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The Church Is My Mistress

28 Feb

It is perfectly possible to imagine a Church in which every single individual personally rejects the religious view of God while being protected from the psychological impact of this rejection through the rituals and liturgical practice they engage in: affirming the power of the deus ex machina, not through their words, but through commitment to certain concrete practices. – Peter Rollins, “Insurrection”

The Church Today

What do you mean the church isn’t all about me?!  You create programs for me, you take care of my kids, you sing the type of songs I want to hear, you make it cool with bright lights and fog machines, you create different environments and genres of “worship spaces” at different times on Sundays and even different days for me, you built this nice big building for me with super comfortable chairs or if I want to go old school there are pews a few doors down, you make it possible for me to watch at home in case I don’t want to come to this super big building, you preach sermons that make me feel good, you help me by saying things that make me feel separate and different from those sermons out in the big, bad world, wait, I don’t like what you just said…you better rethink what you’re telling me. You know what? Forget it. I’m going to take my family to the new church down the street. They have an espresso cafe.

This is happening all across America. Does it sound familiar? Do you see the irony? And please don’t think that I’m saying that all of that is necessarily bad, but we try to tell people the church they attend is not about them, it’s about God (well, sometimes we tell them it’s about God) but we confuse the message most of the time by telling them indirectly how special they are to be part of “the chosen” (even if we don’t believe in the elect 144,000). We turn them into consumers by catering to their every need…or even what they don’t need…so we seem “in touch” with hip, new, church trends and they can come and go as they please. And while the church is trying to gain traction with its congregants it’s losing traction in being in touch with the wider world (or as some might call it, the “secular world” – I don’t like that word (sacred vs secular)When people come to church some want to be entertained, leave and come back…well, they might come back or they might not come back, but we’ll never know because they have no strings attached. We need to change this. While we can’t force people to take ownership of the church and be involved we reinforce the “it’s all about me” mentality by the sermons we preach on Sundays and continuing to cater to them. The church is my mistress. The second the church doesn’t cater to them they’re gone, but they’re satisfied just in the fact they went to church. Welcome to church today in the United States. You might be laughing and thinking “I’m glad that’s not my church.”, but in reality, it’s happening at so many different churches everywhere and maybe it is your church, but you just don’t see it.

Why is this happening?

Well,  I’ll share what might be considered part of the issue. This post will be more of a “what” the issue is and again, in the following posts I’ll talk about the “why” behind this issue and I’ll intersperse how we can curb some of these prevailing attitudes and practices in church to hopefully move us to somewhere away from the Christian ghetto and back out into the wider world.

What follows is part of an email conversation I recently had with a friend.  In a previous conversation with him there was a pretty packed sentence I had written that wasn’t exactly clear to my friend, so I followed it up with an explanation of the sentence.

This particular snippet is solely what I wrote in the email and I have edited the conversation a little for readability and to omit any non-public information. The entire sentence is in bold and then below that divided out with my explanation in between parts of the sentence. I hope that makes sense:  entire sentence -> intro -> part of sentence -> explanation -> part of sentence -> explanation -> remainder of email to my friend. The sentence was, if viewed by my 3rd grade teacher, a grammatically-tragic sentence – and forgive the unprofessional writing style…my degree is in political science not grammar. 😉

~ my email to him ~

This http://bit.ly/xOUuz3  (a podcast link that I had sent him) is the type of teaching I wish {this church} focused on, but instead the teaching each week at {this church} focuses on “me”, which, don’t get me wrong is necessary for personal growth and discipleship but it seems to be the main vein (focusing on the individual and not the collective world) each and every week which can create (and I believe has created) a culture of “I am more important than others” which then turns into consumerism at best and isolationism/Christian ghetto at worst.

You’re right that was a sentence with a lot of meaning so what I’ll do is parcel it out to unpack what I meant by it. Now please understand the comment is meant as “let’s right the ship and make things better in the church”. One of my favorite authors says, “It’s easier to criticize without constructing an alternative.”, so when I make a criticism of something I’m part of I always try to offer a solution of a possible way to make things better.

Ok, right from the start I’ll let you know this is going to be a LONG explanation and I’ll do my best to make it cogent. 🙂

So alot of that sentence is from the past 10 years of reading (pic below of some of the most influential books to me), mentoring, and teaching all about this information from some phenomenal “godly men” (I’m not a big fan of that term, b/c we’re all creations of God and have bits of God in us – everyone, not just Christians) so know that this is not just me flying off the handle about {this church} – this happens worldwide and has been written about by many many many people and about how it needs to change now. But also I see this teaching each week at {this church} and it is very disconcerting. If it was one or two sermons that’d be one thing, but I’ve been going there for about a year and a half and it’s been about the same each week.  I get virtually nothing from the sermons and have to find ways to entertain myself without blatantly opening up a book to read.

