The Fresh Expressions webpage defines it this way: “A fresh expression of church is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples. It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.”
This call to change is being lead in no small measure by our youth. I am hopeful that our diocese, our churches, and our clergy will heed the call from Teresa of Avila, Brian McLaren, by Fresh Expressions and by our youth to seek to build forms of church that address the changing culture around us. There is a window of opportunity for the church in the rapidly changing culture, were we prepared to throw it open?