|St. Francis of Assisi|
As Ian began his talk, he described many of my feelings; it was as if he had been listening in on some of my conversations. Looking around the audience, as I saw heads nodding, I realized many others had had those same conversations. One of the things Ian said was (not exactly a direct quote), "What is the good news of Jesus for the next millennium? The personal ticket to heaven doesn't cut it anymore. It sounds backward, primitive. The Jon Stewart generation is concerned with the world." And even though I'm not technically part of the Jon Stewart generation, I get it, maybe because, as I've said many times, I didn't grow up in the church so I have a different perspective. I'm concerned with the world - and I think Jesus was/is, too. In it's present state, the church seems so self-centered. It's all about getting your personal act together. But there's nothing in the Bible about saying the sinners' prayer, accepting Jesus into your heart, and then having a personal relationship with him. Nada. However, that's the propaganda spread by many Christians.
One of my (and Bill's) blog readers, Teresa Evangeline, made a comment on his blog that really resonated with me on this subject. She said, commenting on a post about the broken criminal justice system, "It's one of those issues where I can so easily understand Jesus' anger at the moneychangers. I wish we had someone who was willing and able to whip them out of 'the temple.'" When I read this, all I could think was, we DO have "someone." We're the church and that's what we're supposed to be doing, speaking truth to power, defending the poor and the needy.... Read your Bible, people.
What I see, instead, is an impotent church, concerned with more worldly, personal matters. I'll give a few examples that really stand out to me. On Tony Jones' blog, I learned about a new e-tablet put out by Family Christian, called Edify, which provides "safe" web browsing, as well as access to email, social networking, 27 translations of the Bible, free e-books, and a Christian radio station. One reviewer called it a "Christ-centered tablet." (Of course, it doesn't hurt that Family Christian also sells books and other Christian-related paraphernalia.) (Here's another review of it.) This sounds perfect for the church - a duplicate of a product that is already on the market, but clean it up a bit. Earlier this week, I discovered through Rachel Held Evans' blog that LifeWay Christian bookstores had pulled the movie "The Blind Side" from their shelves due to what some customers considered objectionable content. Even though this move was based on a true story and in real life they used some of the objectionable language, this movie isn't acceptable for the store's customers. We don't want the truth if it sounds ugly to us. In my own community, there was much celebration over the opening of a yogurt store. Everyone was thrilled that it was a "Christian" business, that was "fun" and "clean" and (in their eyes) healthy. Nothing spreads Christian love like a smartly packaged franchise that knows it's market.
So this is what the church has become? A sanitized conspicuous consumption machine? We want our goods and services, we just don't want them to be too real. We want them to be more like Disney, with everything perfect and orderly - not even a dead flower in sight. That's all that matters, as long as we keep up our prayer life and tell people how to be saved.
Some (well, actually, many) of my blog posts might be considered depressing (read my post on being a killjoy). But I'm trying to wake the church (and others), to show them we should be that "someone" that Teresa referenced. We need to care about other people, about the world. Jesus didn't spend time making nice, creating scrapbooks of his vacations, complimenting Mary and Martha on their exemplary housekeeping skills, trying to make the world a pretty place. He was busy hanging out with the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers, the ugly people. He stood up to his day's equivalent of "the man," fought against the status quo, and was a killjoy (except when he turned water into wine). When he saw injustice, he not only spoke out against it, he did something about it.
Another thing Ian mentioned in is talk was that cynicism is caused by disappointment, rage, and grief. I'm feeling all three when it comes to most of what passes as the church. But he also had a message of hope, one that I'm trying to work towards. He said that rather than criticize, we should just do it better. He offered St. Francis as a model. Since St. Francis is my patron saint (I was born on his feast day), I will continue to strive to do it better and to rise above the cynicism. But it won't be easy. And I will continue to be a killjoy as long there's a possibility that doing so can help the world.