Thursday, May 3, 2012

Contemplation on a big birthday - hope for the church?

reflecting on death of the church and . .  .
Perhaps my favorite birthday gift today is this study day that I scheduled merely by NOT scheduling anything else today. No appointments, just sermon prep, devotional reading, generalized work-related reading, a trip to the gym, and Tiramasu Pops with my coffee. (Thanks Mel!)

I just finished reading the Messenger magazine, our denominational (Church of the Brethren) for April 2012. For some reason I get my copy in the first week of the following month. It was great to see an article on our, Arlington congregation's involvement in the local food bank, Arlington Food Assistance Center, written by Robyn Reals. (Go Girl) I was also saddened and challenged by Mike McKeever's article, "Bearing Witness for Peace in a Distracted Society".  I was thinking I want to echo it in a sermon, but by the time I was through reading, I realized how depressing a sermon would be that spoke to the number of dead and injured in our recently concluded war on Iraq. (In 2005 he organized a round-the-clock reading of American dead that took 30 hours. If he were to organize a remembrance for Iraqis killed in the war, it would take two years to read all the names! Messenger p. 10) - Sigh

I found myself in McKeever's description of students content to wait for him in a darkened classroom. Puzzled he discovered they preferred the dark so smart phone screens, tablets, and computers were more visible. They choose to access on-line rather than talk to each other. - again a sigh - I admit I am part of the 'they' in his classroom, grabbing every opportunity to check in on Twitter. Maybe I'd share an Andy Borowitz laugh with someone...verbally?

I liked reading about Sgt. Corey Gray's success at becoming a CO even after having enlisted in the Marines and discovering how much the Marine 'mission' was against his belief in life. (I was particularly struck by the Marine optometry motto he quoted, "If you can't see them, you can't kill them." It kinda says it all.)

I felt challenged by Josh Brockway's, "Where have all the prophets gone?" recalling Dawn O. Wilhelm's work in that vein of prophetic preaching while realizing it is not just preaching that needs to be prophetic, it's our living.

Then I found two articles that almost seem to conflict. 1- "God's door left open" by David Young about church renewal and the other, "Who are the young adults?" by Gimbiya Kettering, who I just bumped into in a restaurant on Saturday.
  • 1- "Transformation continues as we discover and implement a renewal plan. The plan often calls for strengthening the very basic ministries of the church like youth, Sunday school, or midweek ministry." says David Young
  • 2- Gimbiya writes about two books  that "consider college students on different ends of the religious spectrum, and reflects the diversity of faith among emerging adults i the CoB."
Maybe its because I'm reading Diane Butler Bass' Christianity After Religion that I'm continually aware of the challenges facing today's church. Make that yesterday's church that still meets today.  Aside from the house churches and newer forming groups, called 'church plants', I see churches today following some variation of the 1950 or 1960 church. We meet in buildings built or renovated in the 60's or for some in the 70's. We sit in pews or semi-circled chairs facing forward. We listen to music performed and we sing either hymns hundreds of years old (in many cases) or some newer tunes when a congregation is willing to vary its music from organ to other instruments. And in most cases, we listen to a sermon, preached from a pulpit which at times (if one is lucky) is accompanied by a few visuals that try to capture wandering attentions for 15-20 minutes. Even I, the preacher, begin to see the 'checkered flag' about 11:50 and have to restrain a bolt for the door. (true confession time?) Is there any doubt that this model has to change?

When I read further into the Messenger I see denominational budget shortfalls, decline in giving to the denomination, districts, and churches. (A rise in giving to specific relief ministries, though!) Then I read the Letters to the Editor, which for the past several years have reflected the internal battle in the CoB, as in many other denominations over sexuality and relatedly, interpretation of scripture and tradition. - Bigger sigh -

The Annual Conference ballot review again shows two women on the ballot for Moderator - and we remember what happened last year, right? (#cobac2011 - a man nominated from the floor was elected.) While our moderator-elect writes in this issue reflecting on racism that remains in America  even after a rich history of sacrifice to move away from it, I wonder about sexism, still so predominate in the CoB. Then I remember the comment from the pew behind me at District Conference, "It's not a matter of equality (women in leadership), it's a matter of theology!" (Biblical interpretation that prohibits women in leadership) - Insert whatever is bigger than a sigh, here.

It leaves me not even wanting to attend conference. Although I know if I don't go, and others like me, it 'leaves' the denomination to those with whom I disagree. It's like voting in an election - if you don't vote, then you don't get to complain at the outcome.

My hope comes from the assurance that God isn't through with us yet. (Although my 'reading through the Bible' had me just read the ch. 26 of Leviticus and what God will do if God's people do not obey God's commands....) I am just seriously wondering of God IS through with the church - at least as we know it. I realize I am writing myself out of a job, but think the time is coming. Perhaps it is time to focus on praying for all seminary graduates - that they find ways to faithfully help God's people enter the 22nd century and listen to the prophetic words of Jesus. That young adults will find ways of faithfully expressing their belief in the Jesus' Way and that these ways will not exclude the folks still gathered by the grave of Sunday School each week, and still attending the memorial service of the 1960-church at 11 a.m. on Sunday. If only the new ideas (to which our Arlington congregation is very open) could include the "old" church, perhaps there could be a transition. . .

I suspect though, the transition will be more like Jesus' than we are prepared to experience - first a death - and only THEN a resurrection. 
"So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16
"Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. . .But God gives it a body as God has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body." 1 Corinthians 15:36, 38
Maybe it's just the way I translate and interpret scripture. . but I still find some hope in Paul's words. Perhaps this is the most appropriate reflection on the day I turn 60 years old - hope beyond death - for the church and all its people.

No comments: