Churches Don’t Have Dues, but They Do Have Don’ts

Member Stamp Shows Membership Registration And Subscribing“What are the benefits of membership?” she asked me.

I just kind of stared at her, trying to figure out if she was serious or not.

I hadn’t been in the parish very long, just a year, but I had never imagined that someone would ask that question with any seriousness.  My confusion was my own fault, of course. The bubble of church membership that I had grown up in insulated me from many who had never been part of church culture before.  And, like country clubs offer membership perks, I had before me someone seriously inquiring as to what she might get if she joined our parish.

“There are no perks,” I said, “except that you get to vote and can be on committees.  Which, isn’t really a perk at all because, well, have you been to a congregational meeting?”

I laughed.

She didn’t.

“Then, why would I join?” she asked matter-of-factly.

And that was a great question.  Why would she join?  Why would anyone join?

In all honesty, I’m “post-membership” myself when it comes to churches.  The people who are a part of your community are the people who participate in the community, whether they’re officially on the books or not.  But, deep in my heart, I know that joining something does do something to me.

It makes me feel responsible. Accountable.

“You join,” I said, ” to remind yourself that these people and you have covenanted to do life together.  People join to say something about themselves, to be accountable to others and themselves, and like any marriage, the joining keeps you together until you fall in love again.  So when we fight, you just can’t leave, and we can’t walk out on you, we have to figure it out as best we can…”

It was all I could think of.

She nodded, “Ok, but what are the dues?” she asked.

Again, an honest question that I never expected.

“There are no dues,” I said, “but we are expected to give of ourselves and our treasure, including our money, to fund ministry and give back to God what is God’s.”

In that first year, at our first congregational meeting in fact, I had one family who, though they considered themselves quite important, rarely participated in the life of the church, and they asked me before the meeting, “If we split up the budget equally amongst all the giving units in this church, how much do each of us owe?”

I stood there, blinking.  I had actually done that calculation the night before, but I wasn’t going to offer it to them.  They were a family of means, and could offer to give far more than the number on the ledger, and far more than they gave at the present time.  Meanwhile, they were sitting right next to a family of five kids where the father was out of a job and the mother alone held the roof over their heads through her 9 to 5, but they showed up every time the doors were open and quite honestly were punching above their weight in the giving department, but far below the number on the ledger.

“That’s not how it works,” I said.  “The question we ask isn’t ‘how much does it cost all of us,’ but rather, ‘how much of what I have been given am I deciding to keep?'”

Church budgets are not equal.  They are fair.  Or, at least, they should be.

Back to the woman in front of me: she sat there thinking about the idea of membership and dues and what it all would mean to sign on the dotted line.  I gave her some time…she never did officially join.

But she was a part of the community.  And she was active.  And she gave what she could.

Churches don’t have dues, but they do have some don’ts.

Don’t make your church easy to “join.”  Churches aren’t country clubs, they are costly.  They should cost the members something: of treasure, time, commitment, and everything it takes to do life together.  A Saturday seminar with a Sunday reception does not imply the costly nature of it all.

Don’t treat all your parishioners equally.  Everyone gets treated well, and treated fairly, but if you expect the same out of everyone you’re missing the very important differences between the people in the pews.

Don’t be surprised if the membership culture of church life gets confusing for many.  Some from previous generations think membership entitles them to certain opinions, even if they don’t really participate in the community.  Others, especially those who didn’t grow up in the church, will wonder why they might bother at all.  You should wrestle with this as a community.  Why does it matter to be a part of it all, anyway?

And finally, don’t imagine that any of what worked before will work again.  Change is happening at a pace that is difficult to keep up with these days.  Tweak and refine what membership means.  Tweak and refine what you’re asking of the people in your community.  Tweak and refine what it means to make and meet budget.

Churches don’t have dues, but there are some don’ts.

Pastors Who are Co-Dependent on the Collar

User commentsI was talking with a friend and colleague the other day.  The conversation got around to our profession and how, we’ve observed, some people really love it.

