The Arrow and The Cross

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Going up?

The votes are in.  It is clear that, in many and various ways, the church is slowly but surely abandoning the cross as its primary identity.

The new hotness? The arrow.

And if you doubt this is true, think of all the churches that have an arrow pointing upward, or “right and up” as the business world calls it, in their logos. As their logo. It’s the new “thing” and it speaks to optimism and the “you can do it” vibe that much of Christianity is giving off these days.

You don’t have to Google too much to find one.  You probably will see it on a bumper or as a window cling on your way home from work today.

And that’s not bad, necessarily.  But it certainly isn’t the cross.

Sermons are now “TED talks.”  They’re “how can I improve my life?” talks instead of “how does Jesus ask me to give up my life?” proclamations. (And I love me some TED talks)

And, look, I’m all for practical and relevant sermons.  I think I give them. And I’m all for trying to improve myself and others.  I hope I do that in some ways.

But I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that I can learn how to reach higher in life.  I’m pretty sure Jesus talked, lived, and died in such a way that makes me desire downward mobility rather than upward mobility.

The downward mobility of washing feet.  The downward mobility of kneeling with those in grief. The downward mobility of embracing a life that banks more on repentance and grace rather than “trying harder” or “getting it right.”

In my neck of the woods so many churches are embracing the arrow over the cross.  The arrow of “make your life better” instead of “God is embracing you where you are, and believe it or not, that is better than constantly trying to make your life better.”  And I get why it’s happening, at least in part.  Arrows can speak to transcendence, a desire that humanity has been wrestling with since we first started to think bigger than our stomachs.  But the problem is that arrows promise a false transcendence; a transcendence that requires you to “keep climbing” instead of giving up.

But the cross speaks of giving up.  Specifically giving up your life for the sake of others.  And only then realizing that your life is given back to you in a new way.The cross speaks to the truth of human fragility, human vulnerability, human suffering and, subversively, Divine hope.  The arrow speaks to the lies of stair-stepping our way to salvation and human moral progress in such a way the sacrifice is less about “what I give up” and more about “I’m going to work harder.”

A difficult truth to swallow for some may be this understanding, which I’ve come to see as true: sometimes I find people following other faith paths (and sometimes even no faith path) living a more cruciform life than those with Jesus fish on the back of their cars.

And it’s not about wealth or church attendance or even belief statements, necessarily.  It’s about, as Jesus says, “Losing your life to gain it.”  It’s about starving the all-consuming ego monster in deference for the Other in front of you.  It’s about God resurrecting you more than you trying over and over again to resuscitate your happiness, self-worth, career, what have you.

This is something that 12 step programs understand so well, and something that we’re missing in the pews (or auditorium chairs, if that’s your thing).

Now, before you write that response below, I have to clarify something: I’m not for living or wallowing in total depravity.  I’m not for shunning the gym or canceling your therapist.  I am all for self-betterment in the non-annoying, non-cloying, non-consumerist ways it can happen (spoiler alert: that audio book will not “take away your Mondays”…but you knew that before you bought it and you bought it anyway because you’re willing to try anything to get rid of that feeling, right?).  This is not just a “grumpy church person” rant.

I think these things form and shape us.  And I think arrows are bad news when it comes to spiritual life.  They look like good news, but as a Lutheran I must “call a thing what it is.”  And it is bad news.

Because we don’t climb our way out of life.  This life is not about the climb.  We can’t climb out of that life, no matter how high you go, but we can live in such a way that we give up that life in exchange for a different one not so intent on moving up, but more intent on having the Spirit move within.

But the Spirit does all sorts of thing that will make you unhappy.  Things like:

Ask you to give up your life for the sake of others.

Ask you to put down the self-help book, to help the other selves around you.

Ask you to speak out against injustice  and own your role in the system (a system that promises you ascension at the expense of others).

Things like convince you that God is less interested in how much money you make, and more interested in how much money you decide to keep.

And, ironically, that’s exactly what we need.

