Soon it will be four months since I left my summer Ministry Inquiry Program experience in the Midwest. Before I left last May, I was never so positive, so sure about a decision in my life. The pegs fit perfectly in the holes, both squares. It was a done deal, and I was about to have the benefit of spending my summer days working in an invigorating setting.
The experience wasn’t easy for me, though. I was a circular peg and I didn’t fit the square hole. I often hear of people who struggle with doubts and feelings of anger towards God after difficult or episodic experiences. I think that’s reasonable and healthy. In my case, how I invoke or call upon God is evolving. But what I am realizing is that my experience this summer will forever impact my images of God and the church.
While working with the church this summer, I realized that I like liturgy. It’s beautiful how the Eucharist blurs our economic inequalities by letting us share together without reserve. But we mess it up when we believe that what results from liturgy and worship forms is a God that we can use on our own terms to control our own reality or even to control the community itself. If we’re not careful, our forms of worship become formulaic and thus we expect God to respond accordingly. We think we have our God made in the right traditions, the right words, rightly done ritual.
I find myself believing in and worshiping a God who surprises us. Maybe more than we are comfortable with at times. After all, God does have a sense of humor, God does laugh. So why wouldn’t God surprise us? Is it not surprising that South Philadelphia is home to our conferences fastest growing congregations? This summer I was moved by listening to a student stumble through the words of a text of the Old Testament Prophets. It was the surprise of hearing a young person’s voice that shattered my images of perfect worship and opened space for God to move.
By invoking God in hopes of surprise and mystery and diversity, we make space for God to lead us into places we otherwise might not journey. We don’t need to have a flawless worship service and attempt to invoke God by doing everything “the right way.” It becomes less about what we’re doing and more about what God’s doing, and what God is doing is going to surprise us in mysterious ways.
My suspicion is that invoking the God of surprise will ultimately lead us to unity, not uniformity. I think we are on the right path. My hope is that we can continue to walk that path and that the path begins overflowing with the people journeying alongside us, the gifts God continues to surprise us with.
John Tyson is a junior at Eastern Mennonite Universityand a graduate of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. He attends Souderton Mennonite Church and is looking forward to his spring semester cross-cultural study experience in the Middle East.