The final entry of my sabbatical adventure away from the Church entitled: "Church No More."
Almost three months ago I (an ordained minster who has gone to church my whole life) walked away from church– for three months. It is what I've decided to do with my sabbatical. You can read about my initial thoughts on my blog or on The Huffington Post. As the journey unfolds, I will be blogging about it in this series entitled, “Church No More.” I hope you will not only follow along, but add your voice to the reflection by commenting or joining the discussion on my FB page.
They say you can never go home again. The thinking being, having left and experienced new things, you have changed and the people back home have continued in their lives just as you left them. Your experience of going back home again will necessarily be very different from your experience of home as you remember it, even though it may have changed very little.
In many ways, Church is one of my homes and I left it. I walked away for three months and experienced a bit of life outside of it. The three months are up and I'm going back home. This Sunday (September 2) is my first Sunday back.
The saying “you can't go home again,” probably originated from Thomas Wolfe's novel, “You Can't Go Home Again
.” It's the story of an author who leaves his home, writes about it from a distance and then tries to go home again. It doesn't exactly go well. The folks in the town are none-too-happy about him airing their dirty laundry so publicly. So, you can't go home again.
Well, I'm going to try. Yes, I left the Church and wrote about it from a distance and judging from some of the comments and emails I received, some folks are none-too-happy about some of the things I said, but it's time to go back to the Church.
The good news for me is I'm primarily going back to church (little “c,” as in the church where I serve) and then secondarily to Church (big “C,” the institution). I love the folks at Vandalia Presbyterian Church. We're a small church with a big heart. I'm looking forward to seeing them all again and to doing ministry with them again. Here's the thing: I've changed. That worries me a bit.
Part 3 of my sabbatical adventure away from the church entitled: "Church No More."
A little over a month ago I (an ordained minster who has gone to church my whole
life) walked away from church– for three months. It is what I've decided to do
with my sabbatical. You can read about my initial thoughts on my blog or on The Huffington Post. As the journey unfolds, I will be blogging about it in this series entitled, “Church No More.” I hope you will not only follow along, but add your voice to the reflection by commenting or joining the discussion on my FB page.
I have a confession. (That's rich, right? A minister confessing.) I have a hard time telling people I'm a minister. Yes, really. I actually tend to handle it this way -- Person: “So, what do you do for a living?” Me: “I'm a minister... (appropriate pause), but not the kind you just pictured in your head.”
Sad. I know. Honestly though, it's worse than that. I'm even very resistant to calling myself a “Christian.” And I'm not even close to the only Christian who feels that way! It's so bad that I have this very conversation with people all the time. There seems to be some kind of “Believer-like-me Radar” which tells people it's safe to talk to me about not liking the“C” word –Christianity.
You'd be amazed at how many people resist calling themselves Christian –or maybe you wouldn't. Maybe you are one of us. The “C” word just isn't what it used to be.
A number of researchers over the last few years (most notably David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons who published their results in unChristian
) have found that the word “Christianity” has many more negative connotations than positive ones, at least in the minds of the general public. Want to try a few of them on for size? Hypocritical. Irrelevant. Antihomosexual. Judgmental. Okay, that's enough. I'm getting depressed.
I've been on sabbatical from ministry for a little over a month now. I decided from the very beginning that during the three months I'm on sabbatical, I will not go to church. I've never done that for more than a couple of Sundays in my whole life. Ever. And it worried me
I'm finding that not only did I not need to be worried, but I don't actually miss church much.
If you don't know already, it would seem that the beginning of the end has happened. It wasn't the end all be all of endings, at least not in the way we were told to expect it. May 21 came and went and the only thing we had to show for it was a slue of jokes about Judgment Day (including many from yours truly). Some people felt like all the jokes were in poor taste and mean spirited. I felt like it was a pretty typical response to something that could cause anxiousness (to some degree, at least) and that it was a fairly lighthearted way to debunk what I saw as not only poor theology but ultimately hurtful theology.
Much like the outcry around Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Terry Jones, there are many people who feel like we have given Mr. Camping too much attention and while I completely see their argument, I also recognize that there will be certain segments of society that will not ignore him, no matter what. For me that places a bit of onus on counter voices (particularly Christian ones) to give a different perspective. So, I mostly made jokes. You know things like, “...might as well go green. Unplug your stuff Friday night. 'kay?” and a list of jokes ministers could tell in church the day after
I'm not sure what to make of Mr. Camping. Part of me believes that this engineer turned Christian radio mogul turned self anointed prophet, who happens to be worth more than $70 million and gave none of it away before the deadline of May 21, is just in it for the almighty dollar. Part of me listens to him and wonders if he might actually believe what he says and feels the slightest bit of sympathy for him (and that same part then wonders if he may not suffer from a mental issue associated with aging).
A Personal Response
To The Myth of Redemptive Violence
“Violence is the ethos of our times.
It is the spirituality of the modern world.
It has been accorded the status of a religion,
demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience to death.”
- Walter Wink
Inevitably humans end up at war with each other. It seems to be entrenched in our very beings at times. Over the course of history, peace seems to be a difficult place for humanity to find. We war over land, over political differences, over ruling parties, over race, over religious beliefs and over natural resources -- just to name few.
Many early religious traditions would suggest that war and violence are inescapable, necessary and even good. They would have us believe peace, even life itself, entails traveling a path that runs through chaos and violence. It is a perspective which is still pervasive in our world. It says that it is unfortunate but true that war is sometimes needed to achieve peace. It is a myth – a myth of Redemptive Violence and it has many roots in religion.
"Nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by all…”
Mohandas Gandhi, Harijan, September 5, 1936
I stand over and against the myth of redemptive violence. I'm a pacifist. I'm not the lay down and be stomped on like a doormat kind of pacifist, I'm the Jesus-wanna-be kind of pacifist. The kind that looks to the lives of people like Martin Luther King and Gahndi as models for non-violent resistance. Don't try to re-categorize me either. I'm decidedly a pacifist. Shedding blood should not happen. Period. Jesus laid down his life, shedding the ultimate blood, to show us what love looked like. Showing us that love knows no bounds.
In Christianity the myth of redemptive violence hangs from a tree. It is the ultimate story of redemptive violence is it not? Through pain and blood, sacrifice and death, one man saves the world. Clearly violence is redemptive, no?
No. We miss a few things when we see it that way. It was love that hung on that tree, not violence. Jesus did not die for the sake of the War Machine, he died in resistance of the Powers That Be which are protected by the War Machine. Jesus suffered that we might not have to. Jesus suffered to show us how far love was willing to go. Jesus' sacrifice shows us that if love is large enough, no one should ever have to suffer again.
We are to live into that kind of love. We no longer need to make sacrifices of blood. It has been done for us. What that kind of love lived out looks like is seen in the life of Jesus and mirrored in the lives of King and Gandhi.
Seeing the world through the lens of non-viloent resistance, makes a day like today (Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day) an eternal conflict for me. I grieve for the dead. Those who died in their country’s service and those who died in the crossfire, sometimes coldly refereed to collateral damage. I cry tears for their families, for their friends for their loved ones.
But every year my tears fall like so many drops into an ocean of violence that is supported by the myth that violence begets peace, that loving one thing (your country) more than you love the reflection of God carried in the 'enemy's' eyes is somehow redeeming for humanity – growing us closer not only to God, but to the peaceable kingdom which we are to be ushering in. Every year I see an inordinate number of the poor sent to the front line, while the economically powerful fight their war from war rooms and well decorated offices. Every year the tears and the blood fall into the pools of the wars that preceded them.... and nothing changes.
So there is conflict and struggle in my heart, in my soul. The War Machine co-opts a day like today, wraps it in patriotism and manages the difficult task of both relegating the dead to being secondary to it's own promotion of the myth of redemptive violence and (at the same time) suggesting that anyone who has problems with the day are dishonoring those who have served honorably.
So many drops of blood have been spilled. With each drop, I weep. With each drop, God weeps. Each drop falls into the ocean of violence that came before it.
Today, I honor those who have died because of war, but I do not honor the War Machine. I reject the myth of dominance and redemptive violence, and substitute God's reality of love, peace and grace. With each drop of the blood of Christ, humanity was given a gift. We have yet to fully embrace that gift. Until we do, love continues to hang on a tree, suffering so that we might not have to.
I like to think I was pretty lucky as a kid, particularly when it came to sports. My Dad seemed to be able to play every sport pretty well. As a matter of fact, he coached almost every baseball team I ever played on. There is this one thing that I'll never forget that he said over and over to me and the rest of the team no matter whether on offense or defense, “Keep your eye on the ball.”
Now at first most of us kind of thought of that as a way of saying “stay focused,” and I guess in some ways it was, but the most important part of it was the directive to, “keep your eye on the ball.” Once I actually started watching the ball all the way until it hit the bat, went in the glove, whatever... my game play increased three-fold.
It is called baseball after all and it is amazing what kind of difference it made when I focused on...well, the baseball. It was what mattered. And when I focused on what matters, I was a better player.
The Church needs to learn a lesson from baseball. We took our collective eyes of the ball a long time ago, and we need to get back to letting what matters matter.
Over time, many churches have become places were what matters has become less about what God says matters and more about what people want to matter. In churches so many people busy themselves with the “work” of the church: Keeping the kitchen spotless, monitoring the clothes people wear, worrying about what someone is or isn't doing, being bothered by the music, or the pulpit, or who is in it...
But the reality is, when you do that, when you get caught up in the busyness (some might say the busy-body-ness) of the church, all you are really doing is loosing sight of what really matters. What's worse is you are distracting others from what matters, following Jesus wherever he leads us (yes, and frequently it's places we don't want to go).
If you believe most of the same things you believed about God 20 years ago, you have taken your eye off the ball. If you think God would not ask you to do something or go somewhere that makes you uncomfortable..you have taken your eye off the ball. If you go to Sunday school, and spend some of your time complaining about the church instead of actually studying God's word...you have taken your eye off the ball.
It is time to get to it - to get to letting what matters matter and to stop taking our eyes off the ball. It is time to stop tidying up the dugout and to step up to the plate. Those who take their eye off the ball and stop playing the game for what it can really be worth are likely to find their spirits growing thin, their anger growing more pronounced, their general sense of disgruntlement growing more restless.
When we take our eyes off of what matters, what really matters, we find ourselves growing away from the love, the hope, the peace that God offers us; we find that taking our eyes off of what matters allows space for thing that don't really matter to become important to us...and... we find ourselves unhappy more than we used to be, we find it harder to love our neighbor (particularly certain neighbors), we find that discontent and disappointment become more and more pronounced in our lives. When we get caught up in the things that don't matter, the thing that actually does matter gets displaced.
It is called Christianity after all and it is amazing what kind of difference it will make when we focus on...well, Christ. Christ is what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we will be better Christians and a better Church.