The Church of the Perpetual Misogyny

This shooting in California has my heart breaking.index

Still.

The fall out has sparked some intense conversation, and it’s just heartbreaking to see some of the comments coming from the dusty corners of society where misogyny still lives and breathes.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think misogyny lives everywhere in our society.  But it has a hard time breathing in some places…and I thank God for that.

Unfortunately, one place it doesn’t have a hard time breathing is in the church.

People are pointing to misogynist video games, misogynist movies, and all other cultural points as contributing to this young man’s delusion that just because he has a sexual desire for women they should appease it willingly (or, even, unwillingly).

But, for my part, I’m going to let Hollywood alone.  I’m going to let video games alone, too.  They have their blame.  But, see: I’ve come to expect that from them.  Hollywood and the video game industry and marketing and the like have all used sex for gain, to force submission, to put sex on a pedestal.

But me?  I’m going to point to the church.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to ordain women, despite the fact that, while Paul (inconsistently) makes misogynist comments, Jesus (consistently) treated women as part of his inner circle and, indeed, entrusted them first with the news of the resurrection, the “gospel,” the “good news.”

Explain that rationale for me, please?  The men were all too chicken in their hiding places, and when the women told them about the resurrection, they didn’t trust their testimony (after all, in a court of law, women couldn’t be trusted, so why would God entrust this good news to them?).  And we look at this and wink and laugh as if it’s some sort of Laurel and Hardy episode, where the one who was supposed to “get it” doesn’t.

But I don’t think that’s it at all.  I think the women were supposed to get it.  Intentionally. Purposefully.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to let women vote, as if somehow their opinions are less important than the opinions of human beings with a Y chromosome.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to acknowledge the presence of feminine examples for God in the scripture, yet who claim to take the Bible literally.  If God is male, then God is also a hen (at least, according to Isaiah). And, for that matter, a rock.

What?  Those are metaphors?  Personifications? Which one(s)? All?  Or only the ones without male anatomy?

I’m going to point to churches who allow women preachers, but who won’t allow women preachers to lead churches by themselves.  Or who allow women preachers, but won’t allow them to preach primarily to men.  Or who allow them to preach, but as long as they tell their fellow sisters to “submit” to their male partners.

By the way, don’t ask me to preach at your wedding on any “submission” text.  Not going to happen…

But just before you mainline Protestants think you’re off the hook; no way.  I’m pointing at you, too (and, therefore, to myself).  We think that just because we ordain women that we’re free of blame?  Because I know more female pastors across all the mainline Protestant denominations without churches then I do male pastors without churches.  I know of situations where churches have rejected every female candidate received in the hopes that they would receive a male candidate eventually.  I know of churches who still feel as if their pastor is inferior or that they “weren’t good enough” for a male pastor, just because their pastor is a female.

The church should be the place where misogyny comes to die, not where it comes to life.

And, this is the thing: while I don’t hold Hollywood or the video game industry or politics or any of that fluff to a very high standard when it comes to gender stereotypes and discrimination, I do hold the church to a high standard.

I wish all the former could be held to a higher standard.  I expect the latter to be.   It’s sad, but not surprising.

And while this individual who shot up these innocent people may not have been religious (I haven’t heard either way), it doesn’t really matter.  If religion isn’t able to critique culture, to model for the wider culture a way of living that embraces the life of Jesus rather than the hate of any “ism,” we’re useless.  We can say that it’s sad that this man was violent, but on Sunday mornings many churches preach a violent, male god.  We can say that this man shouldn’t have thought of women that way, but until we acknowledge that we at least had a hand in that education, we’re speaking out of both sides of our mouths.

If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves; the truth is not in us.

It may be interesting to think about how Mario always saving the Princess has contributed to this misogyny that resulted in such violence.  But that narrative is just part of a much larger narrative of men saving the day, tracing it’s way back through the centuries.

The church has the ability, the call, to break off from that narrative and live a different one.

