Did you know that the international terrorist threat level for the UK currently stands at “Substantial?”
Apparently, “Substantial” means that “an attack is a strong possibility” – whereas “Severe” means “an attack is highly likely.” Overall, there are five different levels ranging from “Low – an attack is unlikely” to “Critical – an attack is imminent.” I can’t imagine how you’d define the difference between “highly likely” and “imminent” but there’s a bunch of folks at MI5 who’re paid to do that sort of stuff so I guess it’s best to leave it to them!
Anyway, however it is decided, the current threat level is “Substantial” – apparently, it was lowered from “Severe” on the 11th July 2011.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall feeling any safer on the 12th …
Somehow there’s this idea that ‘threat’ is a real presence in our culture, and that somehow it’s lurking out there, ready to pounce, ready to prey upon the unwary, coming to get us … What I’d like to suggest is that actually, there isn’t enough of a threat; or rather that we’re not enough of a threat.
At my church, we’re looking at moving towards changing our membership structures from “members” to “partners” and “friends” – allowing people to engage with church, to commit to church in a way that is suited to their individual circumstances – and I found myself thinking, “Partner to what? Friends with what, exactly?”
First of all, let’s just have the courage to admit it … Church – even at its best – is an odd beast.
A bunch of like-minded – but still vastly different – people congregate to engage in various activities and undertakings, depending on denominational dogma and personal preferences. There’s usually some singing, talking standing and sitting in unison, someone (normally, a middle-aged white guy) will talk – uninterrupted – for somewhere between twenty and forty minutes, generally there’s a bit more singing and then a cup of tea or coffee (of varying temperature and quality) then we all go home.
That’s just plain weird.
If you don’t think it’s odd – next time you’re in Starbucks (other coffee shops are available!) suggest that everyone in the shop does a quick couple of verses of “Kumbayah” then listens to you deliver a monologue for the next twenty or so minutes and see how long it is before the baristas march you out the front door!
Now, I know that church is about much more than what I refer to as the “Sunday Show” and thankfully I’m part of a church that knows it too; there’s involvement in community service, supporting overseas ministries and mission, there’s small groups, emerging groups and all the stuff that goes with a busy church life. I still find myself asking, though, what’s the point of it – or rather, once I’m past the communal expression of worship and prayer, what’s the point … does it have any impact? Is there a feeling of relevance? Is there any challenge?
The New Testament word that is used to refer to the church is ekklesia – it translates literally as “the called out ones” – for me this is a huge clue as to what we should be thinking and doing. The idea is essentially more political than religious – the feeling is that of a group of people being ‘called out’ to make recommendations and decisions, rather than a group that retreats from the world to engage in abstract worship. It carries the sense of a people who are not merely reactive and reactionary but proactive and involved – people prepared to actually do something rather than moan that no-one else is!
My feeling is that when Jesus talks about ekklesia, He’s expressing an idea that those that He is calling are indeed being called out of the dominant religious and political structures of the day.
I think He is saying pretty much the same thing now too.
If we continue to do ‘church as usual’ with our formal or informal liturgies, our ‘hymn-prayer-sandwich,’ or a feeling of duty rather than joy then we’re not ekklesia. If worship on a Sunday morning (and/or evening) is more about a ‘bless me club’ or a ghetto mentality of ‘It’s us against them’ then we’re way off beam. Ekklesia – Church – is more about an engaged and active community, both within the context of its members and in its interaction with the wider community. Church should be more than just than a religious gathering; we should be coming together on a Sunday as a consequence of our faith, not as a crutch to support it – as a way of expressing gratitude, faith, hope and worship rather than as a weekly ‘top-up’ and thinly disguised self-help seminar.
The spirit of ekklesia means to me that we should be a threat to the status quo, a veritable thorn in the side of the powers that be. We should be leading debates about things like immigration, poverty, social cohesion and economic inequality, rather than merely supplying reactionary sound-bites about the latest hot topic. We should be intrinsically anti-establishment rather than a bastion of it.
But, I confess, it is a million times easier to sit in rows on a Sunday and ‘fellowship’ with the back of somebody else’s head than it is to stir ourselves to any kind of action. I know that I get myself so involved in things like rotas and ‘duties’ and worship group practise and getting to the next meeting that I lose sight of the reason I’m bothering at all …
Perhaps, it would be good for me – for us? – to recall that we’re the called out ones – called out from our busy-ness, called out from our self-obsessions and pious irrelevancies, actually called to be different and to be a difference for others. To threaten the ‘same old, same old’ mentality and challenge ourselves and others to partake of the thing that we were promised when Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full!”
Wouldn’t it be good if our stance towards the world wasn’t one of timid, limp-wristed niceness but rather one that basically said, “Hang on! This isn’t how it’s meant to be! This isn’t how we were made to live! Things need to change … and we need to get started, now!” Wouldn’t it be nice if our ‘Threat Level’ towards the perversely apathetic and yet ‘me first’ culture we live in was slightly more pressing than “Low – an attack is unlikely to happen?”
You never know, if we actually remember that church – ekklesia – isn’t just for Sunday, that our faith doesn’t just work from around 10.30 ’til midday one day a week, we might eventually get to the point where our ‘Threat Level’ i.e. the chance that we might actually get involved and genuinely change something for the better gets all the way up to “Critical – an attack is imminent!”