Sunday, March 12, 2006

What's missing here?

Tripp lent me his copy of Blue Like Jazz By Donald Miller last Sunday. I had just finished reading Albert J. Raboteau's A Fire in the Bones, and so I started right in since I didn't have another book lined up to read.
It is a little strange to have these two books sitting together in one post. Raboteau is a professor and a scholar of African-American religious history, a Fire in the Bones is a collection of essays on various aspects of that history. Donald Miller so far as i can tell does not have a post masters or doctoral degree, and while certainly intellegent and well read doesn't seem to me to be a scholar, and Blue Like Jazz is kind of an uncatogorizable work.
Both works are deeply beautiful and deeply personal, and in that both are works of faith. It is this conjunction of faith and person that leads me to think these two works together though they come from very different places. Those places admittedly come from the two sides of American religiosity and spirituality (Sorry Miller in my mind you can't have spirituality without religion and religiosity. Despite the books subtitle it is a very religious book.) What puzzles me is that for differing reasons and in different ways, I constantly found myself wanting to ask the authors, "but what about the Church?!" No not this "church" or that "church", not that group of people that seem so loving and yet exclusive, no not the "White Church" or the "Black Church", but Church, the mystical Body of Christ, the New Israel, the Olive Tree we all are grafted into, The People of God.
Raboteau comes close to the Church in his concluding essay, or at least I sensed in the concluding essay that my question matched up somewhere with his own search as a scholar of African American religious history and as a black Christian. But in Blue Like Jazz, the Church never makes an appearance, churches do, groups of Christians do, but never the Church.
This absence bugs me, because Jesus and his Body can't be had apart from the other. I have known Jesus my whole life because the Church has nurtured me my whole life. I know there is a whole lot to unpack there but I am going to leave that, because i want to get at this gaping whole in so many Christians thoughts about Christianity, or Christian spirituality or their churches.
I identified very much with Miller's sense of Christian spirituality; the mysticism inherent in our faith. Yet I find it vacuous without any affirmation of the reality of the Body of Christ- The Church as something more than the collection of believers in Jesus. If Jesus Christ came just to gather followers and disciples and for them to just remain as a collection of individual followers of Jesus then the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was kind of irrelevant. Why have them all wait together, why not just drop the Holy Spirit in them one at a time, as each of them "got" what following Jesus was all about. Why even worry about whether Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian would worship together- let each follow Jesus as they will. I suppose it could have happened that way, but it didn't.
Following Jesus means being baptized, it means being joined with Christ as part of Jesus Christ's body, it means being grafted into that Olive Tree that is the People of God. From the time of Pentecost till now there is one Body of Christ, the Church. If we miss that if we miss the Church we have in some sense and in some way missed Jesus.