Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My Journey

Those of you that have seen me in the last month or so (and those of you who haven't will just have to take my word for it) may have noticed that I have given into the fad of wearing one of those colored oversized rubber band bracelets. No, mine does not show the world that I made a donation to the cause of aids, cancer, children's hospitals, or animal shelters...Nope, mine was actually a free gift with a purchase from Cokesbury bookstore. Although I am not one give into trends, I decided that I would put this band on as a reminder. The band says "My Journey" on it (along with Cokesbury's logo). As was mentioned in the last comment section of my first post, I view the endeavor I am on as just that: a Journey. However, it’s not just A journey; it’s MY journey. My journey differs from your journey, and yours differs from everyone else's.

I love stories! As you may be able to tell from looking at my book Reading links (to your left) I like epic stories. I really love stories about people who have a destiny and go through this epic journey to become the person they are meant to be. Harry Potter, Eragon, and Sonea (The Black Magician Trilogy) are all tangled up in an epic story that has some sort of journey through which they must progress. That is somewhat how I view being a Christian. I view myself as being on this great journey of exploration and understanding so that one day I will finally become the person that God has created me to be! In reading these stories however, I have noticed a trend. Every hero of the story embarks on their journey and meets companions along the way that help him or her become the person they were meant to be. I've come to realize a basic fact of life. Whatever your journey may be, you cannot accomplish it alone; Hence the need for a Christian to be a part of a Christian Community.

What is interesting though about the Christian community is that not only are its members on their own journey, but the organization itself is on a quest. What is that quest? Well it’s the quest of how to do Church of course! See I have this theory. I'm sure that I'm not the first to think of this, and I could be wrong, but I see a trend throughout church history. Here we have the one and only Catholic Church. Then we have a Division in the Catholic Church (Roman v. Orthodox). Then we have the Reformation, denominationalism, 1&2 Great Awakening, Church splits, and the list goes on. I think that all of these events are a direct result of the confusion that Christ left us in when he...well... left! I mean its not like he gave us a Minister's Manual, a guide to running church programs, heck he didn't even leave us with an Order of worship Template (although I think some churches think that he did!) Look at the early Church portrayed in the New Testament. You can't even get through the book of acts without the leaders of the church splitting on the issue of circumcision! Obviously, the Churches that the epistles are addressed to were having trouble trying to "do church".

So what does this have to do with my journey you may ask (or you may not, but let’s pretend you do)? Well my journey keeps coming back to the Journey of the Church. Are we really getting anywhere? Do we really, "do church" any better 2000 years after the first churches began. Do we have any better understanding of what Christ envisioned when he gave us the great commission? I'm not sure. I think we may do some things better, but I feel that there are many things that we are just as lost and confused about as the first Christians were. Will we ever get closer to an understanding of what Christ wanted when he forsaw Christian community? I'm not sure, but for some strange reason my journey keeps overlapping with the Church's Journey, and I can't help and wonder if part of my Journey is to help the Church on its journey. I mean, we both are striving to be whatever it is that Christ is striving to make us in to.


  1. To me...Christ left us with the duty to love one another and to teach/show others the type of love that Christ showed us. Thus...a church community. The problem comes when our own vanity/judgements (or variety of other "human" qualities) get in the way of sharing Christ's love. It's not an "easy" problem b/c it has obviously been happening for years without any "real" solution. I doubt anyone has an answer to this...after all you can't change who we are...just how we think (and even that is a difficult thing...no one ever WANTS to be wrong).

  2. I think you are on the right path when you say that we have to change how we do church (did I get that right?) I struggle each Sunday that we have Communion because it has become a "traditonal ceremony" with all the preachers and deacons wearing white gloves, a table covered in white table clothes and someone (usually two of the members of the Mothers' Board) designated to uncover the sacraments. I asked why we wear white gloves and the answer is; "we have to move slow in changing things." Well when do we change? When does it become apparent to us that we don't have this ordinance right and when do we holler; "Enough is Enough!!"
    Keep pressing for change. Without a radical change that our Lord and Saviour instituted, there would never have been a NT Church!Our mission (marching orders; if you will) as preachers and teachers of God's word is to bring about change. Change of not only the unsaved, but also the saved so they worship God in the true manner of worship.
    Look at how many "special days" we have: Church anniversary, Pastor's anniversary, choir anniversary; and on and on and on. There are so many things going on in the the church building that we don't have time to "build" a spiritual church of beleivers!
    Demand a change! Try something new,bring the mold of "idle worship."
    At the same time, remember what Christ taught us. We must be meek and humble, but at the some time we must speak the truth ("... and the truth shall set ye free.")