Not the work of the profession, mind you, but the idea of it.  They like being “a pastor,” not pastoring.

At the risk of sounding (more) judgmental, I’ll continue…

The problem with this, I think, is that it causes such a huge identity crisis in the individual, that the person becomes co-dependent on the title in a way that breeds psychological, emotional, and yes, physical illness.

Co-dependency is synonymous with death in all instances.

A definition here might be helpful, though.  Co-dependency is this reality where you can’t see yourself objectively, but only through the filter of whatever it is you are co-dependent on.

Parents can become co-dependent on their children.  When their children have good days, the parents are allowed to have good days.  The same is true for bad days.

People become co-dependent on their spouses, losing themselves in their role as partner/wife/husband.  I’ve seen many friends fall into this, and it seems to be especially true for those early on in relationships.  If you find you have no identity outside of your relationship with your partner, you’ve lost yourself altogether.  And, what comes next?  Resentment.  Rebellion.

We can become co-dependent on our religion, too.  I’ve known people to hang pictures of Jesus in their house like they’d hang a picture of a parent, sibling, or spouse.  Not as an art piece, but as a member of the family…and this, to me, is a sign of attachment to an icon or idol in an unhealthy way.

Plus, Jesus didn’t look like that…

Likewise, people can become co-dependent on their profession.  And while this is probably true for many professions, I’ve found pastors are especially susceptible to this reality, for a couple of reasons.

First, we talk about the profession in such a way that lends itself to abuse.  Pastors are “called.”

True, the church tries to inject that language into every profession or passion.  People are “called to act with justice,” as the hymn goes.  But the idea of “call” is usually reserved for the profession in a unique way, which of course means that, if a pastor leaves a congregation, or the ministry altogether, we have little language to imply anything other than they’re no longer “called.”

A pastor who loves being a pastor for the title, but may have little skill in the way of the pastoral arts themselves, might get wrapped up emotionally in this in a way that leads to un-health.  Want an example?  What about a pastor who stays in the pulpit because they really like the credentials, but aren’t proficient at the work? Or the pastor who pines after the administrative job not because it’s their gift, but because their gift seems to be to want that kind of job?

They do no one any good.

Or what about when a pastor can’t not be a pastor?  Like, all of their relationships are made through that role?  They have no friends outside the parish, virtually making it impossible for them to not only ever leave, but actually do the work effectively. Let’s be honest, a friend cannot tell us hard truths a lot of times.  The relationship is different.  And that works both ways: both with a pastor telling someone a hard truth, or someone telling a pastor a hard truth.

I’ve blogged about this before, but if your only outlet in the world is through the lens of the collar, you’re co-dependent with the profession in a way that is making it impossible for you to do your work.

In other words: you love the idea of being a pastor, not the work itself.  Because the work demands you give some distance.  But the idol of the job whispers that you can do it differently…

You can’t.

Or what about those days when you only measure yourself against the opinions of others in relation to your work in the parish?  You begin to believe you’re good or bad at your work only because others think you’re good or bad at it.  If you constantly measure your worth based on the opinions of the pews, you’re probably co-dependent on your role.

And before you think I’m casting stones in glass houses, let me inject some real honesty here: it’s easy to become co-dependent, especially for a pastor.

It’s easy to buy the lie that people give you that you have to be at every function for it to have any meaning.  It’s easy to buy the lie that you can’t be yourself in the grocery store because, well, what if a parishioner sees you with a political shirt they disagree with? That’s a problem…

It’s easy to buy into the lie that you suck just because that parishioner left the parish, sent you that note, or is gossiping endlessly about you.  Likewise, friend, it’s easy to believe you’re good at your work because people praise you and lavish you with accolades, even though you rarely prepare for your sermons, rarely touch base with parishioners, rarely read or study, and rarely do the actual, hard, behind-the-scenes work that gets no recognition.

