Guidance is good, and the church has filled that role well. Scripture, our confessional heritage, and our place within the whole Christian tradition all serve that need and provide a certain stability and outside voice to help us interpret God’s world. There is a certain comfort in finding oneself not only as an individual wrestling with our faith but also as a part of the “communion of saints” across time and space. Sometimes we neglect that voice to our own peril. Other times we become so zealous we fail to hear the questions since we are too ready to give the answers.
We live in a strange and unique time. Whether we label it “late-modernity,” “post-modernity,” “the dawn of the digital age,” or something else, it seems difficult to argue against the obvious changes around us. Technology is on hyper-drive, bringing new opportunities and challenges to each day. Institutions (including the church) which used to be seen as foundational to society are waning and find themselves more and more on the margins as people use and continue to develop new ways to gather, communicate and make sense of the world. Politics, economics and culture are not only local; they are global; and are increasingly interconnected. Everything is instant, and since we are always in motion we miss any time to process, debrief, reflect, ponder, and pray; otherwise we fear we might get left behind. Add the twenty-four hour news cycle, the shows we’ve DVRed but have yet to watch, Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, blog posts and an inbox full of emails and it is enough to suffer from sensory overload – let alone make sense of things in any comprehensive way.
Perhaps our greatest asset in this constantly changing world is that we don’t know what the answers are. I’m not suggesting we are clueless, but maybe we should rely on the power of questions more than on the power of answers. Could the church be a place where we asked more questions? Why aren’t we?
Could it be that we get intimidated to ask our questions because we feel like we should have answers, and don’t want to look foolish if we don’t know something? Could it be that people shy away from us because they think all we want to do is share our answers – and their lives are too fragile or complicated for that? Could it be that in our fast paced lives people no longer stop to ask a question because too often no one listened when they asked?
I don’t know the answers, I’m just asking.
Maybe just giving people permission to ask questions could be both liberating to insiders within the life of the church and welcoming to those outside it. Scripture, our confessional heritage, and our place within the whole Christian tradition will continue to be foundational (of this I have no doubt) – but maybe they can give us some avenues to ask good questions rather than seem like know-it-alls.
One of the best questions from Luther’s Catechisms he often repeats is “What does this mean?” I think we need to ask those kinds of implicational questions more.
When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) he asked the lawyer he told this story to which person acted like a neighbor to the man beaten by the side of the road. “What do you think?” is an amazing invitation we too often neglect. I think we need to seek input more.
Perhaps we could learn to ask for help, rather than thinking we have the answers to share. I was out to dinner with a friend this past week, and over the course of our meal he shared with the waiter that we were going to a church meeting after we were finished eating. Then my friend did something I’ve never witnessed before – rather than ignoring the subject, or giving a “come to church pitch,” he simply asked the waiter if he would pray for us after we left. Then he asked if we could pray for him later on too. He didn’t give the waiter an answer; he opened a question that led to a fifteen minute conversation. I think we need to find more places outside the walls of the church to ask questions that invite people to share their gifts.
Life is fast, hectic, and burdensome – for all of us. I have a bunch of questions. Consider these questions as we live our lives between here and there. Add your own to the list…
How might we better support each other in our questions?
How might the church be a community where we engage the questions of others outside our walls?
How might we better support each other the rest of the week (outside of Sunday) when we rejoin the hectic and continually changing world?
How might we better connect people together both inside and outside the church?
How might we draw people of all ages into our conversations and leadership?
How might we utilize the church as the starting place to carry our faith into the world, rather than using the church as the destination of our faith called out of the world?
How might we draw on our strengths to innovate when it seems like structures are locked in place?
How might we support each other when it feels like those around us are more indifferent than hostile? (What about when they are hostile?)
How might we reach out to others, when it gets harder and harder just to get to church on Sunday?
How might we draw upon the rich resources of Scripture, our confessional heritage and our place within the whole Christian tradition to ask our questions and invite others into them?
I don’t know the answers to these questions.
What I do know is not to underestimate that the church is first and foremost a community of people and there is real strength in that. Questions can and should be asked here. Why are we afraid to ask them? It is true that the church is imperfect, and we get things wrong sometimes. We can get over-zealous. We can crumble underneath our fears and want to block the world out – like when you crawl under the covers and put your pillow over your head. But that should not preclude us from asking hard questions – in fact our deficiencies should draw us to ask them even more. I invite you to ask your questions…and please keep asking them.
Jesus reminds us, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7)