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A Tuning Fork in the Road

by Ed Lucas, Mission Hills United Church of Christ

     A surprising church billboard went up in my area recently. Saying simply, “Reconsider Jesus: A Relationship, not Religion,” it appeals to the youthful and unchurched folks of San Diego.   I’ve seen and scoffed at my share of such clever church hook lines, but this one I had to agree with.  This is after all what Jesus was all about in word and deed.  His primary commandment was about relationship:  love God and your neighbor as yourself.  The rest is commentary.  Jesus has little to say about how to be good church members, but he has everything to say about how to be in community.  He lifted concentrated power out of the hands of priests and told the people they were able to do fine if they trusted their own experience of God above all.

     Decentralization is not the stuff of the 21st century alone!  There is, these days, a trend toward decentralization in many disciplines.  In the world of the Internet, we have YouTube, Wikipedia and many other sites that rely on user-submitted content.  It isn’t all accurate and it isn’t all good, but such is the faith-filled risk we take when empowering individuals to act in public. In our Christian tradition, the Pentecost event itself is a transfer of power from God into individuals who will carry the work forward as they are able. As WE are able.

     A couple years of anguish and discernment buffered my church experience at my home church from my recent joining with Mission Hills UCC.  When, a year ago, a number of small groups were started around different interests, I signed up for a few.  A Young Adults group started but had flickering success because of the busy schedules of people within our age bracket (from 18-40).  Serialized meetings like book studies or themed discussions didn’t do well, as the same people were unable to come each time.

     What emerged from these experiences was a decentralized approach that relied more on invitation to conversation than doing anything in particular.  Simply setting up a fixed date on alternating Tuesdays and sticking to it has now attracted some regulars. For those unable to come on Tuesday nights, we encourage a Spontaneous Sunday gathering that arises as the spirit leads.  The planned Tuesday night gathering gives folks the security of knowing when something will take place, while the Sunday gatherings fulfill an immediate need and take pleasantly surprising advantage of the fact that people are already in one place. Already we’ve found ourselves to be a microcosmic UCC congregation: a mixture of demographic facts and figures, sundry backgrounds and experiences, and all at various points along the spiritual journey – all hoping to sojourn together, if only for a while.

     The age bracket from 18-40 is a time of great change, with many frustrations and questions.  As Parker Palmer would say, it is a time of awakening to one’s own nature and reevaluating roles we’ve lived, sometimes without even being aware. Our outer indicators of success can mask inner turmoil. Beyond this, today’s earnest spiritual seekers have staggering questions to confront about our relationship to creation.  There is great opportunity for spiritual development in this time of life – if we recognize the need and give it space in our lives.   A major fork in the road comes just about this age, when we face the question Jesus put before us:  the things and concerns of This World, or God?   Chaos or Right Relationship?   Spiritual director and teacher Fr. Richard Rohr speaks of the age of 30 as being a critical time when this business needs to be sorted out.  At MHUCC our age bracket does not cut off at that time, lest those who with experience after 30 not be around to share with those under 30, and lest they forget what a struggle it can be to grapple with these matters. Contrary to the popular ethos, this is not a time to go it alone.
    There is a lot for us to sort out on our way to God.  So we meet, as Jesus and his followers did, around a bit of food and drink. Even if we don’t figure out the big questions, we still got a meal out of the deal, and that is no less a sign that we will be provided for.  The table is open.  Our topic for the occasion is life.  We don’t have a liturgy or an agenda.  We can submit our experience or sit back and experience another’s.  We can be decentralized but not scattered.  We can live in trust that from these encounters we’ll have what we need to turn outward and live faithful lives out in the world of our daily lives –  and also within the church family.

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