    Keep pressing toward the mark!

  3. Justin I think you are right on about the notion of story. Your love of epic stories and your understanding of your own narrative in the light of those stories will make for a helpful understanding of your relationship to the Church.

    In scripture we have a story, and the climax of that story is the cross. But we know that the cross is not the end of the story. Guess what, the scriptures are not the end of God's story either. The Church is the continuation of God's story in concrete reality.

    As Christians we all have our own stories as Justin has pointed out. The task here is to graft our stories into the larger narrative of God's story. When God's story and our stories are the same story then I think you could say "we are on the right track."

    This is easier said than done, and what is essential to this process is being part of a community of people who are shaped and formed by God's story - which is the narrative of scripture and the history of the Church.

    Christ didn't just leave us alone, he left us with the Holy Spirit that guides and helps give shape to the community who are formed by God's story. It is true as you say that only as a member of this community can you truely begin to graft your personal story into the narrative of God's story.

    Sometimes the church gets confused and loses sight of the narrative that formed them in the first place - namely God's story. When this happens God will raise up prophets to retell the story and call the community back to life within the story.

    I wonder Justin if you might be a prophet, seeking to live your life seriously in terms of the story in ways that the community can no longer do. Allowing ones life to be shaped by the narrative as a witness to the church in places where they have failed to live into the story, is a powerful calling. This might be yours!

  4. Hello again Mr. Bowman,

    Today, I am afraid I am not writting you from the comfort of my rock, but rather within the confines of my small room in S.A., where I am alone and as fare as I can tell there is no presence of other souls, and I wondering if God is truly present. Thus, I suppose it is rather like being in church.

    Mr. Bowman I believe you are aware of my personal dis-satisfaction with the modern idea of the church. Perhaps I am chocked full of inner demons (which I believe to be the problem with my golf game)but I honestly find myself growing sad, sick, and angry within the same emotion while in "attendance". It is possible I may just be a little gasy, however I believe a large portion of my disdain comes from the very concept of the "church" itself. Thus, I pose a question to you: When did church become a place? Why in the creation of religion (any religion mind you) do we find it necessary to create sects, denominations, or factions?

    In your lovely dialoge you mentioned the creation of the "1st" chruch- the catholic flavor. Though I have a seperate isssue with any man in a funny hat, It is interesting to me that of all the disciples, many who developed seperate followings, the one who founded the "1st" church was one of the most militeristic and at times un-Christlike when compared with others. From the disciple who suffered from his own pride, we recieve the "1st" christian church. A sect based upon elements of control and ignorance. A sect where the authority of the chruch and its human leader could not be questioned. I bet Pat, James, and Jerry would love such a system, as long as they recieved their funny hat.

    I wonder if the ideas of faith and Christianity before our obsession with hats has been fairly fragmented if not lost in history. However, the one church, as any syntheisis can not last forever thus we begin the fragmentation of "the church", until you get whatever it is we have today.

    I pose you another question my friend, what is a chruch? (Person, place, thing, or idea). My personal favorite answer is "A community of believers" (Once such an answer is given my trap is sprung). For when most people say such a thing the imply a community is somewhere where people believe in relativly the same thing, abide by the same rules, and traditions. Now where is the fun in that. I believe the proper discription for that is not a community, but rather a sect, denomination, faction, or cult. Perhaps, it is our insistance upon the standardization of belief that has caused so many cleavages in all faiths. In human history we have always attempted to create a world of clear cut black and white. The same appears to be true in religion. We cannot possibly allow the existence of gray, because that may challenge the very existence of what we believe faith to be.

    A faith based upon principles of black and white/right and wrong is very simple and quite easy to destroy. Such a faith I find to be very dangerous, like a dog backed into a corner blindly attacking anything challenging its place. Is such a thing truly a community?

