Posts Tagged Christian Church
Somewhere between loss and recovery is a four letter word that both screams into the darkness and relishes in the light. It lays down beside our broken bodies at the worst points of our lives and comforts us. It reaches deep into our souls and pushes us toward rehabilitation and restoration and yet seems to cling to us when we think we no longer need it. It is a universal need and true universal constant that connects all living beings in a way that breaks the bonds of even death itself. It heals like no medicine can and without it no medicine can truly work. It provides the ability to stand against the worst of the world with resolve. It gives us the ability to lay our heads down and find true rest when needed. It’s echo lingers long after the word is spoken and it’s effect has changed the course of history. That word is hope.
Everyone needs it and yet you can so easily see when someone no longer has it. I saw a man in local parking lot recently. His beard was rough, untrimmed, and dirty. His clothes were similar in condition and somehow expressed his outlook but not his character. He struggled in the corner of a parking lot to cover his cart with a tarp to protect it from the rain. Moments earlier the tarp was his blanket but as the day began and people came around he needed to move so he would not draw too much attention to himself. He needed to protect his things. In his mind, that was all that mattered. In his mind, that was all he had. He was broken, whether by the world around him or by his own choice is a philosophical discussion he really didn’t care about. How he got there was academic in relation to where he was was. Each moment hung in the balance between fear and loss. They were his constant companions but offered no solace in their company. He was a man clinging to a rope over a deep pit whose life expectancy was measured in how long he could hold on. He had lost hope and he was merely waiting for his fingers to give way.
Christianity is supposed to be the embodiment of hope. In the first century the biblical writers cultivated the idea and focus around a term that in and of itself was rather mundane and simple. The word was gospel. It simply meant good news. It was the kind of thing that was said about a birth announcement or a wedding. You would send a message of good news to people to let them know there was a reason to celebrate. The early writers captured this term and used it to describe the message of Christ because it was the ultimate reason to celebrate. It was the pivotal point in time where all that was evil collided with all that was good and was obliterated. This meant the chains that held us to death, destruction, and separation from God were now gone. The idea was that we who were lost were now found in such a powerful and overwhelming way that the very core of existence has changed and our souls are now free to be with God forever. This is the truest possible good news. So I have to ask if we have made it something that is less than good?
Today’s message from the global church seems one saturated with political and social opinion. It is one of recognizing so called true strength by becoming enlightened through knowing the way. This “way” includes a structured method of achieving ones goals and desires through naming and claiming. It includes the power to devastate the opponents arguments through use of scripture (whether or not that use is contextual, synchronous with the rest of the church’s teachings, or even aptly applied to the circumstance). It involves social gatherings around music and light shows. Lastly (though I am sure not completely) it involves totems and spiritual symbols that are carried around and venerated at yearly festivals. In other words, it looks a great deal like paganism, idol worship, and gnosticism rolled together and tied in a bow made of new ageism.
Churches even within denominational structures are becoming brands and franchises seeking to be the center rather than reflect the center. They argue within themselves who is better, more accurate, more scripturally relevant, or more seeker sensitive. Or they go the other direction and work so hard to stay out of the arguments they miss the need to unite as one movement. This is truly a harsh message but one that if not heeded will cause us to not only close our doors but to close our hearts as well.
Please understand I know how cynical this sounds. I am not saying it lightly. I am however saying it because it needs to be heard. If our goal is to communicate the good news and have others join us in our relationship with the Creator, we are focusing on all the wrong things. We need to stop focusing on trying to get something out of the gospel message for us and start explaining why it is good news to others. We have built structured self-ology for far too long and need to get back to our theology that God is the reason we are here. We need to stop trying to build castles and monuments to him and start building his kingdom.
The message being heard today is one of control. We need to make it one of sacrifice. It is one of self. We need to make it one of others. It is one of piety, we need to make it one of righteousness. It is one of security, we need to make it one of justice. Simply put, we need to make it one of hope.
I sat and watched her fidget and do menial tasks when she was clearly upset about something. She was a fellow student in seminary who had dreams of pastoral leadership and quite frankly was far more gifted than I in several disciplines. But something had clearly rattled her. When I asked she told me about a man in one of her classes who made broad statements to her about how she would be unable to perform certain duties within the church because she was a woman. I told her that was interesting; I didn’t know we had had a clairvoyant in our school but realistically the only thing that would make him correct is if she believed he was.
I think she understood my point but the truth is that the problem here was far larger than my angled quip could solve. There is so much history and tradition infused in the interpretation of the actual text that sifting through it just to reach consensus seems arduous at best. It confuses and angers both genders and at times has even split churches. What I can’t figure out is why.
I guess that is not quite true. I understand the history and see how the pieces to the puzzle have built the labyrinth we now have, I just don’t understand why we don’t tear a few walls down to let the people trapped inside out. Should we blame the old boys club or the male dominated denominational structures? How about blaming women directly for accepting the roles? How about blaming society for adopting a model that the church echoed so easily? How about we blame the Apostle Paul for his misogyny and self centered directions? For that matter, why don’t we just blame God himself, after all it is his book we got it from? Or better yet, how about we take the blame off the table, we re-evaluate, re-vision, re-think, and somehow build a model that not only gives the people hope, but helps heal the evils of the past.
