7 Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, far away from the camp. He called it the meeting tent. Everyone who wanted advice from the Lord would go out to the meeting tent outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand at the entrance to their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at the tent’s entrance while the Lord talked with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the column of cloud standing at the tent’s entrance, they would all rise and then bow down at the entrances to their tents.
We are not comfortable with empty holes, or missing pieces. I know I'm not. When I was a kid I had this puzzle that was always missing a piece. I would put it together time and time again, and feel bummed knowing I couldn't complete it. Eventually, I got out my art supplies and re-created the missing piece. It never looked right, but I could definitely finish my puzzle.
In other ways, we know we need to fill those holes because they can be dangerous. We want to guard others against empty space, because we don't want a wandering person to fall into them. (We don't have Lassie to come and save Timmy from that well anymore. We have to be safe.)
In other places, a missing pieces just looks lazy. Sometimes we can see how a group or person just didn't care about the project, so skipped steps to get to the final product. We can all name those projects or people, where it just seems they didn't really try. A piece of their project is either missing something obvious, or something we just can't name.
Then there is Fig Tree Christian.
About four months ago I was trained in Children's Worship and Wonder. (This is the Disciples of Christ version of Godly Play. If you don't want to click the links, it takes the liturgical calendar and finds holy and creative ways to teach the bible to kids in their own worship setting. The above video is our scripture for today. I highly recommend you take 8 minutes and watch it.) Part of the training was seeing the stories in action. As students, we became the figurative kids, while the teacher became the storyteller. One of those stories that captivated me was a desert box story: the Tabernacle. Using the Priestly account, the storyteller slowly built the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant resided while the Israelites were in the wilderness.
Now, I have a degree in divinity. I've worked in churches since 2000. I've volunteered my time to Christian camps and churches since I was a kid. I've lived and breathed church. Four months ago my eyes were filled with wonder. I could see the story, and process what it was. Every time I had learned about the Ark and the Tabernacle, it had always been as the finished product, covered in Kragle. (Krazy Glue, for those who are not in the know.)
When all the pieces are in order, and everything has a purpose, supergluing tradition can be a good thing. It has worked really well for the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. This is probably why these traditions have grown while Protestant traditions have declined. Whether I believe the reasons or not, everything they do has a purpose. If one were to ask, "Why are you doing that?", they would have a real and honest answer.
For every tradition, there was a time when it was pieced together. Even the tabernacle, where the ark was kept, was put together in a process. It wasn't thrown together and superglued. It took time.
This is where I want to get to the point. When Fig Tree first started I was given a few "How to build a new church" kits. Each of these kits came with pieces to a puzzle. If I had put the pieces together it would created a complete picture. With each of these kits I had a problem: I didn't know what the pieces meant anymore. If I, someone who had spent my entire life congregating, volunteering and working in the church, didn't know what the pieces meant, why would I use those pieces?
I've had people ask me, "Oh! You are the minister of an online church? Do you have [this piece of the puzzle]?" They are physically uncomfortable when I tell them there isn't a weekly worship service, as we understand worship. They don't know what to do when there isn't a choir or praise team. They see those holes, and step away. Meanwhile, I see those pieces and can't put them down on the puzzle. It's not saying there won't eventually be pieces there. It is saying, I'm intentionally leaving them blank because I haven't found what fits there yet.
We shouldn't be gung ho to fill in the blanks just because there are blanks. Just filling in the blanks leads to traditions we don't understand, and don't mean anything. New plants should be intentional about allowing space to be space. Do things when they make sense and have a purpose, not because they need to be filled. Look at it with the eyes of a child (with worship and wonder) and you might see the wondrous ways God has been acting in that empty space, preparing something to fill it up.