This http://bit.ly/xOUuz3 is the type of teaching I wish {this church} focused on, but instead the teaching each week at {this church} focuses on “me”, which don’t get me wrong is necessary for personal growth and discipleship but it seems to be the main vein (the individual and not the collective world) each and every week which can create (and I believe has created) a culture of “I am more important than others” which then turns into consumerism at best…”

In the podcast Jon alludes to alot of what I meant by typing that sentence in the first email so I think the podcast will also help you understand my primary criticism(s) of {this church} and the church-at-large’s teaching (sermons) today. I think it’s a bad form for pastors (anywhere) to teach putting the focus on “me” b/c it bifurcates “sacred” and “secular”. It makes the attenders to respond with “fill me, entertain me, I may or may not throw some money your way, and let me go on my way and maybe I’ll be back next week but I’ve got a tough job so make this worth my while”.  Like Jon says in the podcast (especially starting in minute 36) I think we (christians and the culture-at-large) have a fragmented world view that the church is where you go to “fill your tank” and get you ready for the work which christians believe is meaningless and has nothing to do with God (unless you work at the church or some other vocational ministry) – the conventional although indirect thought is that Jesus is not in our work he is only at church. And thus the pastors feel they have a responsibility to teach about the people and it turns into how to survive in the woeful world.  But what about how Jesus taught us to pray?  Do we accidentally forget what he said?  Or maybe we’re ignoring it b/c we’ve been taught otherwise for so long.  I’m talking about Matthew 6:10…thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven. “On Earth”. hmmm…this confuses Joe-christian b/c he thought the world didn’t matter unless he’s vehemently preaching a “turn or burn” sermon at it? So Joe-christian ignores it and goes about his way and reverts back to, “I need to feel good about myself on Sundays”. This is consumerism.

“…and isolationism/christian ghetto at worst.”

I went golfing with Dallas last week and unfortunately we waited until the 18th tee to talk about something I had asked him about a couple weeks ago. Starting the conversation on the 18th tee didn’t give us near enough time to really talk about it.  I had asked him about the theology/intent behind a sign in {this church} that says, “Unexpected places: Where does God find you?”. At face-value the phrase seems like a nice little thought, but when I thought about it a bit more I think it can be easily misconstrued towards guilt in implying that everything you need to do needs to be “church-related and remember that each week you only find Jesus at things at church or in your community group, so be sure to do those things and only those things – don’t let God find you in some naughty place you shouldn’t be”. So then, what happens is we construct an “us vs them” mentality (a sacred vs secular paradigm) where we avoid anything not done or directly hosted by the church, christian authors, christian musicians, christian film-makers – this is the christian ghetto – which in my opinion is very bad. Christians are withdrawing from the culture at large and creating a sub-culture where all they see is the church around them and think that’s good. Well, then we wonder why our culture is so screwed up…it’s because the church withdrew from being a major player in our culture about a couple hundred years ago!!  Remember when we all had CDs? Or maybe a better example are our books – look at those. How are they ordered in your bookshelf? I’m pretty anal so I’ve always ordered them in some fashion and back in the day when I was engulfed in the christian ghetto I had them separated as christian (sacred) authors/bands and secular authors/bands.  These are all ways we isolate ourselves from the world at large. Isolationism/christian ghetto.

Today, I’m still very anal in how things like my books and CDs are ordered, so now they’re ordered by genre like philosophy, political, fiction, etc, I don’t arrange things by “christian” or “secular” authors or musicians because I think we can find God in everything – and if God is in everything then everything is sacred! People ask, “you can find Jesus in the Beastie Boys?  Yep!  Metallica?  You betcha!  The communist/marxist Karl Marx?  Absolutely! (and he could teach us some things about community and we could teach him some things about God 🙂 Well, what about that heretic Rob Bell who some think he said there is no hell? Definitely!  (And he didn’t say there’s no hell; and he happens to be one of my favorite authors.) Surely not Nietzsche? Even Nietzsche. Every author and every band.

So instead how about changing up the sign to say…

“Unexpected places: where do you find God?”  Maybe if we do that then it might help to start to see value (see God) in every area of our lives. Business, leisure, sports, relationships, yard-work, the arts, family-time…everything we do. “…Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Amen.

So all of that are my four half-pennies.

– D

small portion of influential books in my life

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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in culture, theology

 

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