Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Do what we say or you're going to hell.

I have questioned for many years what form the church should take in our world of today.  In previous times church attendance was compulsory.  The law and/or society determined what was appropriate action for your salvation.  Social order was maintained in a push-pull environment of Obedience vs. Damnation.  Do what we say or you’re going to hell.  That’s a strong argument.  Especially if you believe it.

But today, there are pockets of religious freedom that have arrived on the planet.  Islands of struggling justice filled with people trying to build for themselves a practical idealism.  The mass awakening to the belief that we are all inherently free is only a few hundred years old, remember. The demand for freedom and equality as we know it today is only visible in the last half of the last millennium.  And after those short few hundreds of years of fighting for a voice we have very nearly won.  Unless you look at it from a pace back you can’t really tell how far we have come and how close we are.  Politics aside, you do remember they voted a black man into the White House, don’t you? Twice.   

Freedom is not yet universal, but it is universally known.  That’s not a small feat.  Go back in time to ask an American or French Revolutionary soldier what he thinks about the 21st Century results of his efforts.  

And this returns me to my question about the role a church is supposed to play in the Information Age.  Where is the moment of church?  What is the purpose of church?  What has it said about itself and its mission for centuries?  What is its historical function?

The early Catholic Church, for all its egresses, created the world’s first network.  It built the original infrastructure of connectivity on this planet.  It unified us, admittedly using fear to do it, but fear is what an animal responds to.  And in earlier times of our civilization we have operated even more barbarically than we do today.  We might look back at those times and see ourselves as little more than animals; and we are half biology after all.  But we are also half spirit.  We are a duality, and I’m fairly confident God knows this.  We operate more out of one side or the other depending on our mindset.  When we operate more from our biology we are in concern over only one thing: biological heredity.  We need to protect and push forward our genes.  We need to protect our family.  We need to gather resources, we need to conquer, protect, purge and refine.  Those are the needs of biology and they exist in the micro as well as the macro.  If there is a loving God which created us, then surely It must know all about us.  And if God is loving, then that love is based on a much wider view of us than we have of ourselves.  We must step back a pace and look at ourselves with an objective love and guide ourselves lovingly toward the light.  Without judgement, without anger.  Not without challenge.  Nor without love.

What might a loving God do to nudge us more toward Spirit?  What might God be willing to do, or even sacrifice, to help us move from fear and biology to love and light?  God would accept us where we are, and if we give intent to be somewhere else, God will know the way.  We pick the destination and Source knows the path.  We are not stepped back a pace from ourselves.  We want what is easiest and most comfortable.  But comfort rarely brings progress and innovation.  And when progress and innovation is what we are asking for, we forget to be careful what we are asking for.  

We risk our lives for progress and innovation still.  But that is a light-facing view, isn’t it?  Aren’t we winning, incrementally, the fight for human rights?  Step back and look and you tell me if humanity isn’t slowly getting it right.  Stop listening to the pundits and look for yourselves.  Start looking a thousand years ago and compare it to today.  Who had the right to do what?  The powerful had the right and the unpowerful had nothing.  Not even a way to talk to one another.  But today a seventeen year old girl can win a Nobel Peace Prize and be heard by the entire world.  

This may be a challenge for some, but Darkness is not a thing of its own.  Darkness is merely the absence of Light.  Light is a thing of its own.  Biology is not darkness, but it can lead us to do dark things.

If we were asking to change from eye-for-an-eye to turn-the-other-cheek, how might God respond to that intent?  God would accept us where we are at the point of asking and move us gently toward it.  The Church is a beautiful and miraculous thing.  It, like Humanity itself, is perfect yet flawed.  Weak with strength.  And burdened by its own Light.  And yet it has managed to carry a beautiful message in its dubious bottle.  All this time.  And we have survived long enough to read it.  And it says: You Are Free.  You are powerful.  Love one another.

So now that we resent the garish bottle in which the message was delivered we have very complicated feelings about the bottle and the rituals around it.  We have suffered the worst idolatry in the worship of the bottle and it made us weak with power before it made us strong with wisdom.  We have not mastered it yet.  But we are getting there.

And now that the Church cannot continue in its former way it must reinvent itself or die.  But this is a thing “too big to fail” as it were.  It is equivalent to the removal of our central nervous system.  It is so built into the fiber of our world it would be like deconstructing soup.  So it has but one choice: Evolve.  The dread word, evolve.  How the Church likes to disdain the concept and yet it is the one which must be embraced and loved in order to survive.  

The scales have been tipped and the old rules do not apply anymore.  That’s why the darker forces at work in the world are so increasingly barbaric, they are dying.  Let’s let them go.

But as we turn our backs on darkness what will keep us in check?  Without fear to guide us how will we know what to do?  Love is available.  Let that be your authority.

And now as a church we must decide how to let love be our authority.  We must accept our estranged congregants for what they are and serve them where they are.  Just like God did for us.  We must forgive them and go to them, not insist that they come to us.  The worship service should not be a requirement for salvation, it should be an hour of refuge and restoration from the other 167 hours in our week.  A week spent out in the world hopefully doing good work informed by a sense of justice and compassion for others.  It should be a time where we may come to the trough and refill ourselves if and when we choose, not an obligation of any kind.  It is the sense of obligation which eclipses any value it might truly have.

So, as a student minister with a strong community focus it is my job to seek out and recognize places in our world where we, as a broad congregation of informed and compassionate people, may do the most good just for the sake of it.  And if our work holds no obligations or strings, then it is good work.  It is the right work.  

Who knows?  Maybe its the evangelism of doing and not speaking which attracts a Sunday worshiper most.

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