life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Friday, May 20, 2005

café dolce (two): competition...

There are probably a half-dozen restaurants within shouting distance of Café Dulce. Of those, the Broiler is the swankiest. All the power lobbyists take their clients and the government officials they are lobbying there for lunch or dinner. I’ve eaten there before for lunch meetings and it’s a veritable who’s who of Sacramento (except for the governor).

The Broiler serves high quality concoctions with prices to match. Café Dulce is different. There is a variety of food available, but it is relatively plain compared to the Broiler. So they largely attract a different clientele.

The Joy of Cookies next door to Café Dulce has closed down since I was last in Sacramento. Looks to me like the Chinese place, Stix, several doors to the west, may do the same soon, if lack of crowds is any indication. Across from Sacramento Convention Center is another up-and-coming restaurant like The Broiler that has begun competing for market share.

We should not be surprised, I guess, by that. It is, after all, the American way of business. Our economy thrives on competition.

A guy I work with spent most of his life working in the newspaper business. He has a mind like a steel trap and smells a story 10 miles away. He is cast in the old-fashioned journalistic mold with language and demeanor to match. And he has some interesting views of life reflected in pithy “sayings” that he often holds forth with. One is germane to this discussion, and it’s one I can actually print here. (Some are not printable in such a blog.) “It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and I’m wearing Milk Bone™ underwear!” I’m sure it’s not original with him, but it pretty clearly reflects the competition we find ourselves in. Economically, we’re all trying to make a buck. There are only so many bucks to be made. The buck I make is a buck you didn’t. It’s a kind of economic Darwinism… survival of the fittest.

This is a bald generalization admittedly. I have observed a lot of compassion for especially older employees in some circumstances. (This unfortunately is becoming more rare.) Now, I’m not saying capitalism is a bad economic system at all or arguing for something different. It seems to survive better than most. My question is whether the church of Jesus Christ in its various institutional forms has sold out to this competitive drive so characteristic of our economic system? I think it has.

Brian McLaren pointed this out last October at a lecture I attended. We may talk evangelism and winning souls and saving the lost and such. But what we are really after is more of the church pie. “Fill these pews, Lord!” is an oft-uttered prayer isn’t it? (Or fill these chairs or bean bag chairs or floor or whatever.) We’re bent on institutional survival. Reflect on this for a moment.

The church in Ephesus is no longer there. (Neither is Ephesus as a living city, by the way.)

How does that make you feel? Are you asking questions such as, “Were they unfaithful? Did God remove their candlestick?” (See The Revelation of John chapters 2 and 3 in the Christian Bible if you are looking for a context to what I just wrote.) Are you thinking, “Dear God, don’t let us go that same direction?” Let me ask this: Is God still at work in the world around you? Yes, sometimes even in the institutional church. Sometimes.

The survival of God’s church doesn’t depend on the survival of your institution.

Oh, God, if you could only get that into our heads and our hearts, how different the world might be!

Back to Café Dulce for a moment in order to make the point for which I have spilled all this electronic ink. At the risk of seeming to identify another potential market share or interest group, let me ask this question: what about the people who have chosen to bring their lunch to work?

When you look at things from a spiritual perspective, there are a lot more of these folks than anyone else. And they will never attend your church. They are not interested in your institutional survival. What happens within your walls on Sunday morning (or Saturday night or whenever) interests them not one bit. The language you speak is foreign and the view of the world you have chosen to take doesn’t correspond with theirs.

What about those people?

Are they searching for God? Many are, sometimes many more of them than others.

I guess this is a plea. Let’s drop the “what works to get people to church” (or at least what we call “church”) and begin taking the view that forming spiritual apprentices of Jesus (and being one ourselves) is probably the most important work we can do. I call it Kingdom of God work. We can do it anywhere. We can’t do it without the direction and empowerment of God’s Spirit. And, I am convinced, we cannot do it if we are spending all of our efforts to save the institutional church.

Now you may disagree with me about that. I could be wrong. Maybe you want to have a discussion about how we define “church”. Maybe that would be profitable. For us. Perhaps, though, we ought to focus on our mission of spiritually forming disciples and then this other discussion will take care of itself.

“Go and spiritually form apprentices…” words of Jesus, Matthew 28:19, my paraphrase (under influence of McLaren).

Wishing you grace and peace today, and just a small foxtail stuck in your sock…



Anonymous Marshall said...

Beautifully written, Owen. Thank you.

3:34 PM  

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