Mark 4:38 (NRSV)
Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?
In the same week as reading the report of the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life on the religious landscape of America, revealing a significant decline in the percentage of adult Americans who identify as Christian over the past 7 years, and especially so among those 34 years of age and younger, I also listened to a conversation between two people who I know through the living body of their work, their ministry. It was a conversation between two cultivators and stewards of meaning and connection today; Krista Tippett of the radio show On Being and Maria Popova of BrainPickings.org.
As a 30-something pastor of a local church in CT, there are stretches when I feel the perishing keenly and fearfully. This extends to a sureness my career is to perish, that this thing called church is in the midst of perishing, and maybe even this many-shaped experience called Christianity. "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing," I whine.
Yet at the same time, more of the time, I encounter the searching and discerning, the simple daring, quirkiness and passion of people like Krista Tippett and Maria Popova and the worlds they have cultivated, and the people whose lives those worlds have opened up, and I am returned to the peace that passes all understanding. I am aflame with Pentecostal Spirit. I experience the work of these two women and the spheres their work has sparked to be nourishing of the human soul in a way that calls to mind Jesus' self-offering as a fount of living water. Though their body of work looks and sounds very different in form and language from what we may usually imagine as church, in my faithfulness I believe they are extending church. Popova approaches her work, largely reading and writing, excited about what she describes as the "combinatorial, LEGO-like nature of creativity." This, I believe, is also the nature of church, Christianity, and life at its most vital.
Great, living God, never fully known, joyful darkness far beyond my seeing, free me from the fear that binds me to imaging that your living breathing body can look, speak and move in just a few familiar ways. Next time I whine about perishing, give me again creative people! Amen.
Lindsey Peterson is a General Synod delegate and is the Designated Term Pastor at the South Congregational Church in Springfield, MA.