In HBOs hit, Westworld, the humans are constantly keeping tabs on the Androids and when they bring them in to refurbish them they always ask the question, “Do you ever question the nature of your reality?” To date, the androids always answer, “No.” And you can tell their human technicians are relieved each time. They want to keep Westworld going as is.
The nature of my professional reality is being a clergyman in two churches and in the Air National Guard. And I am beginning to question the nature of that reality. I do not question God. I do not question the overall thrust of Scripture. I do not question Jesus Christ or the people Christ calls us to be. But I do question whether what we are doing in church is getting us closer to being the people God calls us to be. Especially after this past year, I question how effective traditional church programming actually is.
Let me just offer one gauge – social discourse. One would think the more often you see someone active in a church, the less likely it would be that they would engage in discourse that degrades others, that promotes the powerful at the expense of the weak, and that encourages both peace and justice. I see nothing of the sort in my world. On Facebook, for example, I have unfollowed (not unfriended but stopped regularly following) the posts of at least thirty people because I find what they post to either be poorly researched, vengeful, excessively partisan, or humor that is offered at the expense of others. And all thirty of these people are Christians. Of course, this is a small minority of my Facebook friends which come from high school to my present life. But even among the majority – I don’t see enough edifying posts.
It doesn’t make me question Christians as individuals or even their particular church. We are a part and parcel of our culture and that includes our churches (if we are active people of faith). But it does make me question whether traditional sermons and classes as they are generally led produce any measurable results. One would think that with all the people I have known over the years there would be a distinct difference in what Christians would say, do, and post on the internet and those who rarely go to church or don’t believe in God at all. But I do not see that much of a difference in the views of many inside and outside the church today. And that makes me question the nature of my professional reality.
We live in pivotal times. Our environment is changing around the globe. Opportunities and challenges present themselves. I think both are going to increase too. I think it is time that, as Christians, we ponder the core of what we are doing and what we might do differently. I suspect a real issue is that our model of church worked fine when that was the bulk of new information a parishioner would take home with them every week. But sermons and classes (for those that take them in) are but a small percentage of what people receive each week in the smorgasbord of information presented to them. “Love thy neighbor” gets drowned out by hours on end of news alerts of the latest terrorist attack, for example. It’s not so much that good work isn’t being done and passed on by churches today – I just think it isn’t enough to counterbalance everything else people are hearing, seeing, reading, and watching. So, what do we do?
I think we look at everything we do in church – top to bottom, hour by hour, and question what the results are of what we are doing. I think we take seriously what it would mean for us to get someone in the church from just starting out to being a soul who is truly giving God glory by what she or he is believing and by what she or he is doing. How do we get people to see their neighbor with Jesus’ eyes versus the paradigms they learn? I think we stop seeing our mission as being to pay for buildings that previous generations poured their identity into. I simply think we take seriously anew what we think a fully faithful person should be in our day and age and then work individual church plans and programs with that target goal in mind.
It will not be easy. But I think the future is going to be in need of fully developed and mature Christians who can help calm the sometimes harsh discourse and help look out for the powerless and lost in our world.
If we hold up the Beatitudes – is that us? Why is it ok with us if our discourse has gotten so coarse? Do we look out for the weak, the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden? Do we try to see everyone made equally in the image of God?
If the reality we believe in is the Kingdom of God, how are we helping people transition from our current fallen reality to that one?
I think it is something for everyone in the church – not just pastors, elders, and deacons to ponder and act upon.
What do you think?
Until next time,