Peter Rollins visited the emergent village community in my city this week. i went and observed and listened to the things that were said. Peter told a parable that he said a friend of his had dreamed. it went something like this.
the friend died. as he was walking up to the pearly gates, he had to walk past a bunch of people who he knew. they were his friends on earth, people he'd met in the pub, people he spent time with, people he loved. he walked up to St. Peter, and Peter found his name in the book of life. "You can enter," Peter said. the friend asked, "what about these people?" and pointed to all his friends and acquaintances. "They have to stay out here," Peter said. and the friend replied, "well, then, i think i'd rather stay out here too." the friend awoke, and as he did, he swore he saw St. Peter smiling, and heard him saying, "finally, someone gets it."
Peter speaks of this parable as a great picture of what it means that the church is supposed to run after the poor, the forgotten, the neglected, the outsiders. but most of the time, the church exists only to perpetuate itself.
as Peter shared this story and his commentary with the group, there were a lot of interested faces. a lot of murmurs of agreement or exclamations that this is a good picture, that these are good thoughts. but as the parable was discussed, there was no talk of action. we did not ask how to run after the outsiders, how to reflect the incarnation in our own churches, in our own communities, in our own families, or even within the emergent community. instead, we engaged the idea at an intellectual level and left it there, where it was safe and warm and harmless.
a little more than a year ago, i left the church. and this is the reason why. in the new testament, church looks a lot more like a refuge for people who are worn down and weary from their interaction and engagement with the world. instead, we have turned it into something that exists for ourselves, for our own growth, for our own spiritual edification, for our own comfort, for the education of our children, or for our intellectual development. it is not a place that we come to be equipped with God's armor so that when we leave to enter the world we have the strength of the body surrounding us.
but we have been called to love our neighbors. to love neighbors who don't know God. to love neighbors who do love God. to love prisoners and orphans and widows. to love single parents and welfare families and drug dealers and pimps. to love the homeless mentally ill man who walks down the street asking for our spare change. we have been called to love the outsider and the one who is alone.
i left the church because there is no longer any place for me within those walls. in pursuing my calling to pursue and love the outsider, i actually became an outsider.
if only that hadn't been necessary. if only there existed a body of believers that exists, not to perpetuate a system or an institution, but to encourage the members of the group in their pursuits of mission and redemption in the world. maybe someday there will be. but it will not happen until we cease to engage at only an intellectual level the idea of mission and begin to put our hands and feet to work in the world.
until then, that's where you'll find me--putting my own hands and feet to work in loving and pursuing the outsider.