He was so immersed in the life of the Church...that he occasionally forgot that the life of faith was not always the same thing. -- Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church
The October breeze blowing chill against my coat, I nearly run to the edge of the moonlit lake. Before me, lamplight reflections writhing on the water. Behind me, inside the warm church, a conference of people finding private corners and comfy chairs to sit and ask the same question: "What do you want from God?" I charge outside; can't even answer his question unless he's present with me. I touch the things he's touched, look him square in the face as if he lived on the moon.
I say the first thing that comes: "I want to be heard."
Right away, I want to take it back. Do I really? Couldn't I choose something that sounds like less of a tantrum? How long have I walked this path now, eyes on the moon all these years? Hasn't he heard?
It's the cry that comes from the invisible: When the growing-up church devalued and gave women only fifteen minutes of pulpit time and never a deacon role. When the older brother constantly beat down his sister's ardor. When the seminary said, "It's good that you're here to support your husband in his ministry." And now when I've begun to find my voice there's no invitation to use it.
The conference had just walked us through our lives, year by year, stepping in all the seasons good and empty. We mapped them out: names, roles, events, experiences. I noted the people who'd invited me in college, family, seminary and even in church after church. I paused, pen poised for the next, but there weren't any more. The names stopped. The mentors were gone. In the past ten years, no one had significantly spoken into my life. I hadn't been heard for days and weeks and years.
The invitations had stopped.
As I made my way into this now community, as if saved in an attic covered in dusty white sheets, my greatest strengths emerged. And when I scouted and scratched and inched into them I found that these greater strengths were already filled by others. Or undervalued. Or misunderstood. To use these gifts for the church, I needed the church to identify and affirm them. But there were obstructions and other choices and different directions.
When I identify my gifts that easily fit into how the church is already working it's easy to slip into place and support the greater vision, maybe just take over something someone else has to drop, or join a team that's already in motion. That works well. But when I discover that I have something new that can build her up, something there isn't already a place and person for, I get an ecclesiastical blank stare.
Let go of the defenses and the shields and the tightfisted formulas for some life that doesn't exist and give away beautiful pieces of yourself and feel the hurt, because the only way to own a life worth having is to give away your own life. -- Ann VoskampA few weeks ago, I determined to stop waiting for an invitation. I started to ask questions outside my church to see if I could use the gifts, if I could be heard. I thought it would just be a toe interrupting a quiet pond, but I came away astonished at the splash my first inquiries made. The eager invitation to mentor. The excited invitation to preach. The new friend who invites me to tell my story. Why was it easier to be affirmed outside? Why was I being invited and challenged by the not-my-church?
Over 20 years of passion and eagerness, heart aflame and vision charging, I have admittedly lived for the Church. I want to plant her deep and water and prune her, to grow her into "on earth as it is in heaven" people. I grieve over her and I'd be lost without her.
I remain in hope that she'll reciprocate the art of invitation, slip it into her bloodstream, let go of some vision that doesn't, won't exist. But even if she won't I'll continue to press because eternity runs through our veins together. I'm not leaving her. But this life of faith is something broader and deeper than the life of church and I'm, right now, cracking away at what that means.
The question shouldn't be what do we do when we don't get invitations, but what happens when we don't give them? We lose the people who needed to be invited. We miss the practice of abiding in relationships. We chase off the evangelists. We grow stagnant and impotent. We don't pass on the faith.
At the end of all this here's the intersection I'm standing at: the point of this long walk talking to the moon isn't to live for the church but for Christ. He has a bigger body, a broader expression. He doesn't squelch the ardor. He is intimacy, essence and abundance. He invites and challenges and prepares our outcomes and He is always present with us in his most adept ways.