Between Two Worlds Day 17 (of 40)
The late Phyllis Tickle said that the Church seems to go through a Great Rummage Sale about every five hundred years–a cleaning out of our closets and a massive purging of everything that seems to no longer its purpose. I really appreciate her image. It sends a clear message that there are periods where the institution of church has to commit to a radical spring cleaning of historic proportions.
But I wonder if the image of the rummage sale doesn’t go quite far enough. I wonder if the more appropriate image would be that of an estate sale rather than a rummage sale. It’s not just a matter of size–an estate sale being the larger of the two. It’s more a matter of intent. In rummage sales we still hold onto the property and only slim it all down to the furnishings that still serve a purpose. In estate sales the whole property, furniture, belongings and junk get passed onto others.
I write this as the themes of religious mysticism continue to ferment in my heart and soul. I am increasingly convinced that the shifts that we can feel, but can’t quite name, are rooted in an historic return or re-imagining of Christian mysticism.
What does this have to do with the difference between rummage sales and estate sales? I wonder if a rummage sale won’t be enough. Rummage sales slim down the clutter in a home, but don’t usually change the character and purpose of a home. Rummage sales usually just make it easier and more efficient to do what you already do.
Estate sales, on the other hand, give the new owners permission to do whatever they like with their newfound furniture, property, gadgets, and junk. They get to put their newly acquired treasures to a completely new use and purpose. They are not confined to the stories of the past and the unspoken assumptions that accompany any family treasure.
I write this with no hint of judgment or shame toward the church as it is. In fact, I write it as a message of hope. Many of our churches are afraid of closing. They fear that they will slowly erode away until there is nothing left of them. They get paralyzed worried that their mission and ministry will fade away like old ink on an exposed page.
But it is my conviction that the tradition of religious mysticism is making a comeback that propels me to want to urge our church institutions to think beyond just rummage sales; it may be time to spend the next generation readying our churches and tradition for the Great Estate Sale. It may be time to start thinking about how we are going to turn the tradition, the values, and the assets of the church over to those who are nurturing new communities and spiritual disciplines around the tradition of religious mysticism.
I write this too because I have flirted between these two worlds with only little success at bringing them together. If I believed (and had experienced) that a re-introduction of Christian mysticism would re-ignite the church in a way that would sustain it into future I would be advocated for a Great Rummage, not an estate sale. Unfortunately my experience has been the more firmly rooted I am in the church the less I am able to reach those spiritual seekers who are exploring mystical forms (whether they know it or not). And the more firmly I am grounded in the language and practices of mysticism the more wary and distrustful much of the church is toward me and my writing.
None of this is personal. It’s not an attack on me and my ministry. It only makes my point–that a rummage sale may not be enough. As the current incarnation of church passes away it may be time to think about passing the church estate on to those who can best carry on its legacy. And quite honestly, I would rather that we pass the assets, values and mission of the church onto those who are resurrecting Christian mysticism than to have McDonald’s and Hooters bidding for our property.
Would you answer a hypothetical question for me as if it was posed by the church?
Over the next ten years, we, First Generic Church, will be passing our ministry and assets over to the community? If you were to be named as beneficiary to our estate how would you use the proceeds to further the great tradition of Christian community? Please feel free to use your imagination!