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.
Part 2 of my sabbatical adventure away from the church entitled: "Church No More."A few weeks 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.
It might be that the thing which concerned me the most about leaving the church was losing my spiritual community. It's not that I thought the spiritual-but-not-religious folk were helplessly lonely people wandering around seeking a spiritual community. Not at all. I just assumed that it might be immensely difficult to find and plug into a community like that in the course of three months. I also couldn't help but think it would be just a bit – well, fake to seek out a community for the sake of observing them and then leaving a few months latter. Not just fake but somewhat mean spirited and completely missing the point of community.
Here's the thing, I am a minister. I understand myself to be a person who ministers by following the lead and teachings of Jesus. (I also happen to follow the teachings of many other spiritual and/or thought leaders from Buddha to Neil deGrasse Tyson, but that's for another post some other time). Because of that, the idea of life without a spiritual community gives me the heebie-jeebies. (I apologize for using such a technical term, but a duck is a duck is a duck).
Why? Why do I break out in a heebie-jeebie induced sweat/panic-attack at the thought of having no spiritual community? Jesus. That is to say, at the beginning of his ministry the first thing Jesus did was create community. He marched himself down to the shoreline, yelled out to a bunch of folk (who would never really understand him or his teachings) to “follow me,” and they began ministering together. It would seem that for Jesus a prerequisite to ministering and doing the work of God (possibly even relating to God fully) is to be in community.
As I walked away from the church, I had no spiritual community. Heebie-jeebies for real.
I've mentioned a time
before, that the Church is dying
. And because of the research presented in books like unChristian
by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, we know a lot of the reasons for it.
While some people in the Church like to point to the economy as the chief reason reason for struggling churches, it's time to get real and just admit that while it really is terribly convenient to be able to say, "Really it's not us; it's that gosh, darned economy," it's just not true. Sure the economy necessarily effects most churches, but our problems have been going on much longer than that. And we are the root of our problem.
As Kinnaman points out, there are several problems that keep most young people who consider themselves spiritual from darkening the door of a church, but the big one is hypocrisy. And like it or not, part of that hypocrisy is tied up in politics.
For decades now, the loudest voice in Christianity (or at least the most persistently visible) has been from politicians on the right. Let's face it, they have owned the national Christian voice. Touting Jesus as if they had been one of the original disciples, they have twisted the reality of the Gospels and God's biases for the oppressed, the marginalized and the undeserved into a pro-Americana doctrine that promotes the rights of the haves over the needs of the have-nots. They've actually figured out how to make it seem sinful to question war and capital punishment.
And the dominant part of the Church has, at best, sat idly by as the political right has used the name of Christ to take God's name in vain by marginalizing more and more people as they pass laws that make it more difficult to obtain basic human rights like health care, reasonable access to shelter and the ability to feed our families.
We need modern day prophets to walk in the footsteps of Isaiah, Amos, Micah, Jesus and, yes, even Dr. King. People to stand up to, and to stand over and against the status quo. Voices calling out into the modern day wildernesses of plutocracy, militarism, white privilege and so many other anti-Biblical movements that serve only to marginalize and hurt specific groups of people.
In this age of social media, it might be that the Voice In The Wilderness that the world so sorely needs, might just be Voices (with an 's') In The Wilderness. It might just be your voice, my voice, our voices in a collective cry saying, "Repent! God does not love straight people more than gay people. God does not love the wealthy more than the poor. God does require us to DO justice. Not to just say it is a good thing, but to insure that it is a reality for all people."
We must stand up to the Religious and Political Right who have been allowed to own the voice of Christianity for far too long and we must reclaim it.
As it became apparent that the President had called an unexpected address to the nation to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, social networks erupted with jubilation. Shortly after that, ground zero and grounds in front of the White House, with their 9/11 connections, became gathering places for the raucous crowds.
For a night, so many of this mostly divided nation were united... over a death. Not just united, joyfully so.