It’s easy to buy into the self-serving deceit that you are your job and your job is you and that the letters in front of your name identify you more than anything else you do or have ever done.

It’s an easy trap. I’ve fallen into it. Every pastor has.

We all fall in love with the idea more than the art at one time or another.

But unless you’ve put in some safeguards like people who can be honest with you (who aren’t parishioners), and a healthy dose of “no” in your vocabulary, and some honesty about how normal (and usually mediocre) you actually are despite what your ego and your ordination want to tell you, co-dependency is hard to slough off.

Co-dependent pastors kill themselves, and the church, one forced smile at a time.

It’s OK to just be yourself sometimes.  Those letters in front of your name are not you, but just part of what you have at your disposal to do the actual work.

 

 

The Church of the Future is Full of Good Feels. Only.

kham-pha-nhung-cong-dung-tuyet-voi-cua-vitaminDA friend and colleague recently posted this article about Zoe Church and their mass baptism on the streets of LA.

The location is no doubt double-edged: they probably couldn’t host those baptisms in the night club their church meets in.  Blood is allowed on the dance floor…but not water (and if you don’t get that reference, check your Michael Jackson albums).

But no doubt at work was the optics, too.  LA loves to roll out and walk red carpets, and what better way to design a baptismal service than to entice the cell-phone paparazzi?

The whole article, while well written, smacks of gimmick and glam.

And trust me, I don’t say this without some self-conviction. I’m not far from receiving similar accusations.  We in the mainline get accused of being into gimmick and glam when we suggest a credit-card kiosk for offerings (because who carries cash anymore?), logo-label coffee mugs, or (gasp) suggest a coffee station in the Narthex.

I’ve been called arrogant and artificial a few times (this week).

I figure most pastors my age aren’t far from such accusations.  When you lead, people will call you arrogant, even if you don’t see yourself that way. When you try new things people will accuse you of being self-serving and gimmicky, even when that’s not your intention.

Doing things differently or with a new set of eyes and ears and minds is not gimmicky.

What is gimmicky?

Leveraging Sunday to purely provide the shot of feel-good that humans say they want. Like a drug, we’re addicted to the feel-goods.  And we’ll come back for it week after week, but never feel any better, ultimately.  It will work for fooling yourself, but won’t work for what you want from it.

Read the article.

See the ending where he notes that, at the end of the day, he’s “here to preach good news. To give humanity hope…When I come to church, you know what I need? I need encouragement.”

But here’s the rub: his idea of good news, of hope, has more to do with consumerism than it does with Christ.  It has more to do with individual dreams than with Jesus.

His good news is good news for the celebrity who stars in each of our individual plays, not for the world at the center of God’s drama.

Narcissism and the current Christian culture go hand in hand.  The Jesus who you invite into your heart becomes your indentured servant in this story, granting wishes and giving you unending personal encouragement as you deal with being an adult…

That’s the story, right?

Right now in Austin, people are being targeted by a serial bomber.  How is your personal Jesus going to help them?

Right now in Syria little boys and girls are being bombed. Weekly.  It’s far from you, but do you think Jesus has a thought about it?  Or is Jesus only about encouraging you?

This is the problem with the church of the future.  Pretty soon the self-help shelves will meld with the Christian Lit shelves in the book stores (which will soon all be electronic, anyway, save for the few who have a cult following), as Jesus becomes more and more the personal talisman of the believer.

Hope is not the assurance that in the end you’ll get what you want.  Hope is the assurance that, no matter how it ends, you won’t be left high and dry by a God who cares deeply about you, your story, but also everyone else’s story, and deeply cares about how you will intersect and interact with their story.

You will be encouraged, because you won’t need the drug of the feel good every week when the true story of the wandering prophet from Galilee is seen.

You will have hope because you’ll see that the whole world can be moved and changed, not just your world.

And when the pastor in the article mentions he wants to avoid politics…well, what are we to do with church and politics?

