Three articles that two friends and one media site posted have me thinking today. The first is by a colleague who posted on his blog about how church is not here to positively influence “do gooders” but instead to share space with those who are suffering. The second is another blog by an author who tries to challenge the status quo in the larger church. The third is by a cosmologist (and probable atheist) who gives a great run through on the history of thought versus what actually is.
First, I totally understand where my colleague is coming from with his blog. Thinking church is only about urging “do-gooders” to “do good” makes church about us versus about God and surely paints a universe that revolves just around us. It is surely a temptation to think that teaching, preaching, and fellowship are the most important things but if it results in nothing, then, as Jesus’ brother James puts it, “what good is it?” Yet, I also believe that God calls on us to worship him for our own good rather than God’s good. I do believe that this life is meant to be transformative for us. And part of that should come from the worship space among our sisters and brothers.
The second article is one we find more and more of of late. As the church gets smaller in North America, North American pundits posit various reasons why this is true. This author while acknowledging that church is meaningful for some folks posits that for those that it is, we are basically weird. He sees churches current model based on passivity, authority figures, and auditory only experiences. He believes that those who enjoy church enjoy anonymity. I believe that he has gathered many good facts but come to wrong conclusions. How can we process the biggest ideas without listening to those ideas being shared? It would be most difficult to reach that point in a group participatory conversation. How do you make church more of a visual experience when such productions are beyond the finances and technical skills of many smaller churches? What if it is our society that increasingly is seeking for their spiritual experiences to be anonymous versus those going to church? What if our strangeness is a strength rather than a weakness? Nevertheless, if the church does not find ways to convey the profound truths that it holds in today’s world, we will be increasingly isolated. We have got to, as the first article posits, get beyond the walls of our churches.
The third article is a real mind bender. It tracks from the thoughts of Plato all the way up to newer cosmologists. What is real? How does that compare to what we think? I remember thinking it bizarre that someone would ask if a tree falls in the forest, whether it would make a sound. Of course it would. But, I guess the real question is, would it matter to us? Even if there is a reality out there that exists independent of us, what does it matter in the end if it does not and never will affect or play a part in our or any life? Is the chemical makeup of a rock on an asteroid that no one will ever visit, see, or experience or that it will have no influence over ultimately of any importance? Where do thought and reality intersect, and when does it really matter?
In the end, I view church as vital. I see it as vital for sharing God’s Good News, for folks knowing they are loved and are created to be loving creatures, and to give us opportunities to love one another. It also teaches us to care about justice. What is fair and right is important and it is important on a personal level and on a cosmic scale. When we learn and practice this in a community of faith, it leads us to go out and influence the world around us. This will change us. And sometimes it might even change the world, at least for a time. It doesn’t mean life is all about us. But it does mean we are expected to learn and grow morally and spiritually during this life. We are called to be with the suffering and to help alleviate suffering. We are called to stand against evil and injustice. We are called to be God’s people in this time and place.
And all that, to me, has to have a purpose, otherwise if Jesus was coming again, why not come tomorrow? Why not stop the suffering now when God surely has the power to do so? The only reason that makes any sense to me is that God is still hoping for a response individually and collectively to the situation(s) we face.
But I also believe all this while simultaneously understanding that increasing numbers of folks in our society see church as irrelevant. We even are up to fifteen percent of society in North America who view God as irrelevant. How we turn this all around is the question of our age for the church in our society.
Of course I do put in the proviso that it is the question of the church in our society. An increasing, not decreasing, number of people in this world are monotheists. The church is growing worldwide. And people of faith have more children than those who have no faith. What is true in our society is not true everywhere.
But we do live in a society that is increasingly powerful compared with our neighbors and what we believe as a society will have significance in the development, or lack thereof of the world our children will see. By the decisions our society makes, or fails to make, we will either increase or decrease worldwide suffering.
So, what should our next steps be?
Interested to hear your thoughts.
Until next time,