“He's won,” I thought. One of bin Laden's primary goals was to cause terror in the US and he has. Not buildings collapsing terror. Not dirty bombs exploding terror. What happened was more diabolical than that. We lost our humanity...or we lived vengefully into it, whichever way you care to see it. We gave into our primal instinct. We answered blood-lust with blood-lust, vengeance with vengeance. We solved the problem of murder with murder. As Dr. King once noted, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
I know that is not a popular point of view and I fully recognize that this post will probably evoke more negative responses than positive, but in looking at the teaching of Jesus, I do find it to be a solid biblical point of view. I do not ask you to see it the way that I do. I just need to give voice to it.
I was even more bereft in watching so many of my dear Christian friends quote the Bible in order to justify their understandable need to rejoice that this man, who seems to be the devil personified for most people, was brought to his end – violently. I even sort of understand why they sought out Bible verses: because there was a part of them, the part that is a reflection of God, the part placed in each human as God metaphorically breathed the very breath of God into each of us, that knew this was wrong in the eyes of God. Their humanity needed to overcome the piece of divinity that was trying to speak out.
That piece of our humanity that so easily gives into hate, vengeance, anger, retribution, and blood-lust is the most powerful weapon that a man like bin Laden has. It divides not only nations but the world. It divides not only communities but it also divides individuals against their better selves.
People who would never intentionally cherry pick Bible verses were using text out of context to justify their actions rather than using the verse to guide their actions. Saying things like, “live by the sword, die by the sword,” to give vengeance a biblical sounding edge, never realizing that those kind of swords cut both ways. It divides nations. It divides our very spirits. That is a powerful weapon.
Worse yet, (at least from a Christian perspective), seeing the death of anyone as redemptive reduces love to a trite keepsake, a bauble, a plaything of convenience. Even on the cross it was not the suffering that was redemptive, it was the love of the one who laid down his life for his friends and the love of God that was redemptive. When we try to make violence redemptive (and we can only try, because it never will be), we make violence the end all be all. We elevate it above love... and when we do that, we elevate it above God who is love. We make it a religion unto itself.
It was good to see cooler heads begin to prevail in Christian communities the day after, but this isn't the first time we have lived into that human instinct to try to make violence redemptive. I am left to wonder, will we resist the urge the next time? Because there will be a next time.
I agree with Rob Bell, love wins. Hate begets hate. Fear begets fear. Violence begets violence. Love begets love.
"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." -MLK
(UPDATE: As expected, I've received many more negative responses than normal. The largest majority of them actually proved part of my point by being mostly hateful and verbally violent. The ones that were primarily name calling have been deleted. Negative responses that do not leave their real name and email will also be deleted. For now, I'll leave the comment section open. If necessary, I will switch to approving comments before they are posted. I welcome negative feedback. I do, however, insist it avoid name calling and that it is a response and not an attack.)
Editor's note: Please welcome our first guest blogger: Janet Conrad. She's the author of the blog "Nuggets n Bits" and the admin for Facebook's Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented page. If you aren't familiar with her FB page, I strongly encourage you to check it out!
Washing someone's feet in bible times was like cleaning someone else's toilet in modern times. What would you do if you knew that the President was coming to your home to clean your toilet? Eeeek. Exactly!
As we listen to the Religous Right tout their purity, cling to the righteousness of their cause and inform the rest of us that they are the ones representing the Bible, read what Jesus did and compare the two. (words in blue are my comments)
John 13"Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, 'Master, you wash my feet?' (or Master, you wash my toilet?)"Jesus answered, 'You don't understand now what I'm doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.' Peter persisted, 'You're not going to wash my feet - ever!" (or You're not going to clean my toilet - ever!)"Jesus said, 'If I don't wash you, you can't be part of what I'm doing.'"'Master!' said Peter, 'Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!' (or Not only my toilet, clean my floor, wash my dishes)
This goes beyond political views. The point is if we are going to hold up signs and slogans that label us as Christians, we better be prepared to act in a way that represents the Christ that we follow."You address me as Teacher and Master, and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other's feet. I've laid down a pattern for you. What I've done, you do. I'm only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn't give orders to the employer. If you understand what I'm telling you, act like it - and live a blessed life."