Tag Archives: church

The Church, Hatred, and The Man in the Mirror

I came across a most fascinating, albeit sarcastic comment on FB today, and thought, wow, how telling.

The church should do only that which makes her feel good. Namely, that is to beat the part of the Law that she thinks she keeps into the church’s parishioners. If the church steps outside of those bounds and reminds her that she is also accountable to God for the Law she fails to keep, the church should be punished and silenced.

The thing is, we have lots of theological theories and models that make it pretty easy to have selective vision and do just as the quote suggests. This is not to say the theories and models are in error, but more so, that they are just models and shouldn’t stand in isolation.

Consider the following:

Luther’s two kingdoms model sounds great, and as a way of sorting out theology, its means of satisfying man’s desire for logical reasoning within the scriptures makes it an exceedingly powerful concept to latch on to. One of its dangers is that it can lead to a form of dualism… where in a second god is created that runs the world and dishes out its assorted evils. The two kingdoms model is also appealing to the old adam, being it can absolve individual Christian’s of the need to engage with the mud and muck of worldly issues. It can also lead too an out of site, out of mind mentality… being the heavenly aspect takes up the entire mind space, as there is little need for earthly concern, short of the needs of ones immediate tribe.

And yet, one doesn’t have to be a full blown dualist to fall into this trap. I think of numerous discussions in my younger days, where in some were so hard core about praying and getting Bibles into folks hands, they considered said folks physical needs to be of minimal importance. It almost seemed that said Bibles got printed without the second chapter of James, at least from the theology of the delivery folks.  In a related vein as to the scriptures,  what about the bit about pulling down folks in positions of power and privilege, sending the rich away empty, and filling the poor and elevating the meek and humble. Is such to be dismissed as the social justice rantings of a naive teenage girl?

The law and Gospel model is pretty well tried and true for bringing about life changes… but if dots get left unconnected, it can easily morph into a matter for the mind exclusively, rather than both the heart and mind. I remember a pastor friend who worried he might have gone too far in connecting the dots after loosing a huge chunk of powerful and wealthy parishioners from his congregation after a rather intense sermon.

And while connecting too many dots is a rare thing, its pretty common thing in some sectors to do the reverse and ignore the dots entirely, or barely connect them at all. Consider a few churches known for pounding sexual matters into the ground. Being such is an easy way to engage folks around a common rally point with only a minimal chance of negative financial or membership declines, it’s an easy temptation to proceed in such a direction. In addition, the emotions triggered are likely to make folks feel like such will making a huge difference in society at large when the sexual sins of folks outside the church are brought to light.

And yet, in matters of justice and power, far too often there are crickets rather than a path of dots.  After all, there are no dishonest or greedy folks in ones congregation… And being the  US economy depends upon year over year growth rates, which requires coveting by great masses of people… moving the dots even a bit could well be playing with fire.

I think a similar parallel can be made with respect to racism, xenophobia, or even hatred with respect to being a subject where crickets exist. In general, folks don’t blatantly display such behaviors, thus making a head in the sand approach, a safe one for the pulpit, or at least safe for the pulpit and the powerful within the immediate local fellowship.

After all, who knows who might be convicted / offended if such were to be connected. Sadly, the implications for potential financial as well as membership declines if the dots ring too close to home could be a driving factor… but what does this silence really say to the victims of such? What does it say about the local church, what does it say when visitors enter in and find said crickets?

This is where another model enters in, the priesthood of all believers. Ie, just because a given pastor chooses to play it safe, does this mean the local church, as well as the individual gets a free pass? If one truly ascribes to this model, then all of a sudden, it comes right back to you and me. The Man in the Mirror

Lyrics from Man in the Mirror

I saw Neal Mccoy perform on Saturday night, where in even he brought up what happened at Charlottesville just a few hours beforehand…  (I wish I would have recorded my own video, but found the above from a few years back on youtube ).

Churches and Coffeehouses

Dwight, over at Center for Renewal had a cool entry on the coffeehouse phenomena, where he noted the activity, and wished for the same at Maundy Thursday services. It got me thinking quite a bit, and rather than hog his comments, here goes a few thoughts.

The allure of the coffee house.

What the coffee house provides beyond coffee and free wifi is the following:

  • A calm, and reflective environment, ideal for creative work.
  • A sense of social connectivity, in an ultra non-threatening environment. No interaction is assumed, but casual interaction may occur. This human desire for connectedness, but not interaction per se is fascinating.
  • Overtime, relationships may or may not build. Being that’s not really a primary goal, coffeehouses foster a very organic relationship building process. Its vastly different than the traditional restaurant that has a coffee clique crowd so to speak. I don’t know whether this is intentional by design, but it might be. Ie, the tables for 2-4, the sofas, comfy chairs, free wifi, etc, encourage folks to linger and as such purchase more $5 coffees. A restaurant on the other hand, wants to get people in and out, and at $0.50 for coffee it makes sense. (not a coffee drinker so unsure on prices, but do cherish the coffee house environment for work and meetings)
  • There is much collective wisdom. If one is bold enough to ask, many will step in to help, but its often facilitated more so by location tools like brightkite/twitter than 3d. Ie, I will jump in to help anyone on twitter, offer opinions, comments, etc. I might do so in 3d, but if not directly asked, I wont.

