I am not a fan of coffee, I don't particularly enjoy the taste, and I find it quite bitter and harsh. When people who enjoy coffee hear me say that they tell me "You just haven't had a good coffee" I agree, saying I have also never eaten a Unicorn, because like an enjoyable coffee such a thing does not exist (OK, that was a little mean).
To each their own! "Be all things to all people!" cries Paul, but a coffee drinker I shall never be. Such a bean of a mountain is too high for me to climb. But the church seems to have jumped right on board with this roasted water treat, but why?
It seems that every church I attend has a café nestled neatly just past their foyer, a cosy little corner of the room with unfortunate chairs and slightly off balance tables. A place for people to gather over a hot drink and converse about religion, sex and politics (I imagine). Shortly after they pop into the Church library to read some Church books with their Church friends before the Church service, or perhaps after the Church service they go back to the café to share a meal.
I am absolutely on board with the church trying to socially engineer their space to be hospitable and communal, indeed proceed.
However it seems in an attempt to be relative to the ever changing culture the church is immersed in, we are merely attempting to make a Christian version of the world Christian Cafes, Christian Sports leagues, Christian Movie nights.
The problem with this is that we are still defined by the very thing we are trying to change, as we seek to look as similar as we can to it, without being it. Being relevant is one thing, but that relevance comes not from our ability to look like the world, but to look different "in" the world.
Shane Claiborne a powerful revolutionary writes "And remember the signs of the Christian Church have been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove, and the Fish...but never the chameleon"
In the book of Joshua, after the Israelites have crossed the Jordan God commands Joshua to take a person from each of the 12 tribes to lift a stone out of the Jordan near where the Levites (standing on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan carrying the Ark of the Covenant) are standing. They set the stones down at their camp for the night and then later set them at Gilgal.
These stones were to serve as a reminder for coming generations about what God had done; they were to point to God's stilling of the Jordan and to his splitting of the Red Sea. They were monuments to God's power, his authority, and his care for the Israelites.
"5 and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord."
I have noticed the increased prevalence of the attitude "Relationship not religion" roughly speaking it is the idea of pursuing a relationship with Christ not dependent on the legalism shown throughout particularly the Old Testament in Jewish cultural practice.
I am religious (most days) and I believe in religion, the book of James says that Religion is caring for the orphan and the widow, while not being polluted by the world, I am not so convinced we need to leave religion out of our spirituality. This rise in "relational Christianity" is not inherently bad or even instrumentally bad, but I think it reflects disconnect with our whakapapa (connection to our past) as Christians.
Like the stones Joshua laid down, to those who lifted them from the riverbed, to the men (sorry women they probably didn't let you guys in with a sniff) who curled their fingers around the stones smooth edges and lifted them onto their shoulders and walked them to the camp, and then to Gilgal. To those men who had just witnessed the acting of God and in turn acted in remembrance of that, the stones held great weight and meaning. For all their meaning and importance to a stranger walking in the desert, they would be just a pile of stones.
The further and further we get from the experience of why those stones were laid down, the further we get from the spirit in those stones. All we are left with is the hollow act of picking up stones and placing them in a circle (I imagine). Unless people connect to the mauri (meaning, soul, reason, purpose, life force) of those stones; they will only ever be stones.
Knowledge of the past gives meaning to the present and helps us properly navigate the future.
I worry, that as the church we try to compartmentalise society and place it inside the church walls. We add café's and libraries, basketball courts, recording studios, Christian movie nights, or Rugby screenings at the church. None of these things are bad ideas; in fact I would imagine they are all born out of an attempt to encourage community among the believers and some are even tailored for people to bring their friends who may not be Christians.
We have good intentions, but I fear these actions take us further and further from the spirit of Christ, who told us to go out into the world, and eat at the homes of sinners like ourselves, who told us that all food is clean, so that we might sit with all those who eat that food. But when we put the cafe within our fortress then the café stops being a place where lives can be enriched, and starts being a place where cups of really unfortunate beverages are sold.
When the spirit of what we are trying to do as followers of our fantastic and terrifying God is forgotten, then all of our buildings, all of our events, all of our café's with five dollar coffees become a pile of stones in the desert of our community.
Ihu Karaiti offers us his table, where we can eat, and do the dishes together. I pray we take up the invitation of a spirituality that is sustained in a Sunday only building, but is exercised with sinners in homes, and broken places.
I pray that our walls would crumble under the sheer weight of those of us climbing them to pour ourselves all over the world Christ came to love.
Trent Hohaia is a graduate from Te Whare Wananga o Waikato with a Bachelors degree in Tikanga Maori and Sociology. Fond of embellishments and sometimes outright lies, Trent is in love with his people, and is on a journey of restoration and development for Maori in Aotearoa.
Trent Hohaia's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/trent-hohaia.html