The church has been made safe, comfortable, and non-threatening. We leave our messy and damaged selves outside, freeing us up for Worship Aerobics. We greet, bow, kneel, sit, stand, sing, bow, kneel, recite, pray, hug, sit, stand, stare, judge, wiggle, squirm, and daydream – then go home for a nap.
Rev. Gretta Vosper shared these thoughts with a reader who left her church and felt disconnected, “It is so hard to realize that you are no longer drawn to a community of faith by the faith of the community.” Vosper offered opportunities to consider for community and service outside the church, like food banks, women’s shelters, and many others. “Any one of them would lift your heart and connect you to that great power of love by which so many needs in the world are filled.”
I, too, walked away from the church, which seemed impossible to imagine for a long time.
THE PROBLEM WITH DONUTS AND LATTES:
How about you?
If, as a youth, going to church was nothing more than an obligation and the only time you didn’t drag your feet and complain was Donut Sunday – that’s a problem.
If the only thing that set your heart on fire at Youth Group were the cute girls/boys – that’s a problem.
If you quit attending church the minute you came of age because it was never your “thing,” whose failure is that? The Churches’? Your parents? Yours?
STUCK IN ORDINARY:
The Catholic tradition has what is called “Ordinary Time” – basically the times before and after Easter and Christmas. I would imagine that resembles other traditions even if it isn’t named as such.
Perhaps the word “ordinary” is a problem. “Hey, I live ordinary, monotonous, boring every day of my life! So why on earth would I want to get up early, dress up, squeeze into a pew full of strangers and listen to irrelevant “stuff” that puts me back to sleep and causes me to snore and drool out the side of my mouth? Why?
Megachurches have tried to fill the gap with music, and light shows that could rival “Jesus Christ Superstar”. The problem is, while folks are swinging and swaying and belting out thirty minutes of music (albeit beautiful music), Jesus left the building, and no one noticed.
TRANSCENDING ORDINARY IS RISKY:
Is it the Church’s responsibility to turn “ordinary” into extraordinary? And what exactly is “extraordinary? Can we even define “church” in the context of what we do know about God?
God is: compassionate, merciful, and forgiving. His gratuitous love should spill out into the heart and soul of everyone. He cares deeply about the lost and forsaken. But is that what we experience in church? Is that what we hear from the pulpit? Is that what we base our actions and attitudes on?
From the daily news of the violence and hatred emanating from many “Christians” today, it doesn’t seem so. How many of us feel culpable if we stand by and watch but don’t actively participate in that violence? How many of us hate in silence?
Mary Collins shares the words of the British writer Monica Furlong, “It has been customary to talk as if the purpose of the Church has been to put people in touch with God, or to keep them in touch with God. Although, on the face of it, the church seems to exist to help its adherents into relationship with God. It equally, and perhaps essentially, plays the opposite role of trying to filter out an experience of transcendence which might be overwhelming.”
Collins continues with a striking question, “What did she (Furlong) judge to be one of the church’s key filters for helping people avoid too great an intimacy with God? Liturgy. Liturgy as ‘keeping in touch’ without getting too close. Yet the bravest among us allow ourselves to wonder. Dare we agree that liturgical practice itself, in whatever form, conceals truth about God that we are unable to bear?”
In my own faith, which has grown from non-existent to something beyond my imagining, God-filled AHA moments did not happen while I sat in the pew on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong. I loved certain aspects of being a part of a church community. What frustrated me was seeing the most central expression of our faith – communion –forgotten the minute we (myself included) walked out the door.
When we share communion, we are reminded of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “Take this bread and never forget me. Never forget how much I love you! But, we do forget. We stroll in late, then haul purses, coats, and kids through the communion line and straight out the door for the important stuff of the day: Soccer, brunch, bingo, whatever.
We forget that more must occur the other six days of the week. God’s call to take what we were just fed into a hurting world rings hollow in hearts that are not transformed. We refuse to accept that the problem has anything to do with us, and we certainly don’t want to get close enough to God to hear the truth. That’s too scary. It may expose us to the real God, and it’s that real God we go to great lengths to avoid.
The God we worship must meet our expectations and demands. The world is a mess – he must fix it. People are suffering – he must help them. I am a Christian – he must put me first. So our worship amounts to praise if things are going well and complaining if they’re not.
Those “bravest among us” Collins calls God-seekers who risk. She says, “Monica Furlong observed that god-seekers risk more than the ordinary. They risk their sanity – their healthy adjustment to conventional thinking – by opening themselves to powerful disclosures of the divine. The rest of us, less adventurous, go to church. But it is possible to be both.”
WOULD WE LAY DOWN OUR LIVES? (JOHN 15:13)
Saint Oscar Romero was a bishop in El Salvador. He was gunned down at the altar while celebrating Mass. He knew that was likely to happen when he pleaded on the radio the night before for the violence and murders to stop.
He called out the National Guard troops in particular. They had already killed six other priests, so he was sure he would also die at their hands. But he spoke out anyway, he celebrated Mass anyway, and the people came anyway! He passionately and fearlessly upheld the gospel mandates to care for all our brothers and sisters in Christ!
The purpose of the church is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We, as Christians and the preachers who are called to lead, should hear and ACT ON Romero’s powerful words or our profession of faith is empty and superficial.
Romero said, “Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone. That’s the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in. … The gospel is courageous.”
God wants us to know that every bit of pain and suffering we see or experience calls for our response. Without us, nothing will change. Nothing! Annie Dillard also presents a harsh reality, “There is no one but us. There is no one to send but only us. There never has been.”
“What is required of us but to do justly and to love mercy” (Micha 6:8). We are called to be the instruments of God’s justice and compassion in this world. We are to sing through our hurting, rejoice through our suffering, and be a beacon to others.
JUST WHO ARE YOU, GOD?
Can we ever be brave enough to accept the reality of a God we can’t imagine? Even though every theological method of putting a label on God has been tested through the ages, one fact remains, and it’s one we as human beings refuse to accept: We will never figure God out! And I am certain he rolls his eyes at our feeble attempts at it.
WHAT’S THAT SMELL?!
We can affect change in the world if we become bold enough. God is searching for people hot after his own heart, like David. Yes, that David, the adulterer, and murderer. He was a screw-up who hobbled through life, often missing the mark. But when he got it right and was on fire for God, there was no stopping him! And people took notice. They smelled something burning and came to check it out.
Now, dear friends, it’s our turn.