In her latest article in the Christian Century, Barbara Brown Taylor responds to the many letters that she has received since publishing her book "Leaving Church." She says that as far as her life of faith is concerned, the world has offered her a place to experience life in wonderful and trying ways; it is where her "transformation has taken place." She also says that the church is what has given her the eyes to see and the words to speak. Through the church she is able to mediate her experiences in the world. It seems that more and more I hear people talking about their desire to live fully in the world. There is a deep thirst that many people have to live in the present, alive to the hurts and pains and engrossed in the wonder of this world. And yet they also desire to experience this world in an alternate way, not restricted by the normatives that have been created by society and tradition. There are people seeking a holy existence, an "altarnate" life.
The renewed emphasis on the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are also reaching out to quench the thirst for holy encounters. People my age (30s) and younger are coming to the font and to the cup hopeful of a direct encounter with God and God's kin-dom. I, and people like me, want to put on Christ and walk in the world with God's eyes and with God's heart. Our sacraments offer us objects to reach out and touch and taste that invite us into this life.
We can see this most exemplified in the rise of "new monasticism." New monasticism invites committed individuals to live in intentional Christian community. While most of us aren't cut out to wade into the depths of such intentional life, there is a seriousness involved in our baptism that calls us all to live intentionally in the world as witnesses of God's love and grace, upholding one another in holy community, and striving to live in the midst of God's kin-dom while walking through the kingdoms of our making. One of the things that I would love for all who darken the doors of the church I serve to learn is that all of us are ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, invited into the full embrace of God and commissioned to share God's love wastefully in the world. This is the call of intentional Christian life.
One of the complaints that I hear from congregants is that the church isn't providing a serious forum for exploring what it might be to live alternately in the world - or altarnately, as I am interpreting it. The church, in its self-consuming focus on itself (numbers, finances, attendance, programs, mediating conflict) often loses sight of being the means to an end, a way to intentional living, a place for nurture, questions, and challenge. I'm glad that Barbara Brown Taylor has found church meaningful in her quest to live altarnately in the world, but too many people are finding it insufficient. However, I hope that instead of abandoning our churches that we challenge them to live into their purpose to offer us God's kin-dom. Church should be a place that nurtures us along our way, a community of support and challenge for spiritual pilgrims, the one place where altarnate life is held before us constantly.
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