Thursday, September 29, 2011

Okay, a Rant (part 4)

If you're just now joining this rant, you may want to go back and at least skim the last three entries, to see why the National Back to Church Sunday video made me grumpy. (Actually, I've been grumpy for a couple of months. I'm using this video, which didn't lighten my grumpiness, to illustrate my grumpiness.)


I won't go into the final invitation. It's all very pleasant, as I've said is the whole video. It's great that the congregation in question will welcome you regardless of your past religious affiliation. (I pause to point out that the only non-Christian background welcomed by name is "Jewish," but I suppose we can infer that Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and other world religions are welcome, too. Or we can infer that only converts from Judaism are invited. Hard to tell.)

But then, I'm assuming something here: I'm assuming that this is a Christian congregation that is inviting me to their church. How would I know that? Is Jesus or Christ ever mentioned?

In fact, unless I missed something, the only mention of God was in the somewhat presumptuous statement "right were God wants you."

This is a marketing video that is trying to convince a consumer that they're welcome, that they're okay in their not-okay-ness. It's so pleasant and inoffensive that it completely avoids all offensive things like Jesus.

Throughout, I've been complaining about how unrealistic the answers are to the excuses for why people don't go to church. The final invitation hits on the big unrealism: They're selling a utopia for people not only want to not be okay but also be accepted in their not-okay-ness. And, I know we're never going to be completely well, we're always going to be not-okay, but I kind of hope for some progress in the journey.

There's an awful lot of talk about "authenticity" in church circles. What I think this is after is an acknowledgment that everyone comes to church (or anywhere) with their own set of luggage, and we need to exercise some tolerance and grace with one another. To the extent that this video is trying very hard to acknowledge our brokenness, I can go along with it. But the problem is no matter how hard they try to sell the idea of church as a utopia where everyone feels at home . . . well utopias simply don't exist. I'll go so far as to say it's a false idol.

What would be more realistic?

Come to my church. We're all bumbling, broken people, but sometimes we help each other. We come with a variety of needs, wants, and experiences but we return each week to be reminded that the Reign of God is among us. We get angry, we get hurt, but we also have this place where we're reminded that if we turn away from anger, revenge, selfishness, and actively work with God, respond to the words of Jesus to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, protect the weak and powerless, we we see God among us.

Come to my church, we're trying our best---some days, not all days---but some days, in good weeks, most days we're doing our best to keep up with Jesus, to follow where we hear Jesus leading us. We're going to argue about that. Okay, but we're all going to sacrifice something and lay it at the foot of the cross, and we're going to go away with a blessing.

Come to my church, because during the week, you're going to have some good stuff happen to you and maybe you'll want to come praise God with us. And in the weeks where bad stuff happens, you'll want a place to lament---in community. Yes, we can all be thankful or be sad on our own, but when we're thankful or sad together---well, it's another place where the Reign of God breaks into the world, breaks up the powers of this world. Maybe not every Sunday, but there's an accumulative effect and eventually, you'll have a bad Thursday and a line from the lackluster, boring, emotionless, cold, "I got up for this?" Sunday before will come to you, be with you, sit with you. And you'll remember the life, words, and sacrifice of Jesus and you'll make it through until Friday. And on Sunday, you'll want to praise God in the company of the community.

This is not utopian, and I hope it doesn't sound that way. This is the hard work of faithfulness. All my excuses to not go to church---and I have a few, some in the video, some not---are not going to be answered by one phrase spoken by an appealing actor. I've traveled this road too long to be placated by platitudes. I'm writing this an angry, bruised man (who doesn't air his dirty laundry in public, or at least tries not to). But good things happen and bad things happen. I find meaning in the Good News of Jesus, in the sacraments of the church, and these still outweigh the the ways I feel hurt by the institution of the church (for I do recognize that, for the most part, it is the cold institution of the church---and it's gatekeepers---that I feel have hurt me, not the Church, the Body of Christ).

So, come to my church. Sing hymns and pray with us. We won't promise miracles---we can't control such things. But we will tell you that we live under Grace, that we are loved beyond imagining, and when we gather in praise, lamentation, service, and support---the Reign of God is among us.

That's really all we have to offer.


So, this completes my rant, such as it is. It doesn't really tell you everything, but reveals my mood of the moment. I don't like going to church right now, and this video just pushed some exposed and raw buttons. This writing is an oblique, if not opaque, explanation for why I stopped blogging for a couple of months. Actually, writing through this has give me some catharsis, exposed some over-reaction to myself (if not to you). What does it do for you? I don't know. But Miles wanted something from me and this is what I had to offer for the moment. Blame him if this was more self-indulgent than usual. (Insert smiley face here.)



  2. OK, it's Brian's fault. Which is cool for Brian, because this was worth the wait. You certainly saved the best for last, Neil!

  3. *THIS* is a rant?! You're more like a punch pulling pugilist who is dancing and weaving to hold a mirror up to our face as long as possible before we smash it. A true rant lashes out, leaves one off balance and open to counter attacks.

    Loved this last post much. I want to go to your church, Neil ;-)