    When I think of a community I do not see an environment where everyone is the same. I see a world of gray. I see something where people are drstically different in their perceptions, traditions, and ideas, yet they openly discuss ideas and concepts without judgements. Something where peopel focus not upon black and white/Right and wrong, but rather upon the community itself. In my mind I do not see why a community of faith cannot be similar to such. Oh but who knows perhaps I am merely gasy again.

    As for the journy, I am glad to hear you are wearing a rubber (bracelet) to help remind you of your journey. In all our journies (lives) Christians often say that we should give our lives to God and he will show you the way. As a man of faith (despite popular belief) I do not know that I believe such. As a strong proponent of God given freewill, I wonder if in the journey we are not destined to decide for ourselves. It is not Gods job to decide our lives for us, that is the job he gave to us. The tools are always laid out in front of us. It is up to us how to use them and in what order.

    Is the journey ever supposed to be clear? Perhaps, all we can do is walk through the haze praying we have chosen wisely, while alway remembering many a man has done evil in the name of God, while believeing he was right. Push through the haze my friend. The journey is never clear, I doubt it was meant to be. Really, would it be anywhere neas as fun it was.

    It appears I have once again rambled beyond my own thought, and I believe it is time to stop. I am new to this whole blog thingy and I am writting as if this was an open discussion(hence the rambaing). If this is no good let me know.

    Until the Next,


    P.S. Ryan I began my last rambaling with "my boy" because it was eloquent you giant terd, lol ciao.

  5. Justin, after 30 years in professional ministry, 27+ as a pastor, I still struggle with "church." I think I agree with Ryan who said something like "Christ taught us how to love" (apologies to Ryan for butchering his comment)and expects us to work out how to love in this community of faith. I don't know that we can expect to do "church" better than at any other time in history since we do not know exactly what Jesus intended. We, his followers, in any generation, have to be open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit as to how to meet human need.
    We face a problem similar to what Jesus experienced long ago (and still experiences today!). Not everyone chose to follow him then, and even those who did had different levels of commitment. And, not everyone agreed with what Jesus taught/commanded; sometimes, even those within his select group disagreed and saw "things" in different ways. As long as there are two people in the "church," as the saying goes, there will be at least three opinions. So, we are left to do church as we see human need and are led by the Holy Spirit to use our gifts to meet that need. So, I'm not sure we can ever have a common job description of church. Journey on!

  6. First, I must say it is fantastic Justin that you are struggling with church. “Fantastic” is probably a weird word to use to describe a struggle, but the struggle itself means your care and concern for Christ and His Body is more than an occupation or chore. One of my favorites, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letters from Birmingham Jail, wrote, “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”

    “Church” is not just a word like “office” or “playground.” Church as a community is an intangible idea: one of love, acceptance, encouragement, and struggle; none of which can be measured by attendance, baptisms, or ordinations. That’s why Church is hard. It doesn’t grade well and it is probably at its best when it looks the oddest and is facing the most persecution.

    This is a particular interesting discussion for me because I have recently returned to the Church. I used to be a devoted every Sunday-er, and attending school to be a minister, but then the Church hurt me incredibly and I gave up on it. I didn’t go at all or only when I knew it would hurt my family member or friend if I didn’t go with them. They didn’t understand why I just wouldn’t go. I couldn’t tell them it was because I hated Church. I stayed out for about 8 months before God began showing me that he still wanted to work through the Church and he wanted to work on my disappointment with the Church. Journey is definitely the word I would use to describe the last year and a half. The problems haven’t changed, but I have.

    One idea I have about church and just being a Christian at all is for us to be with people. I read Blue Like Jazz this summer by Donald Miller at it is great. You should read it. He has a section called “Church: How I Go Without Getting Angry,” and he says, “I didn’t want to befriend somebody just to trick them into going to my church. . . I liked the idea of loving people just to love them, not to get them to come to church.”

    (I’ll keep all future blogs shorter, at least I'll try:)

  7. Thanks Leanne, (as well as everyone else) for your comments. again this helps me in my struggle.
    I really like that quote from MLK(i may steal it and put it up on the front page)You all have given me a lot to think about. don't worry about the length, the more you say, the more i ponder!!
    more to come!