If only it had a good example to follow…

My Obligatory Post about the “Evolution vs. Creatonism” Debate

…I didn’t watch it live.earth-space

We watched Dallas Buyers Club instead, starring a gaunt Matthew McConaughey and even more gaunt Jared Leto.  And ate pork tacos that I made myself from ingredients I cobbled together from the store.

It was a great movie, based on a true story.  And I make great tacos.

And, dare I say, the movie and the tacos had more to do with reality than the so-called debate.

I’m an evolutionist when it comes to how things have ended up the way they have; no mistake about that.  It’s the theory I think best explains the questions it sets out to explain (at least, so far). But to think that these two people were actually debating the same topic is naive (I watched the debate online this morning).

They weren’t debating the same topic.  It might have appeared like they were, but they weren’t.

It appeared like they were debating how the world came to be and why there is “something” rather than “nothing.”

But really, Ham was talking about a worldview, and Nye was talking about science as a way of discovering truth.

Those are not the same thing.

Science is a method of discovery.  A worldview is composed of convictions on what the person feels has already been discovered.

So it’s no wonder why, when asked what would change each of their minds on the supposed topic, Ham said “Nothing” and Nye said “Evidence.”

Science is a method of discovery based off of evidence. It changes because more, different, or better evidence is found (or previous evidence appears unfounded). We could say that the sum total of Nye’s thoughts, some of which are informed by science, comprise his worldview (so far).  Nye’s worldview includes science, but I wouldn’t say that science is his worldview.  Science probably answers the “how” questions for Nye, like it does for most of us, but it doesn’t answer every question.

A worldview, however, is the total sum of all conceptions in one place.  Ham was debating his worldview.

Changing a worldview doesn’t take evidence. It takes a life-changing encounter…or a series of life-changing encounters. And Ham was describing his worldview where everything (dare I even say even relationships and love?) are contained within what he considers to be Scripture.  Especially questions like “how.”  His worldview says that “how” questions are found in Scripture. He’d have to encounter something that would dramatically shift him out of that way of thinking for his worldview to change.

An encounter is not a discovery; it is the absolute disruption of a worldview regardless of the method of discovery used.

Suffice to say, anyone who makes a “Creationism Museum” (and I use”museum” here in the sense that “things are on display”…like a thimble museum…it is not, in my opinion, a museum in the same way as The Field Museum here in Chicago) is not open to many life-changing encounters, I would think.

That’s just my assumption, but I think there is evidence to support it.

I would venture to guess that Ham feels like he’s already had his life-changing encounter…and doesn’t need any other ones.

And that, by and large, is my biggest beef with that mindset.  It’s the idea that things are “settled.”  So Nye could have shown him anything, said anything, and Ham still wouldn’t budge.  Because his worldview doesn’t allow for that…doesn’t allow for more, better, or different evidence.  It’s not based on evidence.  It’s based on being, and remaining, settled.

And a worldview that is settled is static, not dynamic.

And I think that we, the church, should encourage dynamic worldviews. And we need to be encouraging dynamic faith, too.

Evolution is mysterious.  It’s amazing.  In fact, Nye used “mysterious” multiple times when speaking! It’s how a simple thing becomes complex in structure and, yet, retains some simplicity even amidst it all.  It’s so interesting!

Creationism is static.  “Boom,” it is said, “a fully developed tree with rings and everything.”

It’s…uninteresting to say the least.

One of the common critiques about accepting evolution as an answer to” how things are as they are” is that it erodes “God’s glory” (although I’m unclear of what the critics mean by that phrase).

God’s glory isn’t diminished because God might use a mechanism like evolution to create.  In fact, I think that enhances God’s glory (and by “glory” here I mean God’s “awe-inspiring traits”).

God’s glory is diminished, I think, when we assume God would take the road that we would take…the road of least resistance.

Because, let’s be honest, I often just want things to *poof* be as I’d want.  Creationism is what I would do.  Hopefully God is more inventive than me…more awe-inspiring than me.

