IN HER BOOK The Great Emergence, the late Phyllis Tickle pointed out that the church undergoes a “rummage sale” about every 500 years in which dominant forms of its spirituality are displaced from prominence by newer forms of spirituality. It’s much like a purge one would have when decluttering a home or preparing for a move. Older forms of spirituality aren’t done away with; they simply are no longer dominant. New things come to the forefront.
By the fourth century, the locus of Christianity had shifted from ancient Israel and Syria to a Christendom based in European and Western civilization (though a thriving Eastern church remained and does so today). About 40 years ago, another shift occurred. Now there are more Christians in the Global South than in Europe and North America. And Christianity continues to wane in the West. To the extent Christianity has accompanied colonial expansion, I believe this too is a kind of purging. Many of us wrestle with church doctrines and practices that have been in service to domination power for a long time but are untenable in a just world. Who God needs us to be today is markedly different from whom we’ve been in the past.
This month’s texts call to mind the words of the liberation song: “They say that freedom is a constant struggle. Oh Lord, we’ve struggled so long, we must be free, we must be free.” Freedom is not a static destination. Freedom must be maintained, much like the state of a house. Whatever God is calling us toward today, it won’t be necessarily familiar or even pleasant, but it will make us free.