Belfast is not the world's cheeriest place. Which I suppose makes it an ideal place for a conference about decay and death. Death is everywhere here, on the murals, in memorial gardens scattered through neighborhoods, in the peace walls that represent everything but peace.
So what am I doing at a conference revolving around death?
First of all, I don't think I'm entirely on board with everything Pete Rollins writes and says. Specifically, his critique of the church seems based on a couple of common themes in the contemporary church that I agree are problematic, but which I don't think can be imposed upon the entire institutional church. Not every Christian community or "orthodox" (whatever that means) Christian person lives in denial of doubt, or fears disagreement, or is addicted to its own certainty. My sense is that his generalization of the institutional church causes a discarding of the 2,000 years of Christian experience that came before us. While there are certainly faults there, I believe that Christian tradition has something to teach us, and that sometimes those liturgies, creeds, confessions, and doctrines that feel so limiting, feel limiting because they challenge us and urge us not to create a god that is simply a reflection of our own selves. I still have hope for the existing Christian community, and I sort of get the idea that he doesn't.
(What? You don't know what Pete Rollins writes? Go read some. I don't think I'm going to get around to explaining.)
I'm here, listening to a lot of talk about pain, uncertainty, decay, and death, for a lot of reasons. I'm here because I'm frustrated with denominations' and congregations' terror about their own decline, and frantic obsession with self-preservation. We follow a Christ who died. What do we expect for our own lives, as individuals and institutions? So, I am struggling to find a way to help my community and denomination embrace our own impermanence, and truly live the life we have...and not fear our own demise.
I'm here because I believe in the power of shared brokenness and vulnerability, and so rarely see it in Christian communities.
I'm here because I long to integrate art, music, dialogue, and mystery into faith expression, and have never quite managed to do it.
I'm here because I needed to meet some fun and interesting people who can talk about all the theological stuff that is usually so separate from all things fun and interesting.
So, yesterday, with this strange and fascinating group, I toured the conflict and decay of Belfast, and then attended an ikon event that focused on facing our own imminent death. Then we heard Jay Bakker talk for a while about his unimaginable childhood and how he has been grasped by grace. He described his own vocation and his inability to escape grace, or Jesus, or church, and wow, could I relate to that. And so I guess that I'm also here just to be reminded that I am not alone in all of this.