This reluctant Christian hopes people don’t think last night was a real debate.  Real debates need to be on the same topic intending to influence people. I would be astounded to hear that anyone changed their mind about creationism or science by hearing it.

You want to know what I think would be a good debate?  The debate between static faith and dynamic worldviews; between static and dynamic faith.  What are the pros and cons between thinking you have it all figured out and continually searching?

Tag, NPR, you’re it.

I’m an Addict

I’m addicted to mapl2-imin1-20y cellphone.

I’m addicted to Ted talks.

I’m addicted to social media.

I’m addicted to being connected.

I’m an addict.  I imagine a not-so-distant future where we have TA meetings in churches.

I’m serious.

When I forget my phone at home, I feel naked.  Like missing my drivers license before a cross-country trip.  Or like forgetting my kid at the grocery store.

No really; the anxiety can be that bad sometimes.

It preoccupies my mind. No, that’s wrongly said.  It doesn’t preoccupy my mind.  It colonizes my mind.

I’ll call my wife from the middle of Target to find out where she is when we’re in the same store.

You laugh.  I laugh.  But it’s serious. It’s like laughing the way we do when a friend describes a drinking escapade that is obviously indicative of an issue.  It’s funny and we laugh because if we were to take it seriously we’d have to change our behavior.

And this is the thing: I know it’s a spiritual condition.

It’s a spiritual condition because my phone and my ipod and my computers prevent me from being present.  Oh, sure; I’m up to date.  I read the New York Times like it’s nobody’s business.  Back articles galore.

And I know exactly where folks are because of Twitter and Facebook and…

Except myself.  I’m not sure exactly where I am in those moments.

Because physically I’m in a room with my family, my boy babbling on the blanket spread out on the floor.

But mentally I’m in cyberspace.

And I don’t want to be.

The thing is, I don’t think that Christianity is talking about this addiction very much.  In fact, I often am encouraged in my addiction by other pastors and professional leaders and leadership gurus who encourage us to “up our presence” on social media, on web blogs and chat sites.

Our Klout scores must rise…

And as it rises, my spirituality falls.  Because I’m never present.

Sunday morning can be a time of presence, of course.  As I ring the meditation bell after the scripture readings at services, I fall into the present in a way that really is transcendent.

That’s the irony that I find in worship: it grounds me in the present by lifting me beyond myself.

And I pray for it at other times in my life.

But the bell of a new text calls me from my present into the anxiety of the digital words on my screen; a different scripture reading of sorts that lays claim on my time and attention.  And I worry some about introducing technology into sacred spaces.  I’m not totally against it…but I have mixed feelings about it.

And it has nothing to do with “old” and “new” styles of worship (whatever that means).  It has to do with breaking an addiction.  And I know I rarely listen to any one thing anymore.  Listen; really listen.  I know that meditation is pretty much the only thing I do in a day that doesn’t involve a computer chip (except that I do prefer old-school books to Kindles and Nooks…though I usually am listening to my ipod when I’m reading).

I don’t think we’re doing this very well, church.  We may be encouraging our people’s addictions.  I’m of mixed emotions on it.

I’m not saying the church should be anti-technology; I’m a blogger after all.

But, by God, we’re very much reinforcing the terrible addictions of so many by our deafening silence on this spiritual issue.  And it’s not only making me a reluctant tweeter, it’s making me a reluctant Christian.

And it’s killing me.  Killing us, I think.

Is technology to blame?

It’s interesting to me that technology intends, by profession, to connect the world, and yet by doing so it cuts us off from those right in front of us and around us. And I’m not complaining like the octogenarian who wishes things were “like the old days.”  The “old days” weren’t all that awesome from what I can tell.

I’m really just wondering if we should do something just because we can.

But, I digress.  No; technology is not to blame.

It’s my need to know. To constantly know.

That is to blame.

Perhaps we should stop texting about it and start talking about it as a faith community.  Because our addictions to know are preventing us from being, now.

