deep church, deep wells


What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Steven writes... Recently one of the conversations begun by Jason on this blog – MacGyver & Bricolage – moved both myself and an online acquaintance to go back to read about cultural identity and class/caste systems of oppression before we seek to understand taking our bricolage deeper and then “using whatever is at hand.”

As I was re-reading Gustavo Gutiérrez, Peruvian scholar and the father of “liberation theology”, this passage stood out to me as relevant to the discussion:

“Christianity is the way by which the Spirit leads the new “messianic people,” the church, through history. This historical journey is a collective one because an entire community accomplishes it. It has a comprehensive character also inasmuch as every aspect of human existence is caught up in the process. In the spiritual tradition we find many examples of how these biblical perspectives influence the understanding of the spiritual journey to God. The different courses undertaken by Christians throughout history in their following of Jesus lead, moreover, to a reorganization and new synthesis of the main focuses of the gospel, in accordance with the demand of a given age.”

The historical aspect of Christianity/the Church that Gutiérrez brings forth here – it seems to me – is intimately tied to what Jason and friends have been getting at with the whole ‘Deep Church’ perspective. If our drinking from the wells of the Church does not go deeper, to imbibe and digest the deep church traditions and wisdom available to us, we stand in peril of repeating the mistakes of the past or face our new challenges without a full quiver of arrows.

The objection and question often raised about God as Liberator and Leader of His liberated people is: Why is the journey taking so long? Especially when we look at the Exodus in a spatial analysis, the journey from oppressive Egypt to the promised land is rather strikingly short. Why are the newly liberated people of God being lead around in the wilderness? Why does the journey seemingly go on and on?

Gutiérrez answers this poignant line of questioning following from the text of Deuteronomy 8:2-6, but then goes on to say: “The important thing here is the mutual knowledge of Yahweh and the people, which is compared to that of a father and son. The time in the wilderness was a time of testing that enabled…growth in mutual love, for, as we know, the biblical word “know” has the connotation of intimacy and affectivity.

Such, then, is the deeper meaning of the journey through the wilderness; it gave unity and direction to what might otherwise seem simply dispersion and wandering.”

It is the same for the Church – the gathered of Jesus Christ – throughout history. The journey of the Church and Church history may seem rather a dispersion and a wandering, unless we realize the deeper aspect that YHWH-Elohim in Christ Jesus through the Spirit is brining generation-upon-generation into the mutual knowledge and love of a gracious and all-encompassing God.

The journey is the key aspect, because instead of dropping the truth into us, rather we learn and grow relationally with each other and with God. Therefore, we can and should look back on the historical interactions of God with the Church to contemplate and glean the wisdom inherent in the story God is telling through His Church, and thus come to our part of the story with God.

This story-aspect of drinking from the deep church wells is very much in alignment with primary instincts of postmodernity. Yet there are a few assumptions in church-thinking from the aspect of post-modernity that emerge in this discussion.

The first one that comes to mind is that following Christ doesn’t need to be religious or even tied to a religious institution named after Jesus, i.e., the Church. That there exists a religion raised up in Jesus’ name is fine for those who need it, but the universal Church is made up of more than those who practice the religion based on Jesus and his message/mission.

I have had several conversations along this direction lately, and while we haven’t come to any good conclusions, it makes me ask: Is this freedom and in the direction of a ‘generous orthodoxy’ or is this fractured-thinking locked into a Western-individualist, privatized and consumerist cultural mindset? “We all drink from our own wells”, right? (I look forward to more of these kinds of conversations…they just teach me so much…)

Anyway, for myself, I want to drink not only from my own well in 21st Century America, but of the wells of my friends and cohorts from other cultures, and particularly from the deep well of the Church, so that we all together can embody that mysterious statement from Ephesians: “…the multifaceted wisdom of God might now be made known through the church.” A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. ~Henry David Thoreau

What do you think?

· Is Gutiérrez right about the significance of the journey?

· Has drinking from the deep well of the church impacted your life and spirituality?

· If we have gained some of the perspective and wisdom from history, has that helped in a bricolage/MacGyver kind-of-way?

· an following Jesus be non-religious or even irreligious?