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The Jesus I Need

As we come to the end of the Easter Season, the season when the church is born, and the enter "Common Time", I find myself lost in some existential thoughts about the usefulness of organized religion, Christianity, and the Jesus narrative that has so framed my life. (And yes, we pastor's ask these questions, too.)

Maybe it is because I am coming up on the 25th anniversary of becoming a "professional" religious leader. 25 years of pastoring is a good time to reflect on the changes a quarter century has brought to the church. (And no, it is not my ordination anniversary.  That's another story altogether.)

Maybe it's because I see many of my colleagues retiring and exiting church life and organized religion. Even people I thought would never stop going to worship are happily discovering other things to do with their Sunday mornings. (Barbara Brown Taylor first wrote about this in her book Leaving Church in 2006.)

Maybe it is because I have been listening to some amazing lectures by Bart Ehrman, Roy Casagranda, and Noura Erakat (among others) who have reoriented my historical understandings of the so-called "west".  They remind me how much Empire, Settler Colonialism, Racism and Nationalism have been intertwined in organized Christianity (Christendom) over the last 1700 years, leaving me to wonder about its usefulness in light of our current global reality.

Don't get me wrong, I am a person who still finds the ancient stories that center around Jesus, and the movement started because of this Palestinian Jew in the 1st Century, of great value. I find the Hebrew texts, the Letters of Paul (and others), as well as the Apocrypha to be deeply meaningful and filled with wisdom. It offers me insight into the oh-so human struggle to understand our behavior and our relationship to the Source of Life, the Creator, God. I believe the ecclesia, the Gathered Body, remains an important part of how the mission of Love and Justice that Jesus (who some of us call Christ) inspired is made manifest.

And yet, I have spent my entire 25 years in professional ministry struggling with the impact of Christianity on people's lives. You don't need to be an LGBTQIA+ person to have a church-trauma story. The lived experiences of so many have created the stumbling blocks to their participation in "church", while the hope-filled mission of Christ - one of liberation, sacrifice, inclusion, and communitariansim - is lost to the unresolved pain of hurtful events and oppressive theologies. The Christ of Love is pushed to the margins and made irrelevant by the algorithms that prioritize inflammatory speech and hate.

I still love the church and the good work we do to help those in need. I love that we support one another and create sacred spaces where we can worship and learn about the Jesus we follow. Yet, I see the relevance of "church" disappearing as people find other ways to worship, create sacred spaces, and engage in mission and activism without the religious labels that, at one time, sanctioned our "good deeds." I regularly speak with people who love Jesus but find the institutions created around him to be irrelevant at best, and stumbling blocks, at worst.

This brings me back to my existential thoughts and the fact that, for almost two millennia, the human struggle to contain the Spirit of God as known in Christ has been dancing in and around, with and without this institution we call The Church. There has always been an ebb and flow, an organizing and disorganizing, a forming and reforming impulse that both inspires and frightens the professional clergy class. And this movement has kept calling us to see Jesus again as if for the first time (Thank you Marcus Borg), to find new ways to hear the Spirit singing Wisdom's Song, and to become "church" for a new generation, a new people who find organized religion, Christianity, and the Jesus narrative compelling enough to join.

I don't know what the future of the church will be, but I do know that (like many others) I find the Jesus I need among the people called "church". I know the truth of his words, "Wherever two or more are gathered, I am there among you." I know that there is nothing "common" about the time we live out the command to "Love your neighbor as yourself." And I know that untangling Christ from Christendom is no small thing.

May the God of Liberation, Sacrifice, Inclusion, and Communitarianism inspire you to be a peacemaker even if war never ends. And may you know the Love and Hope that was inspired by Jesus, even in the face of fear and disbelief.

Peace - Pastor Robin

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