Friend, we’re about to come up on Palm Sunday.  If you want to talk about a political march, about resistance theater done in public, read this story about a Galilean who rides on an ass instead of a white horse to snub his nose at Caesar (who would enter cities on a white horse), effectively calling Caesar the ass in the play.

You might be able to take politics out of church, but you can’t take it out of the Bible.

Is this the future of the church, the “church of the good feels”? Yes.

And no.

Because it’s the current reality.

I’m not against good feels in church.  But I am against an uncritical faith. I am against stripping the Bible of it’s power to change the world because you want to make it about solely changing your life.  I am against public theater that serves the self over the whole community.

The church is a place to know and be known.  It is a place to receive comfort and be made uncomfortable.  It is a place where your wounds are healed and the wounds of the world revealed (and, often, the ways you’ve caused such wounds whether you wanted to or not).  And it’s a place where you learn that the Good News is both about you but also about everyone else, and that should be jarring to you.

The church is about the feels, but they aren’t always what the world would call “good.”

But they are good in the same way we call “Good Friday” good…

The church of the good feels is alive and well, but I wouldn’t call it “good.”  And I wouldn’t go there.

But I would eat an acai bowl with you.

Because I like acai…not because I think you’d think I’m cool if I did.

The Nashville Statement and an Islamic Tale Walked into A Bar…

926be0ae335555eb4dfe0e3eb9f2c358--sufi-quotes-jalaluddin-rumiI once heard that tortured Irish metaphysicist Peter Rollins tell this little Islamic tale:

A dervish was sitting alone one day, and a stranger came up behind him and slapped the back of his head.

The dervish whirled around, ready to defend himself, and the stranger said, “You can hit me, but first ponder this question with me: did the *smack* that we both just heard come from my hand or the back of your head?

The dervish glared at him and said, “You have the luxury of asking that question, but I do not, because I’m the one sitting here dealing with it.”

So my question to my evangelical friends who crafted and support this so-called Nashville Statement: you have a theory, loosely based on small bits of a huge tome of scripture, and not based at all in historical-critical study, that has to do with people who didn’t have a seat at the discussion table.

You released this in the middle of a huge national disaster, a few weeks after a huge white supremacist march which prompted multiple resignations from an administration that refused to outright denounce it at the highest level (but surprisingly none of those resignations came from within your advisory ranks).  You basically just reissued the same statement you’ve been trumpeting for years, chasing youth into conversion camps and suicide attempts, imperiling marriages as gay people marry straight people because there is no other option for them, continuing to be the genesis of strife in many families as parents are forced to choose between their faith and their out children.

And I want to know: “How’s this going for you?”

Because your little theory that you affirmed in this statement doesn’t take into account the people actually sitting there, dealing with it.  And every theory has to, at some point, wrestle with that refining question, “And how’s living with this perspective going for me?”

Here’s an idea: why don’t you invite a person who identifies as LGBTQ to sit with you at a bar? You bring your Nashville Statement, and they’ll bring their life story, about the fear of coming out to their family, about the shame they had to endure after that first person found out and told everyone, about how they tried to love somebody that convention told them they should and just couldn’t, about the time they contemplated (and attempted?) suicide, about falling in love but not being able to hold hands in public, about wanting children but being told by so many people that kids need a “mom and a dad.”

And then, at the end of the hour, after a few drinks (of whatever you want, don’t worry, I won’t tell), ask yourself, “How’s this statement going for me?”

Because after that, guess what: some of their experience will then be yours, if you have any semblance of a heart.

Oh, and here’s a theory: I bet many evangelicals would absolutely be open to accepting their LGBTQ kids, parents, and friends.  In fact, in their heart of hearts, my theory is that they already do.

Poet Christian Wiman writes in his heart-wrenching memoir, My Bright Abyss, “How astonishing it is, the fierceness with which we cling to beliefs that have made us miserable, or beliefs that prove to be so obviously inadequate when extreme suffering–or great joy–comes.”

Lord, this is most certainly true.

You know what I think those people in my theory are worried about?  

