So I just bought a book on Amazon and had it downloaded to my iPad Kindle. Here is an excerpt from the book Spiritual Defiance: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance by the Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers (Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ Church, Oklahoma)
"The sad truth is that much of the church today is a harmless handmaiden of the corporate machine, clinging nostalgically to a gospel that is as unacceptable in practice now as it was in the beginning. We confuse performance with ministry, beliefs with faith, and charity with justice. Our demise is the result of the abandonment of our peculiar witness to the upside-down instructions left to us by a God-intoxicated misfit. Christians can survive almost anything, save the loss of distinctiveness. We can make our share of mistakes, but we cannot be a mistake.
The very definition of what it means to be a Christian must be salvaged now, taken back, by force if necessary, from those who domesticated a way of life and turned it into a quarreling quagmire of noisy “believers.” While we fiddle with the meaning of the Trinity, present-day Rome is burning. While we mumble our prayers for the poor, their poverty and pain increase by the hour. While we coddle the industries that ravage the earth for energy and then market death to us disguised as comfort, the conscience of the faithful has been euthanized by public relations campaigns that make us swoon with gratitude for the humanitarian altruism of Big Oil.
Where are the holy fools for God today? Who stands out in the crowd as a troublemaker for justice? Where can we find the spiritual contrarian, unplugged and unmoved by the choreographed hysteria of celebrity culture? Where do we find real wisdom in the age of the blog, where everyone with an opinion can self-publish, where authors presume not to need editors in a worldwide web of intellectual autoeroticism?
The sad truth is that to help the American church “grow” we have dressed it in the uniform of Western culture. We have taught its leaders to be entrepreneurs, and to fret more about parking spaces than about peace and justice. We sing familiar hymns, but the lyrics fall on deaf ears. We recite creeds in worship that move no one, while others have decided they cannot speak them aloud in good conscience. In short, countless communities of faith are engaged in a charade on Sunday morning. The pews are full of pretenders.
The easiest thing would be to give up, of course, to disappear, to slide happily into retirement while telling the same tired old stories in the pulpit about walking with Jesus on the beach but seeing only one set of footprints in the sand. The real enemies of the church are found inside its walls. Sadly, the clergy shop as frantically as anyone at Christmastime, instead of warning people that the nativity is really a spiritual apocalypse. We commend praying for our enemies without confessing that the idea is more absurd and un-American than soccer. We cheer Jesus the Gentile lover while funding allies who are Gentile haters. We read the Sermon on the Mount as if it came from the back of a cereal box."
A rather lengthy quote, but packed with a powerful punch to the gut . I love it when someone cuts to the chase, slashes to the bone, throws caution to the wind, calls out the elephant in the room. At a seminarians conference a number of weeks ago, a young seminarian proclaimed in reaction to some "church is dead" talk, "I am tired of people saying that the church is dead!" OK, how about this, "The church is dead, long live the church!" Can we at least say that something of the church is dying, and in fact must die? Can we also say that something of the church is alive, and in fact must continue to live in new and meaningful ways in the 21st century? Yes, I think we can, and should.
This passage from Rev. Meyer's book reminds me of a conversation I had some months ago with retired pastor and activist, Rev. Henry Hayden. I sat with him in his small one-room apartment at a local retirement home. The first thing he wanted to share with me was a paper he had written on the summation of his life's work as a minister. There were several points that he wanted to make, the first of which stuck with me. "I always tried to remain on the prophetic edge." He then proceeded to tell story after story of how he helped organize counter sit ins during the civil rights movement, how he threatened to resign his pastorate several times because he was not allowed to preach what he felt God had called him to preach, how he received death threats after publicly participating in the ordination of the first gay man in the United Church of Christ. "If you ain't receiving death threats, then you ain't preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ!" He quipped.
"Where are the holy fools for God today? Who stands out in the crowd as a troublemaker for justice?" Meyers asks. Very good question. Where? Who? In our denomination, in our conference, in the wider church? While we "fiddle with the meaning of the Trinity," hold another counsel meeting, plan for the next church picnic, bicker over how many Easter lilies on the chancel is too many, issues of poverty, hunger, homelessness, mass incarceration, unemployment, inequality, and many such injustices linger right outside our Narthex. In order to be its true self, to be what it was called to be, the church must move to the margins and confront these issues head on. As Rev. Hayden suggested, we have to exist on the prophetic edge, we have to be troublemakers for justice. Isn't this the real work of the church: in community, on the margins, and out of our comfort zone, and raising hell?
So, good riddance to the church that is unwilling to take such a stand, the "harmless handmaiden" shuttered behind stained glass. Let this church, that clings to itself, die. And, let the church that says "yes!" to being a "holy fool," a "troublemaker for justice," and radical resister, let this church live!
Pastor Stephen Patten
From the Mountain is a 'cyber sanctuary' where sermons and other musings are posted for the general consumption of a larger community. Feel free to reflect on them as you wish. You are welcome to leave comments below with thoughts, insights, and/or questions.