It has been a week, my friends. The first week of the new semester, specifically, but a doozy of one to be sure. New classes, textbooks, and the start of Sing Song. I am thoroughly enjoying all of these, particularly the latter, now as a proud member of the Men of Trojans.
There are few tunes sweeter that of Nikolai Rabinovitsj’s smooth soprano harmony.
But all that aside, there’s been a theme in this opening week that I’ve noticed, and I want to share my thoughts and open it up to you to think about and even discuss with me. They say interaction is good for community-building or something like that.
Anyway, that theme is church.
Wow, what a grand and specific theme, you must really know your stuff. Yes, I understand that, but let’s move on.
I’ve specifically been thinking about how we do church, or maybe more accurately how the congregation presents and views itself, and carries out its purpose.
“I love Jesus and I’m a Christian, but I hate church and churches.”
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that. And for a while I agreed, let’s say 70%, with that statement. It subscribes to this whole “God is good, but Religion is bad” philosophy that’s really popular among a lot of people.
And we take it with a grain of salt because if there’s one thing people like to do, it’s to assume that another person’s opinion is as parallel to their own as possible. And I think that’s a component of grace we show one another, and, on the whole, that’s a good thing.
I have a very close friend whose mom doesn’t attend church because she doesn’t like the institution of it, and I know many others who share the same idea and I can absolutely sympathize with them on that even though I don’t agree. Then again, I haven’t had the same experience as them, but then we just get caught in a whole web of qualifying statements, so I digress.
But if there’s one thing that’s clear from that debacle, it’s this:
The church has Kanye West-ed itself.
Now, I’m sure we were all wondering how long it would take me to bring Kanye into this blog, so now we all know the answer is two weeks. But please hear me out.
You probably sneered when I compared the church to Kanye, and that’s absolutely understandable. But my point is this: we’ve somehow gotten in the way of our own message. Now, give me the benefit of the doubt on choosing Kanye for the comparison; I know you likely don’t see the value in anything he does, but I’ve thought long and hard about him and what he’s done, and I would love to talk about it with you some time.
Now is not that time.
But toss me that grain of salt when I say that Kanye has an important message to share. That’s what a lot of people don’t know. What a lot of people do know is that he snatched the mic from Taylor Swift, told George Bush that he (Bush) didn’t care about black people, and has mated with a Kardashian.
The church has an important message, nay, the most important message. But that’s what people don’t know. What people do know is that we read a book written thousands of years ago in multiple languages, we judge others, and we will come to the aid of an impressively-bearded man when his reality TV show (that isn’t even really about ducks, what a gyp) is taken down for sharing his views on homosexuality. Oh, and we hate those people, too.
If that looks outlandishly one-sided, then you received that message exactly as I wanted you to.
Alright, so I’m not offering any thoughts on how we can fix that considering that’s an issue for, you know, the entirety of the Christian church (maybe even inter-denominationally? Spooky!) to work through, and we’re admittedly being pretty good about it, at least in the environment I’m in. I just want to throw that out there to get the ol’ cogs moving.
Another thought brought on by one of my classes:
I’m reading The Stone-Campbell Movement by Leroy Garrett for my Restoration History class, and there was an analogy in it that really made my imagination run wild, and I’m going to take it in a different direction than the class did because it sorta rocked my world.
So imagine that the game of baseball goes extinct. Centuries later, we could restore the game through the book The Game of Baseball that some archaeologists dig up. We could recreate the whole game, diamond dimensions and all. That’s what restoration in general looks like and for those of you reading who aren’t from or familiar with the Church of Christ background, that’s a huge component of the denomination/belief system/whatever you want to call it. We’re getting back to our roots, modeled after the 1st century church.
The part that I wondered about, or sort of added was whether or not that book was necessary, or at least if the whole thing was. Obviously, keeping with the metaphor, the book is the Bible, but that’s not what the focus is. We need the whole Bible, yeah, but we’re looking specifically at what it says about church.
So the claim that a lot of the belief is dependent on is that the church in the Bible, the 1st century church was the church, the best example, the ideal church.
So back to the baseball analogy, what if you came up with “baseball” that had a lot of the components of baseball, but some tweaks? Could you still call it baseball? What rules have to be there for you to call it baseball? Is it possible for someone who’s never heard of baseball to end up inventing a game that has the exact same rules as baseball?
So I started asking myself all these questions and it all became really muddled and I was afraid that maybe I was turning into a heretic, but what I eventually settled on was the question of what makes the best church?
Do we truly believe that the 1st century church was the ideal, the best church? If so, how do we bring that into the world without Kanye-ing ourselves? Or should we be ok with Kanye-ing ourselves?
If not, what needs to change, and how do we reconcile that/justify those changes?
I think a huge problem facing the church is that, whether we’re acting on our roots or not, we’re giving off a sense that we’re the “best” church. We’re the epitome.
And I think that misses the point of church objectively.
To return to the baseball anlogy, we’re convinced we’re the major leagues when really we’re more probably playing coach-pitch peewee.
In another book, Discovering Our Roots, the author discusses why it’s important to constantly go back and check what our roots say. It boils down to “check yourself before you wreck yourself” which is exactly what old people say when they want to sound more hip than they are.
But I think that’s valuable advice here. We don’t have the answer, and we shouldn’t claim to. But I don’t think we’re going to get there and I don’t think we’re doing any good for the world by trying to play a game that may or may not even be the right one.
Keep referring back, keep seeing what does and doesn’t work, and what’s most important.
I’m curious about what y’all think of all that and if you have any responses to any of the questions that I’ve proposed, especially from other backgrounds and generations. Comments below.
Anyway, glad to be back on the grind and be sure to swing by Mondays and Wednesdays for short and short short stories if that’s the sort of thing you’re into.