What other parents, kids, and friends will say.  Will they say something like this Nashville Statement?

And to them…well, I want to just encourage them to come out of the closet.

“Churches Should Behave Like Start-Ups” or “Be the Yeast, Not the Loaf”

2721032_1408333739618_acee1eadStart-ups are motivated by possibility and imagination.  They’re not just reacting to what’s going on around them, they’re forming what’s going forward.

Start-ups are interested in perfecting one or two things that they’re doing, while dreaming of that one next thing.  They’re not trying to be everything to everyone, becoming bogged down in propping up the part of their enterprise that is flailing.

Churches should behave like start-ups.  All churches, not just new churches.

Now, I get it…you don’t like comparing a church to a business model.  I don’t like the comparison much, either.  But let’s not pretend that we don’t have something to learn here.  Churches *should* excel at implementing metaphor to everyday life (looking at you, parables), so let’s metaphorically explore this, OK?

Start-ups respond to imagination; establishment responds to fires.  If you don’t spend more time on what you can do than what you used to do, you’re not responding to imagination.  Big establishment brands have just that: a brand.  But they’re constantly having to try something new to keep the brand and keep the edge (think New Coke). They’re constantly putting out fires to maintain the status quo, instead of starting new fires of inspiration.

“Thing kingdom of God is like yeast,” Jesus said, “which leavens the whole loaf.”

The yeast starts a fire in the loaf, and try as it may, the loaf can’t help but react.

Be the yeast, young grasshopper…not the loaf.

Instead of trying to keep the brand, though, why not just make innovation and imagination part of the “brand?”  Google has successfully done this (so far), as has Apple. It is possible to change the narrative, but you have to respond to dreams rather than fear.  Which brings me to my next point…

Start-ups dream and have faith; establishments fear. Once you get power, you long to stay in power.  Once you become the biggest, your quest becomes about staying the biggest.  One of the terrible things about being a start-up is the uncertainty factor of the future.  But if a start-up moves into the establishment phase, they quickly learn that the uncertainty factor never fully leaves, it just changes into fear: fear that you’ll lose market share or newness or what have you.

And so the trick, then, is to ignore the uncertainty altogether and rely on innovation and potential as your main motivator.

This doesn’t mean you don’t heed advice or warning signs in a failing endeavor.  If anything, leaning on potential and dreams will hopefully spur you to do some due diligence and research before setting out on the next new adventure you undertake.  But when big establishment thinking entrenches a system, it becomes about big conservation strategies, big consolidation efforts, and big risk-aversion…which leads to big death.

Jesus said that we are to give of ourselves for others (Matt 16:24). Which might mean that the current decline of the church might just be a sign that we’re starting to understand what Jesus means.  I’m not saying that size is indicative of discipleship (though I’ve made a claim smelling like that before), but I am saying that if we’re failing to risk on reaching out because we’re afraid it will change things and change us (and our church culture/habits/etc.), then we’re probably adopting fear rather than faith as our motivating impulse.

Start-ups make history; establishment protects history. Well, sort of.

Look: the history of your church is important.  Your church has done a lot of good in the neighborhood.  It has changed peoples lives.  It has provided a spiritual home.  Perhaps it has been a change-agent in the footsteps of Jesus for your community.  None of that can or should be denied.

But if your church is going to continue to do good in the neighborhood, to change lives, to be a spiritual home, to be a change-agent, it can’t be trying to lift up its past as some sort of golden-age of life.  Every living thing has a life cycle.  But if you want to hasten a demise, start pining for the past.

Start-ups don’t have hang-ups about the past because they don’t have one to be hung up on.  No matter how long your church has been at the corner of First and Fairbanks, every day it has a ministry opportunity that was not present yesterday, and so while it has a past, it also has tons of potential futures.  That is what you focus on, by God.

