Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Friday, August 02, 2019

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Well, Good Friday Morning, kids. I've had a little something on my mind and I'd love to hear what you think about it.

Many of you who know me know that it's no secret that while I love The Episcopal Church, I struggle with the Institutional Church vs. the church as the Body of Christ. 

Always have. Probably always will.

On the one hand, the institutional church is its own entity - separate and apart from the people. It has, necessarily, rules and policies, doctrine and canons, as well as its own hierarchy. Which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It's just that I wonder, more and more, what all of that has to do with Jesus and the movement He started.

Indeed, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night (as I did last night) and hear Tina Turner singing "What's love got to do, got to do with it?" I'm talking about the institutional church, of course, which often does not seem very loving to the People of God. And, in turn, sometimes the People of God can be very harsh and sometimes even cruel to others of God's children.

Oh, yes, there are the terrible cases of "clergy boundary violation" - sometimes referred to in shorthand as "Title IV" because that refers to the Church Canons developed specifically to deal with clergy who violate boundaries of professional behavior. That involves everything from breaking confidentiality to sexual abuse/rape and pedophilia. 

I know one complaint of Title IV which involved "cyberbullying" (True. Hand to Jesus!)

But, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about what some people refer to as "Christianity vs. Churchianity". By that, they mean that the institutional church becomes more important than Jesus; more important than being The Body of Christ.

Some examples:

1. In more than one Christian community I've heard people complain that the service takes longer than an hour. When I ask them, in essence, "What's the rush? Where do you need to be after church?" I generally get a blank stare and either "I need to get on with my day." OR: "Sunday is really my only day off." OR: "The previous rector always got us out in an hour. YOUR services always take an hour an 10 or 15."

2. In more than one Christian community, some of God's people have taken a less direct approach, asking, " Do we HAVE to pray for EVERY person on the Prayer List?" Or, "Do we HAVE to sing EVERY verse of EVERY Hymn?" Or, "You know, if you can't say what you need to say in a sermon in 10 minutes, you're message will be lost. " Ten minutes, I've asked. "Yes, that's longer than any TV segment before the commercial break," comes the answer.

3. In more than one Christian community, some of God's people have said, "I hate it when we go to 'summer hours' and only have one service. I like my 8 o'clock Rite One, no music. That's why you won't see me in the summer months. I'm giving God a vacation."

These are some of my own personal experiences of "Churchianity vs. Christianity." I'm sure you can provide some of your own. (Like the time a new organist - who happened to be a Millennial - decided to select hymns for Easter that didn't include "Hail tee festival day" or "Welcome Happy Morning" or "Jesus Christ is Risen Today." and that's all anyone could talk/complain bitterly about on their way out of the church as they headed toward the Traditional Annual Easter Egg Hunt after the service. Sorry, that was years ago and I'm obviously still recovering.)

Millions of people are leaving the church. MILLIONS. That's no exaggeration. We call them "The Nones" or "The Dones".

We blame it on church music. Or, the language of the service. Or, the music. Which we should change and make "more relevant" and/or "more modern/contemporary".

We blame it on generational divides, which are completely the distinctions of some social scientiests, which then become "proxy wars" for the real issue of "Churchianity vs Christianity".

So, obviously Boomers have "ruined the church" with "identity politics" and their ridiculously desperate need to "attract" Millennials with "modern language and contemporary music" because EVERYONE (Oops, now I've pissed off a Millennial b/c all caps means YELLING) knows that Millennials like ancient ritual - even Rite I (DUH! What's wrong with you that you don't know that?).

Besides, Millennials would change it if they could but there are still too many Boomers and Gen-Xers who control EVERYTHING like liturgy and governance and when governing bodies meet and for how long and they do this intentionally to keep Millennials out of the decision-making process (insert favorite Gif here because, you know: Millennials).