The first step is to understand what the scripture really says. I am not going to attempt a full commentary on Paul or even list out the parts in Ephesians, Galatians, or Corinthians that address this. I don’t think that is needed because there is a larger hermeneutical issue here. The biblical text was never intended to be used in the support of a categorical syllogism to limit the ability of a gender to fulfill their desire for service to God. We cannot take Paul’s statements in one book, add them to statements in another, and conclude that he was misogynistic and that the church should not allow women to lead. This process creates a philosophical and hermeneutical error before we even begin. There is no code in the text and it is not a puzzle to be solved. As clearly as I can put it, if you have to stand on an old chair facing north east while thinking of something angelic to get the meaning out of the text, you are doing it wrong. Instructions given to the church on how to administer the church were aimed at specific churches with specific problems. Whereas that may give information that should be used in modern churches to help administer them, it cannot be taken as a singular contextual statement aimed at the church model 2000 years later without understanding the individual churches in a holistic manner.
Paul’s work was aimed at the unification of believers around the gospel of Christ. He was not setting up a universal church structure. He traveled from town to town and delivered the gospel. That was his focus. He wrote to the churches he had been to with corrective action and support for the furthering of that gospel. He was almost annoyed with administrative items. His statements about those types of items were curt and simplistic. It was almost that he was trying to get past the arguments with the first idea that came into his head. If we take those as direct mandates from God as how women are to be viewed, then not only are we contradicting other scripture that clearly shows equality, but we are placing our own selfish desires in front of God’s and denying his overall requirement to seek justice and love mercy.
We have done such a disservice to God in this arena. I have heard so much heretical garbage proclaimed in the name of tradition that has caused people to accept the inexcusable as the norm. And when we do try to push against it we end up with solutions that are almost as offensive as the problem. I have heard pastors proclaim that Paul was actually elevating the status of women from their even lower place to where we claim he said they should be. That kind of reminds me of a support for slavery from the 1800’s. Sometimes I feel more passion against the church than for it.
We have got to stop defending our traditions and understand that God cares more about our actions. The person who should be leading the church is the best qualified person, regardless of gender. If a man says he cannot learn from a woman, then the problem is with him, not them. Don’t get me wrong, there are clearly different roles intended for men than women. I will never be a mother nor have the nurturing skills that mothers have. But that in no way says that a woman should be silent in church. Simply put, those that feel women should be silent in church should do so themselves before they ever consider speaking.
Changing the world starts with changing ourselves. If we are unable to see through our own walls we build, the image of God we want to show cannot be seen by those on the other side. Sometimes we need to tear down the walls to find truth.
One of the largest foundational understandings of the Bible is that God created the world. Scientists and hardcore creationists can debate the “how” on that for years to come but from a purely faith perspective, God created it and throughout the prophetic books calls on it as witness to his majesty. He is first seen as Lord over creation and then allows humans to live in his domain through that creation. It would seem this subject should be very important in our daily lives, not the worship of creation but the respect for God’s creation. So why hasn’t the church historically been more concerned about that creation?
The claim that the polar ice caps are melting and that may cause torrential weather shifts is becoming less and less believable based upon scientific evidence. But it doesn’t take much to see that world is decaying on a dramatic scale. Air quality is getting worse, our natural resources are being drained, our landfills are overflowing, our ozone layer is reducing, and we spray toxic substances on our growing vegetables to decrease spoilage. We use nuclear reactors to power our world that even when run “safely” create a byproduct of spent uranium and thorium cells that remain wickedly radioactive for a thousand or so years. We currently have no manner of destroying them but we continue to produce them. As a people, we have learned to pollute and contaminate our world to an absurd level.
I am certain that the Christian church cannot stop this. I am certain it will only get worse and God’s creation will only take more and more abuse. But does that mean we do nothing to try? Do we think we are less culpable because the job is daunting? Do we think that God will hold us less accountable for our actions or lack thereof? Do we really think we are not to blame for the damage these actions have caused?
Think about this. We as consumers will not want to spend more money for fruits and vegetables. Stores will look for the lowest prices to ensure their profit margins. Farmers will do as much as they can to make as much of their crop sellable at the best cost possible, this includes toxic pesticides. The workers spraying these pesticides have statistically shown to have higher rates of disease, this includes their families though “take home” exposure. So in effect, simply because I want vegetables without spots at the cheapest price possible, I am affecting the health of other people. And somehow God will not care that I am unwilling to spend more because I want to save up money for a larger TV or Ipad?
I know it is not this simple and buying organic products solely is not possible for all and would not solve to overall issue. But is it not something to think about? I am not the one directly causing these problems, but do I have an indirect responsibility? Does the Church for not getting involved sooner? For myself, I would have to say yes, I do.
My concern is not that Churches are not picketing the local Ralphs or boycotting conventional products. That wouldn’t help and frankly Churches have done enough of that noise for a lifetime. I am more concerned they greatly ignore the question. As I stated, buying Organic will not solve the problem. But turning a blind eye will solve even less. If we are not willing to look at the problem, how can we claim we are acting morally? How can we claim we are treating God’s creation with respect? I don’t have a great answer for all the problems. But I do know that doing nothing is the worst possible answer.