In my last post, I covered the five things I like most about church. In this one I will take on some of the things I dislike most. To be honest this is going to be hard to keep to five. A lot of things frustrate me about the church. Before I start my list I want to be clear that I’m talking about “the church” in the sense of what I understand to be the American church. The church I pastor, Wildwind Community Church, is a unique place. We were built largely around avoiding the pitfalls I’ll be discussing here. No doubt we have others, but hopefully not these! I know not everything I am saying applies to every church, these are just generalizations. Nevertheless, I think they are generally accurate.
1. The tendency to confuse events with processes
I come from the evangelical tradition, and in that tradition an event we call “salvation” is routinely mistaken (or substituted!) for a process by the same name. (The Free Methodist Church calls the ongoing process of salvation “sanctification” but it’s all part of finding God, attaining “salvation.”) We tend to overemphasize the event, pushing for conversions, salvation prayers, dramatic testimonies, etc. But life is much more a process than an event, and salvation is simply a way of describing how we live. Salvation is a term for what happens when an individual life is taken up into the life of God.
In my tradition people sometimes even speak of the “moment of salvation.” Of course what they are really talking about is the moment when a person formally converted. Salvation itself is a process. Speaking of it as an event creates the impression that one’s life before “conversion” was completely without God, that God was not “on the scene” of the person’s life, so to speak. It has created a great deal of silliness and what I call spiritual schizophrenia (fuzzy thinking) in sincere people, and it makes me angry.
Church people and everyone else aren’t as different as you might think. Both groups tend toward black and white thinking — that things are all good or all bad. In truth, everything is touched both with sacredness and profanity. We are shocked and mystified when we see profane acts and words proceeding from supposedly sacred people and institutions, and we are skeptical when we see sacred things coming from a person or institution we had written off as completely profane.
The church — this institution that is supposedly the living body of Christ on earth — is no different. One needn’t study much history, or even look very far today, to see plenty of examples of profanity issuing forth from the church and those who claim to belong to it. It must have been this reality St. Augustine was thinking about when he famously said, “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” That whore is my mother too. She is, despite her shortcomings, one who raised and nurtured me and taught me right from wrong. I owe a huge debt to her. To this day it seems most of my life is either lived in service to her or in reaction against her. We can never fully escape the influence of our parents. Today I wish to pay tribute to this whore who, for better of for worse, I love so deeply. Here are the things I like most about the church.
Thanks to Green Day for inspiring me to think about humility today. While working on Twitter I was listening to Green Day’s album 21st Century Breakdown. I’m not a huge fan of the band, but I did enjoy their previous album American Idiot, so I figured I’d give it a listen. I liked it quite a bit.
In typical punk style, Green Day rail against a lot of things — society, corporations, (the existence from which they are now, ironically, hugely benefitting), religion, society, religion, society, and religion. And corporations.
[SNIP — I was going to include a small piece of one lyric here, but apparently that may or may not fall under fair use. As I wish to remain 100% unsued, I have chosen not to post.]
Of course this is not unusual for a punk band. I rather identify with it, as society and religion are often targets in my own writings and sermons.
If you, like me, are a fan of AMC’s hit show Breaking Bad, but have missed one or more seasons, this 9-minute video will get you caught up on the first four seasons so you are ready for the start of season 5 on July 15.