Natural Disasters and Prayers and Anger and Ricky Gervais…

A CNN story today made me pause a minute.prayer-hands_2134432b

It notes that many in the Twitterverse were using the hashtag “prayersforOklahoma” to respond to the natural disasters there, and that this rubs some prominent atheists the wrong way.

Ricky Gervais, an outspoken critic of any religion that presents itself in public, tweeted in response, “I feel like an idiot now … I only sent money.”

He’s what Al Franken calls “joking on the square.”  That is, he’s joking.  But not really.

And he’s hilarious.  And that’s a smart retort. And I wish I had thought of it.

It appears he’s slightly miffed at these tweet-prayers, and I have to say that if all people are doing is praying, then Gervais is right.

He’s right to be miffed if that’s the case.

Because prayer must always lead to action, and all your prayers won’t give blood to the injured, security to the now homeless, or tools for rebuilding.

But what Gervais doesn’t take seriously, and perhaps he should, is that prayer for the religious individual is akin to cursing.

Well, I curse as well as pray…some of us do.

But prayer is that response that happens when you have no control over a situation and you must move it from being an internal response to outside of yourself lest it eat you alive.

Or eat a community alive.

Or eat a nation alive.

So while prayer doesn’t give tools, it is a tool that can be used to share burdens, clarify desires, wants, and things we’re thankful for,  and release those things that we have no control over.

And, to be honest, I wonder if Gervais might not need a bit of that release in his life.  Don’t call it prayer; fine.  Call it what you will: meditation, a “time-out,” therapy, external processing.

But prayer is the lifting up of communal and individual need in such a way that real desire is acknowledged, and hopefully, heard.

Now it is true that Gervais doesn’t believe such prayers are heard by God.  But I wonder if Gervais would hear himself better if he prayed.

Look, prayer is not some sort of password that gets God to do what you want.  But prayers of thanksgiving and lament often clarify what it is that we want, and is a way to enact change both in ourselves, and hopefully, the world.  Communally lifting up people, places, situations, things, graces, disasters…it is important and healthy and necessary.

And the religious individual believes this act builds relationship between the human and the Divine.

And the religious individual, I think, can also agree that prayer helps them to know themselves better, too.  It strengthens our relationship with ourselves.

But where we, as a religious community, screw it up is when we respond as this commenter within the CNN article did with this little diddy, “God is still in control!” said Wilbur Dugger, a commenter on CNN’s Facebook page. “Everything (God) does is to get our attention. … My sympathy and prayers go out to those who get caught up in his demonstrations of (God) ruling the world.”

Oh, please.  Do we believe this is helpful?

Hell, I don’t even believe what the man wrote is true, let alone helpful.  And those are not always mutually exclusive in people’s minds.

Natural disasters happen.  Winds whip around. Tragedy strikes.  I don’t think God needs a tornado to get the attention of humanity.  If anything, the Christian should assert that that’s what Jesus was for…

That kind of response comes from a messed up idea about prayer, and God, and…well, makes me a reluctant Christian sometimes.

And in the face of that response, I’d stand with Gervais and shake my head.

And then I’d probably turn to Gervais and say, “You know Gervais, instead of getting ticked at him, why don’t you externalize it a bit? I call it prayer, but you call it whatever you want…”

And then Gervais might know himself a bit better and not get angry at other people’s issues.

And believe it or not, that changes things.

**By the way, if you’re like me and you pray and curse and it moves you to action, 100% of all donations to ELCA Disaster Response go directly to on the ground work through this link.**

Why I Worry When Other Clergy Say, “I Want to Be A Household Name.”

I’m part of an online clergy chat group.images

I don’t contribute to it much, and I don’t always watch it regularly, but it’s usually pretty interesting.  It’s good to have a community, even a virtual one, to share successes and frustrations with.

And yes, it seems that often the same names pop up on the message roll.  And, yes, I wonder if they have work to do and how they have so much time to spend on there.

But today’s posting by the moderator got me thinking.

He began by lamenting how so many in my faith tradition, Lutheranism, are too humble with their work and their writing and their music and their art.  And how we have to start promoting our work and “getting it out there.”  And how we should be “household names.”