Look, I have the unfortunate lot in this work of being stuck in the post-boom years of churchgoing.  I call it unfortunate only because so many people lift up the 50’s as the standard of how churches should be and operate in America.  If you look at the 50’s, where civil religion and the church walked hand-in-hand post World War II, you’ll see an anomaly, not a norm, when it comes to church participation.

If you want a norm, check out church attendance from the 30’s.  There’ll you’ll see kind of a plumb-line.

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And, can I be honest?  While church attendance in the 50’s and 60’s may have been high, poll folks around my age and ask them if they think the society they’ve inherited is utopian.  Turns out that church attendance may not directly correlate to societal health.

Churches of the mainline: hold on to your past loosely and embrace the dreams of the future.  Innovate. Explore. Jesus calls this out of you more than anything because it’s what we need now more than anything.

In other words: be the yeast, not the loaf.

 

Why Young Adults Don’t Make Friends Easily Anymore

“I’m lonely.”index

I hear it a lot.  I hear it a lot from young adults.

My armchair analysis is that the “I’m lonely” phenomenon with young adults probably has much to do with our ability to keep our childhood friends over great distances with ease.  Social media and emails have replaced the slow-and-tedious pen pal connections of our parents.

Thus our “friends quota” is largely full post college, and for some, post high school.  We go into adulthood thinking we don’t really need anymore friends (and, thus, not reall cultivating the skills to make anymore).

There are exceptions, of course.  But we have young adults coming to the church, and on the one hand they’re looking for spiritual connection with the Divine, especially the Divine seen through the lens of Jesus.

On the other hand they’re looking for friends.

If my armchair analysis were to go deeper (“let’s explore that, shall we?”) I’d also posit that many of the people who express that they are lonely do so not because they don’t have friends, but because they don’t have the deep, satisfying relationships that provide close, personal connection.

Part of this comes with the changing nature of our society.  I think my grandparent’s generation made friendships largely out of necessity.  The difficulties of war-time life, depression-era life, led to the desire to band together.  My grandparents on my father’s side never moved an they had many friends.  On my mother’s side they moved a few times for my grandfather’s work, but though my grandfather was gregarious, had very few close friends, but kept close ties to a lot of family.  Both sides never seemed too distraught about their friendships (though, granted, I never interrogated them about it either, and I won’t get the chance).

My parent’s generation, I think, made and continue to make friends for fun, and made them pretty easily.  It may differ from individual to individual, of course,  but I see this generation making connections that are pretty tenuous and relatively easy to maintain.  Some relationships are deeper than others, but it doesn’t seem to be the great expectation that depth is necessary for friendship. And those friendships that are deep have continued throughout the years becausemy parents treasured them so much they worked hard at keeping them long before the ease of social media and direct communication.

For my generation though, I’m finding an underlying unmet need for deep relationships, and the desire to make them easily. Those two don’t mix, though.  The kind of depth that forced situations, like the college dormitory or the high school track team, put on you only come through rare, intense situations.  After leaving those pressure cooker environments where strong bonds are formed, my generation is not sure how to make those loose, tenuous relationships of their parent’s generation, nor work hard at keeping really deep relationships from afar (it is work, you know).

Or, when they do make the loose friendships, they find them quaint but not enough.

Likewise, they’re not comfortable making friends for necessity’s sake because, well, they’ve been able to keep their friends from childhood!  Sure they live 800 miles away, but they’re still friends!  They “talk” almost every day over Instagram and Snapchat.

Unsurprisingly, these methods of keeping up do not satisfy a heart that needs something more than just an update.

Sidebar: I believe we can see much of the loneliness and PTSD in our veteran population being due to the fact that the close, personal relationships they formed in the service just aren’t found or easily forged in civilian society. Sidebar over.

Funny enough, I actually see this issue being more of a problem for men than for women.  It might be because I tend to work more with men on these issues, but with the changing landscape of male friendship (men are creating more intense bonds as many social stigmas over what it means to be a man who has male friends are evolving), many men don’t know exactly how to navigate the waters of loneliness.