The church is sort of there, but not quite:

  • The church has collective wisdom, but few will ask.
  • The church has the capability of organic relationship building, but often its forced, or worse clique driven.
  • The church has a problem with the threatening aspect. Ie how many of us would pull up to an unknown church and go and crash them? (when I traveled a lot, I did this, and its cool, but its a seemingly bold thing to do, and failure is common, ie doors locked, no one around). Imagine what would happen, if churches opened their doors, physically, as well as spiritually?
  • The church often forces interaction, rather than a passive; ok if you do, fine if you dont, approach at the coffee house.
  • Many sanctuaries are ideal for contemplation. Back in my CCM days, egads, the amount of writing, contemplation, and I must admit naps also  occurred in the upper balcony in churches all across the US. The thing is… it would sort of be odd, to grab a laptop and hang out in the upper balcony, even if it had free wifi, also the nature of a sanctuary doesnt align itself with collaboration either.  As a traveling musician, despite a janitor, or pastor being surprised to see one or more of us sleeping in a balcony pew, knowing our travel schedule, it was seemed to be acceptable to them, albeit likely a bit weird.
  • Fellowship halls, are often seriously lacking in environment, ie they foster eating together, not so much socializing. In many cases they are pretty sterile, and the existence of sofas, reading chairs, or tables for 2 or 3 is exceedingly rare.

Saying no to God

If one searches the scriptures, are there any places where saying no to God ended with a favorable outcome? I have yet to find any, and I have tried. I have said no to God hundreds, if not thousands of times… the outcome, well as a general rule, I have yet to be eaten by a fish, but hindsight leads me to believe had I said yes, the individual outcomes would have been positive, or at a minimum neutral… and there are some lingering after effects… ranging from man was I stupid or what, to egads, I really blew that with God big time.

A distinction must be made, is it God, or is it man trying to get his own way?

Whenever I hear someone say, God told me that you should do X, the warning sirens come on. It almost always seems to be the desire of the person speaking, which does make me suspect. Otoh, when I hear someone state “God told me you should do X”, or “scripture says you should do X”, and the person speaking goes on to state they personally think doing X would be a bad idea, the light bulbs come on. God’s ways are often not mans it seems. Ultimately though, after a review of the scriptures, listening for the still small voice is key.

What if its the church who is asking?

“Churches will eat you alive, if you let them…” is what a friend told me some years back. I’ll go one further, the ministry needs of a church will expand to consume all available time, plus another 20%. Many secular folks say boundaries are the key to success. Boundary teaching is so prevalent, it is even preached in many churches and schools. Let me throw a wrench in the works…. What if one comes upon an injured church member alongside the road, and our family needs are in conflict? Should we pass by on the other side in our hurry to fullfill our families needs, and hope some dude from Samaria happens by? 

What about picking up ones cross?

A recurrent theme throughout the Bible is not to take the easy way out, but to pick up ones cross and follow Jesus. Man on the other hand, has a very very difficult time with this… what about the yard, what about the children, what about my day job, what about where I will sleep, what about what I will wear tomorrow…. but Jesus calls. The young ruler, the dude who wanted to go take care of his families burial…. Jesus had some hard to hear words about that.

Burnout is real, consequences are real

Burnout however is real, depression in ministry is real, even look at Elijah, the dude was fixing to sit under a tree and die, the work was just too great. When you have scripture telling us the burden will be easy… and one has been up for 72 hours straight, its not so easy…. its not so easy to stay awake in the garden, when Jesus is right there, its not so easy, when Jesus asked the disciples to remain awake and to watch, and they crashed and burned. Its not so easy, when you are a young kid hanging out in an upstairs window to hear Paul preach the Gospel, that you fall asleep, slide out the window, and crash to the ground to your death. Suicide exists, moral crash and burn failure exists, families get shredded, churches implode… there are real brick walls, these are real problems.

Thus, even if though the recurrent theme of scripture is to pick up ones cross, scripture also provides examples of situations where folks have run into brick walls. Society and history also show that brick walls can and do happen. 

Its not a total deal

The problem imho, is we are looking at this as a total deal… Individualistic theology has hosed over many a fine brother or sister in Christ, its wrong thinking. Obviously there are times, when we are called to act and no one else is around to help, but if one considers the big picture, short of 3AM, in the middle of nowhere and without any means of communication, those situations are exceedingly rare. Even the church organist who gets interrupted at late night practice has huge resources at hand, but more likely than not, is unaware of them. The primary difficulty of the individualistic approach, is one doesnt see all of the capabilities, gifts, skills, and help available. Even Paul traveled with a group… The second issue is a failure to make the call early on that problems exist, and that more help is needed. Acts 6, where a set of dudes were chosen to serve the widows is a prime example of this. It shows not only the problem of being spread too thin, but utilizing the resources at hand, and the power of a group… they didnt just dump the problem on one guy, and say here you go.

If God is asking us, who are we to say no? Who are we, to think we can do it all by ourselves?