It seems to me - but what do I know because I'm just a Boomer female, you know, who has already ruined the church - that we are fighting each other when what we SHOULD be asking is "What's love got to do with it?"

It seems to me that the generational infighting is just a proxy war between "Churchianity and Christianity". 

It seems to me that the questions about the length of the service or the time of the service or the fact that most church budgets have higher line items for clergy compensation packages OR the highest line item is building and grounds maintenance and repair (even more than clergy compensation which is reduced to seriously part time or simply supply), each one of these being larger amounts than the line item for mission (or outreach), is yet another indication of the sad fact that we value Churchianty over Christianity.

So, there is an entire movement called "Unchurching" which is developing a fair amount of steam. It mirrors the "home schooling " movement and is pretty much based on the same philosophy. A man named Richard Jacobsen has developed a blog and then a webpage and, of course, a FaceBook page which produced a comic book and a book, and, by modern necessity, a TED talk.

It is now a bona fide thing. "Unchurched" is a movement. People are being "fed" and "nourished" on The Word in their homes with their families and friends. Just like the early church. Not in "church".

So, what are we to make of all of this? We who are supposed to be about 'evangelism'? Are we to be more concerned with bringing more souls to Jesus or putting more 'bums' in the pews' and 'green stuff in the plate'?

I'm thinking that before we embark on any serious effort of evangelism, we need to get very clear about what we're doing and why.

I'm thinking we need to move past demographic charts and community development growth projections and ask questions that have more to do with The New Commandment Jesus gave us to "love one another as God loves you."

I think we need to ask, "What's love got to do with it?"

And, the second is like unto it - especially for the institutional church which is so good at defending itself against vulnerabilities with rigid doctrines and rules.

"Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?"

I'm excited to hear your thoughts. You might have noticed that I have some of the smartest friends on FaceBook - and this blog.
Let me hear from you . . ..


Marthe said...

Catching up on your blog today after absorbing vast quantities of bad news and so, now, a few thoughts on your question:
What's love got to do with it? Not one damn thing. Having spent large swaths of my 61 years in churches of various denominations in various roles (including as a church administrator), I can say that love was never a particularly important concept in any of them. I wasn't even looking for it, probably because it wasn't a top priority anywhere, but, when mentioned, was clearly lip-service to an unattainable ideal.
And why do members of the current young adult generation eschew the church? Because it's not enough about them, about their feelings, about their particular feedback loop of affirmation. It's too much talking at them and not enough listening to them and responding to their needs. I blame the self-esteem industry for teaching a whole generation to reject any institution or idea that isn't totally willing to change to suit the needs of each and every individual.

The idea bandied about of a community of faith that is a church just makes me laugh. What I have seen are authoritarian groups desperately seeking some sense of stability in an increasingly chaotic world, of individuals working out their issues at the expense of a few congregants trying to be good Samaritans in order to work out their own issues, of some of the loneliest people I've ever met searching for meaning by association.

I am NOT opposed to churches. It will take huge effort for your version of a body of Christ ever to exist largely because our idea of church (the one you envision, I think) never has actually existed ... we imagine that it was once real, but anyone who has studied the history of the institution knows the whole enterprise has been spotty from the start. That doesn't mean it isn't a vision worth pursuing, it just means an enormous change of attitude on the part of individuals AND the institutions.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sometimes, I despair for the church. And then my feisty immigrant stuff kicks in and I think, "Well, I've come too far to turn back, now," and I roll up my sleeves and put on my boots and get to work.

I just wish I didn't care so much.

Marthe said...

If you didn't care so much, you wouldn't be the priest or the person that you are and, being the child of immigrants, you learned early and often that life and the most important things/people in life often hurt ... oh, and those same things/people also spark the truest moments of joy. So, keep the boots handy and maybe a shovel to remove the frauds from the seats of power in your beloved church (they won't go willingly, "Peace be unto you" -- HA! The people you've touched in your particular way still need what you offer and that is why you were called to this messy vocation.