All of this is to say that I’m finding young adults, myself included, making friends much for the same reason many from my generation get married: self-fulfillment. Hence why we want them all to be deep.

Despite the fact that that sounds very insular and narcissistic (and to a degree that can’t be denied), I think we come by it honestly, having been raised in a culture of “You can be anything you want” and “You can plot your own course.”

The trouble is that we’re becoming disillusioned by the fact that we can’t be anything we want, and that while our life trajectory has a good bit of leeway, surely more leeway than the previous two generations, we still hit walls on either side of the road despite the assurance that it’s all open range.

One of those walls is loneliness, something we thought would be abated by virtual connection.

What the fortune tellers say may eventually be true; “virtual reality” may one day just be “reality.”

But we’re not there yet.  And in the meantime I’m finding more and more people needing real rather than virtual.  I think the church can help if it’ll stop wringing it’s hands over shrinking numbers on the one side, and get off it’s hyper-fundamentalist kick on the other side.

Another sidebar about the hyper-fundamentalist kick in some areas of the church: I once heard a study (which I conveniently can’t find) where it was noted that people make more intense bonds over common dislikes rather than common affinities.  I have a working theory that one of the reasons very conservative churches grow quickly is not because everyone there loves Jesus so much and are aligned on that commonality, but because they dislike being wrong.  And the assurance of conservative churches that they have the right answers is a nice gel. We hate to think we’re wrong. Second sidebar over.

For the other side of the church, the supposedly “shrinking” part, take heart. Actually, shrinking numbers can help with this phenomenon, if attended to correctly and prayerfully.  The real connections that my generation longs for, both spiritually and physically, can be better met by a smaller more nimble group of people; a smaller more nimble church.

And I really (no, really) have hope that the church can teach my generation what it means to make and keep friends in the flesh again.  Of course some will wonder, “Well, we want those looking for Jesus, only, to sustain a religious community, right?  Is someone looking for community and not for faith really who the church wants in it’s doors?”

Of course it is.

The intensity of the Divine-human relationship is best embodied in intensely strong human-human relationships.  The one points to the other, which is why I have so much trouble with the “Jesus and me” language of so much of the evangelical world.

Look, we just don’t make friends easily anymore because we expect a lot out of our friendships these days.  Perhaps we need to let go of a bit of that as a generation.  But perhaps we don’t have to let go of all of it, and perhaps the church can be the incubator to foster such relationships with the honest purpose of helping people be more humanly whole again.

Because whenever I hear the phrase “I’m lonely,” I’m actually hearing “I’m not whole.”

And that is a spiritual problem.

 

Progressive Christians: We Need to Talk About Jesus…

Glasses on Open Bible

Please note: Not all theological progressives wear glasses.

I’m a theological progressive.

When I fell away from faith, I fell away from a faith that was absolutely confused about its identity.  I was interacting in worlds that didn’t seem to speak the same language.  One world I lived in included people I knew and loved who were of intellect and not willing to take the Bible literally, people of different sexual orientations, people of different faiths.

And I also lived in a world of religion that didn’t seem to encompass that other world very well.  Or, if it did, it marginalized the people who didn’t fit well into certain categories, namely “Bible-believing,” “straight,” and “Christian.”

For a while my solution, then, was to leave the faith…at least in spirit.  I still moved in both worlds, but my heart was with the first world and turned against the second world.

And then I came back to faith…a faith re-figured.  A faith that could encompass the first world and still remain in the second.  In fact, it merged the two worlds so completely together that now, for me, they are one cohesive world.

I came out as a theological progressive.

To me this means a couple things:

I have a heart for justice.  Sometimes people call it “social justice,” but I think that phrase is laden with all sorts of issues and assumptions.  My justice is not just for society, though.  It’s for the world in sum.  Shalom is a better Biblical term for it.  I have a heart for Shalom, God’s good balance and peace.   Ensuring that people live with dignity, that the world we live in is respected, and that we keep an eye toward balance and harmony as we all eek out our God-given existence.

