And to think it all began with The Church Without Pants

Monday, September 26, 2011

If only more people were like me ...

Of all the famous people who've ever lived, I've met about three (not counting the real-life Bozo, Pinky Lee and Red Buttons*). Sadly, Diana Butler Bass is not among those three. But that doesn't get in the way of my enjoying her books and articles. Somehow she is able to sift through the holy sh#t piles we've collected and stored in our churches and somehow finds good things hidden there. She finds people who live, what she describes as, a "generous and open faith" and looks ahead to a time of reformation when the "sort of Christianity that loves God and neighbor" will flourish and again be a transforming influence on this earth.

But make no mistake - that hope implies that not all is well. Butler Bass seems to be admitting that the branch of Christianity that "loves God and neighbor" has gone AWOL. It's missing. Maybe hijacked or trapped somehow in suspended animation.

So, who in the world does she think is going to bring about this reformation? Me? I can't change anyone's mind about anything. I can't even change my own bad habits, let alone the Church and the Christian faith!

So, if it's not me then, who's running the show? Who's pulling the strings in the church these days? Is it those who (whether they are in the majority or the minority) preach hate and fear and who take solace in their own salvation while condemning everyone else for all of eternity? Or is it some other group?

Maybe it is these extremists. Their message is certainly as well known as it is ubiquitous. It almost seems to drown almost everything else out.

I might wish that the those who embrace that generous faith that "loves God and neighbor" would be the ones who really influence the church. But I suspect that they find themselves too busy feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and working to correct injustice to argue or fight with churches and churchgoers they can't change anyway. Besides, it would, in a sense, be hypocritical for a loving and forgiving (religiously tolerant?) person to not tolerate religious intolerance. They will find more important things to do than fight and argue. It is almost always a waste of time to argue with someone (especially an institution) who has already made up their mind. And I think even a generous and loving person can admit that and remain generous and loving.

But then I also do not believe that it is a majority of Christians who advocate hate and discrimination. I think, like in other faiths where we find extremists, while they are fodder for a sensation craving public, they are still a vast minority.

I do happen to believe there is a majority in the church and it is neither a majority of hateful, mindless, intolerant people, nor is it a majority made up of generous loving people. I think the majority are people a lot like me.

And deep down, I suspect it is this majority who really run the church.

My life looks something like this: I help distribute free baked good and fresh vegetables to people on a weekly basis. I also own more cars than I can drive, 3 DVD players and 2 computers. My internet is too slow and it really pisses me off. I have friends who are missionaries. I am always hospitable to those I like and who like me. I can remember only one time in my whole life that I've invited a homeless person into my home for shelter. I read my Bible. In my many iterations of attempting to live like Christ, I can't remember the last time I fasted. I'm not sure what Jesus would think of what I call prayer and I do not say the "shema" on a daily basis. I have never given sacrificially let alone sold anything in order to follow Jesus more faithfully or to help someone else. While I decry intolerance my response to it is usually limited to sarcasm. I live with my wife in a 5 bedroom air-conditioned house. While we both have jobs, we are totally dependent on either the charity or the brokenness of others for our income. I have in my garage a classic car, two tandem bicycles, two vintage racing bicycles, an unused pool table, half a ping-pong table, two powered lawn mowers and an antique radial arm saw that doesn't work. We have a water softener and I can tell when it needs salt when my dishwasher leaves embarrassing spots on our glasses. Most of my neighbors have never been in my home. My front lawn is a disgrace and I'm sure it brings down property values in the neighborhood. I am in debt. I have enough free time to do facebook, pursue hobbies, read and go for runs or a bike ride every day. Some days I take two showers - both with hot water. I can drink fresh water from my faucet. I can even drink safely from my hose outside if I'm dying of thirst. I have two refrigerators. I have food rotting in both of them. My medical insurance has nearly a 5-digit yearly deductible. And we could meet that if we had to. I attend worship regularly and the church and its institutions and its hypocrisies piss me off almost as much, and sometimes even more, than my really slow internet.

Yeah, I think the majority is like me.

It's not the extremists. They're just louder than the rest of us. And it's not those with the open generous faith who run the church. They're too busy changing the world to worry about running the church.

I think it's people like me. People who are fat and happy and perfectly content to do just enough so that nothing changes.

We're the ones who run the church.

* What's with the color-blind guy meeting all these colorful and colorfully named people?


  1. You read it once, this is my response, though.

    And, I feel like there is a lot to be said about the majority: there are those that are like you, and then there are those that are like you but are unaware of it. So I reference the story by Rollins (right?) that you shared at not church, about the people who use church as a band-aid for their broken lives. Every category has exceptions to the majority rules.

  2. Hey Pirate - I'm thinking: Aware or not, if nobody decides to be something beyond themselves, beyond what they already are, nothing else changes. This may not be a fair analogy (and it is not my intent to trivialize the allegations of what happened to those boys), but what if JoePa had stepped in front of the institutional bus when heard what was going on in the locker room? The bus may not have stopped for him, but if there was anyone in Happy Valley who had a chance to stop that bus, it was him. He had the power, but he picked his battle that day and chose to be nothing more than a football coach.

    Maybe what I’m lamenting is, in part, my own sense of powerlessness to influence the direction of the church bus. And there are others who may also feel powerless, or ill equipped, too busy, too invested in maintaining the institution, satisfied with the status quo, or just don’t care. Some may even be afraid of what may come if they live counter-culturally. It may not have been fair or accurate, but I’m putting all of these people in the category of the “majority” because whatever the reasons, the church bus just keeps going.

    Or maybe we don’t need to step in front of the bus. Maybe we just need to get off. But that gets complicated, too.

    And yes, Peter Rollins came to mind just as I concluded the post. I almost left it ending "content to do nothing." The story is called Finding Faith from "The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales"

    As always, thanks for your thoughts Pirate.

  3. Mmm, that's a juicy burger, gonna gets me sum them frize!


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