And others responded lamenting how we don’t have any Lutheran “Joyce Meyers Ministries” or the like.

And I was lamenting because, although we don’t have any Lutheran Joyce Meyers Ministries, we don’t need any more of those in this world.

Because you have to give up a lot to be a household name.   And I wonder if it’s worth it.

Fr. Richard Rohr isn’t a household name, but I think he’s done so much more for humanity than any televangelist.

Ken Wilbur isn’t a household name, but I think he’s done more for humanity than any “order today and receive a discount DVD set on how to heal your relationships” offer.

Martin Marty is prolific and inspiring, and he’s not really a household name.  Walt Wangerin is beautifully wonderful, and unless you’re Lutheran or really into children’s books, he’s not a household name.

And Ron Strobel, and Kirsten Fryer, and Manda Truchinski, and Josh Ebener….these aren’t household names, but they are ministers who are authentic and doing good work in this world.  And I hope you can check out some of their work.

But I hope they don’t become “famous”…whatever that means.

Because you give up a lot.

I think you give up some ability to live without the trappings of fame and fortune and name recognition and always being forced to do that next best thing.

I think you give up living without the constant burden of profundity.

I think you give up a little of your soul.

Look, I think there are Lutheran clergy out there doing wonderful work.  And I hope people read them, and listen to them, and buy their work, and pray for their work (Jim Honig would be one to check out right away).

I hope they are able to support their families with their work, as I support mine.  I hope they talk about God and Christ in an authentic way and not fall into the trappings of telling people what they want to hear.

Because that’s what you have to do to become a household name.

I hope they don’t become famous.

I hope they don’t get series of book deals that force them to lie about God or their faith, or begin to take themselves too seriously, or come up with “visiting criteria” that places that want them to speak have to abide by (along with enormous speaking fees).

Because we don’t need another Joyce Meyers Ministries, even if its content is different and something I might agree with.

Because authenticity is lost in that.

We need more good people doing the small work.  And if you want to lift that up, go ahead.

Because good people doing the small work won’t, I hope, take themselves too seriously or struggle with profundity.  And they won’t worry that they’re not a household name beyond their own home.

I’m a reluctant Christian sometimes because it’s so easy to fall into the fame trap, and Christians do it so often “in the name of Jesus,” while using obnoxiously large font to plaster their name on the front of all the posters, and fliers, and mailers.

And I wonder if we take Jesus’ call to be yeast seriously if we’re trying to be the whole loaf.

“Atheist Churches” or “It’s Really Just Church…”

The Huffington Post recently had an article about an “atheist Church” that has begun to meet in the morning on Sundays.601751a-question-mark-on-stained-glass-posters

The 80 or so people that show up come seeking, as the article’s author says, “a sense of community, an uplifting message that will help them tackle the challenges of the upcoming week, and, maybe, the rest of their lives.”  They claim that there is no formal doctrine, dogma, operating theology, formal symbols, or identified sacred texts in this church.

Whether they are called “humanist communities,” “atheist churches,” or “nontheist gatherings,” this is not a new phenomena.  The hype is interesting and growing, for sure, but it is not new.

There have been atheists meeting in church since…churches began.

In fact, the sense of community and uplifting message that these atheists seek is probably, I would guess, what a number of people sitting in the pews seek on a regular Sunday morning.

The difference, of course, is that at this particular gathering in Houston, you don’t actually have to believe anything to show up or belong.

Wait a second…what’s the difference again?

I tell my ministry staff all the time, “People in church pews will put up with a whole bunch of crappy theology for good church programming and entertainment. They will disagree with the pastors and the theology privately as long as the people are nice and the kids programs and small groups are strong.”

I think that’s largely true.  I think at most thriving churches you have about 20% who agree doctrinally with the church, 60% that agree marginally, and 20% that like the music, the lights, the inspirational message, and that their kids feel safe and have a good time.

And I might be being generous toward the marginal percentage there.