-I have a sincere respect for other faith traditions. The sincerity part comes from the realization that we are all trying to navigate life in a way that bends toward not putting ourselves at the center of it all.  We’re all trying to navigate life through the lens of deeper truth.

I talk about Jesus. Yes, I do.  Sometimes I call Jesus “the Christ,” or sometimes I refer to God as “the Divine,” but I do so because different language helps, not hurts, our understanding of God.  For a long time language has boxed God in…and we need to break God out of the box.  But that doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t talk about Jesus.  In fact, I think we have a lot of Christians who are afraid to talk about Jesus because they don’t want to be “that” type of Christian.  I get that.  But our silence isn’t doing Jesus’ rep any favors.  Why?  Because the Franklin Grahams and Glenn Becks (how did he become a Christian spokesperson, btw?) of this world do talk about Jesus.  And their Jesus does not look like my Jesus…

I want to be inclusive.  Lots of people are excluded from faith communities for things they’ve done or not done, or for things other people think are “sin,” usually things they do with their bodies.  In truth: I think we sin a lot more with our checkbooks than we do with our bodies.  Funny thing about the Jesus we find in the Gospels: he doesn’t spend a lot of time making people feel guilty for their sin, real or imagined.  In fact, Jesus doesn’t really talk a whole lot about specific sin if you read carefully.  What Jesus does talk about, though, are people who think they have no sin, or that they lead sinless lives.  “Because you say, ‘I am not blind,’ your sin remains,” Jesus says to the Pharisees, these archetype characters in John’s Gospel for those who think they’re above sin.  So, in modeling Jesus, I want to be inclusive.  Of everyone.  It’s dangerous; I know.  Try it out, though.  You might just find Jesus lurking in people you never thought possible…

To me being theologically progressive doesn’t mean:

I’m politically progressive. I know plenty of theological progressives who don’t fit into political categories.  Honestly, I’ve never been able to vote with a clear conscience.  And your church shouldn’t be a para-political organization, either.  Your church’s mission shouldn’t sound like a party platform.  Sure, faith is political.  My faith certainly informs and shapes my politics.  In fact, I think that pastors can’t help but be political.  After all, in the polis we deal with money, health, life, and death…all things Jesus talked about extensively.  But if Jesus were running for office, no party would claim him.

I don’t take the Bible seriously.  Actually, I take the Bible very seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that I take into consideration its origin, its writing styles, its editing, its historical conditioning…all of it.  I would claim that anyone who just takes anything at face value doesn’t take it seriously at all!  They’re ignoring so much in their quest for simplicity.  But life isn’t simple.  The books of the Bible aren’t simple.  God isn’t simple!  Let’s stop pretending that you have to be an idiot to be a believer. The only thing someone reading the Bible at face value takes seriously is their own desire for absolute certainty at the expense of their brain.

I’m a Communist.  Again, idiocy leads to this conclusion, or any other label of fear-mongering that people come up with to keep you from actually engaging with others in this world.  The best way to combat idiocy is to remove your head from your buttocks.

I have a church that won’t grow. Our church is growing.  We need not worry that fear and false certainty are the only ways to grow faithful Christians.  And as a parent, I want to help my son hold tension with faith, not inadequately resolve tension with easy answers and cheap grace.

So, theological progressives, here’s the deal: we have to talk about Jesus more.  Especially in this time of crappy Jesus movies and headlines of Christian charities being…well…uncharitable, and mega-church pastors claiming Jesus wants them to be wealthy, and Catholic bishops getting in hot water for building million dollar mansions.  Because Jesus is getting a bad rap.  And we shouldn’t be afraid to claim that we’re people of progressive faith.

And, sure, Jesus has a quiet way about him.  This is true.  Real Godly work doesn’t sound the trumpet in the temple, but locks itself in the closet.  And God sees in secret.

But, as a parishioner of mine recently said in a conversation about this issue, “We’re not doing Jesus any favors by being quiet.”

And she’s right.