I think atheists gather every Sunday at churches around the country, churches known as “Catholic,” “Evangelical,” “Methodist,” “Lutheran,” and even so-called “Bible” churches.  And for much the same reason the people in this article show up: they want inspiration and community.

And this has happened, I think, because churches have largely become another 7-11 for the soul.  It’s a place to get your spiritual Slurpee for the week.

And this is not necessarily bad, mind you.

But if that’s all church is, it’s a waste.

Because a church gathering, and a series of church gatherings over time, shouldn’t only be about you and your spiritual fix.  And it isn’t really only about “us,” either.

It is about a holistic reshaping of the gathered, of humanity, toward the Divine.

I think we’ve taught atheism…and continue to teach atheism…in churches through either tightening the dogma we teach or simply feeding the ego-beast that longs for the spiritual Slurpee.  We haven’t taught it through questioning the virgin birth or the divinity of Christ.  We haven’t taught it through encouraging free thinking or welcoming minority groups.

We’ve taught it by changing the shape of our gatherings to model the ego, rather than allow the shape of our gatherings to mold the ego.

And note: the remedy for this isn’t talking more about Jesus, or asking people to make a commitment to Jesus, or asking people to invite Jesus into their hearts (and really mean it this time).

That last phrase usually sends me into apoplexy.

Because more altar calls don’t mean more Christians.  I think many times it means more people assume that Jesus has become their personal talisman, or that they’re “doing the thing that will work” for their lives.

The remedy, I think, is to embrace the diversity of a gathering, and trust that God and God’s Spirit creates unity even in the midst of diversity.

This is why my faith tradition talks about God as a Trinity.  The diversity of the three-in-one.  The unity of the one-known-as-three.

In short, community is not uniformity. And instead of trying to force uniformity through the tightening of doctrine and dogma, or avoid the whole situation altogether through offering inspirational messages that only feed the ego-beast longing to believe that they and they alone are the most important thing in this world and a blessing is just around the corner, lets go back to that ancient understanding of church as a way to enact a counter-cultural gathering that forms a people into a shape more closely related to the Divine.

A shape of support and sacrifice.  A shape that fits into the pain of this world, and accentuates the beauty of God-given life.  A shape of…well…a cross.

Because I have a feeling that these “atheist churches” will soon be voting to excommunicate members who don’t agree with their proposition that “you don’t have to believe.”  This is what happens when you only gather with those who believe the same things you do.  You go solely to get a fix, and when someone seems to get in the way of that fix, you get them out of the way.

Christians do it. Religious people of all stripes do it. Atheists (also, mind-you, a belief system) do it.

Bowling leagues do it.

I’m a reluctant Christian at times because we’ve become either spiritual Slurpee dispensers or a country club for insiders, unremarkable and indistinguishable from other groups who gather around a common mindset or hobby.

And if we continue to do this I think we can clearly see the outcomes: Egoism will become the predominate faith practiced in most churches formerly known as Christian (if it isn’t already), or we’ll just shuffle off into our dwindling camps of uniformity causing the other kids down the block to create their own club house with their own rules, and never the twain shall meet.

All the while the world will continue to turn and it will be worse off  because the churches of consumerism, the cathedrals of militarism, the temple of money, and the gathering of ravenous crowds who believe the new incarnation or product X will save their souls will continue to meet.

And the church, at it’s best, is the counter-cultural movement that can provide a voice against those rising mobs.

See, atheists gathering in churches isn’t really new.  And if that’s surprising to you, then you haven’t had real conversations with your fellow congregation members.

What can be different, though, is how you leave a church.

Do you leave in a different shape?

Yes, you individually.  But more-so you in the plurality.  Because being formed by ancient texts and music and meal and ritual pushes people together so much so that they have to change shape to accommodate the other in their presence, to accommodate the Other in their presence.

And it’s not a uniform shape, and it’s not about getting a spiritual Slurpee that will feed your faith indulgence.

It’s a cruciform shape that changes the way you interact in and with the world.

At least, that’s what it should do.