Sunday, August 01, 2010

Anne Rice

The preacher this morning read a Facebook post from Anne Rice in which she says that she's quitting Christianity. Not God, not Jesus, just the troublesome, overly structured, overly restrictive, and often bigoted institution called Christianity.

Well Anne, welcome to the club.

In another Facebook post, Anne says she doesn't want to be anti-[fill in your favorite political hot potato] and apparently she thinks that at least some form of Christianity requires that she be anti-something. And she's right. Some otherwise fine Baptists apparently have no trouble telling the world that "God hates fags," and some Catholics don't think Protestants have a prayer.

We could go on. In my little denomination we have folks who are against any number of things and expect the rest of us to go along with them. The problem is that from my perspective, they're out to lunch. Whether it's what women can do in church, or what sorts of music can be used in worship, or what sorts of otherwise moral things can go on in church facilities, our little groups can often get wrapped around the "thou shall nots" a bit too tightly.

And so Anne, I welcome you to the post-Christianity group of Jesus followers.

While I don't know how Anne's dropping out is going to look in her life, it is important to note that acknowledging that ""church" is not necessarily the same as following Jesus" does not let one off the hook of being in the group of Jesus followers with all their mess. If we are Jesus followers, we are in the mess with all the other Jesus followers. Our job Anne isn't to write them off as though they're silly little people. Oh no – our job is to love them – even those folks who think God hates fags, or can't fathom drums in the church band.

You see Anne, if you're a Jesus follower, you have to love people – even the bigots. Oh you don't have to hold up signs with them; you can say you don't agree with them. But you have to love them. All of them, not just the ones that make us feel good about being around them.

Anne I would invite you to come visit the group of Jesus followers with whom I meet. Oh, I don't want to show off how smoothly they can perform church or that they have given up all those anti-somethings. I want to show you how broken and confused they can be and yet accept each other in that brokenness. Do they do this perfectly? Not by a long shot. But God has placed me with them and I love them because we have a common aim behind our human egos and mistaken ideas about God and His creation.

These people I believe bear the image of God and it is no small honor to be accepted among them.

So Anne, come on and drop out of Christianity with me.

But we can't drop out of Jesus' community of imperfect, frail, and oftentimes blundering followers.

Where’s the Church Building?

This past Saturday morning was spent at the Children's Home in Albuquerque. The summer clean up was in preparation for the two week nigh annual open house and barbeque at the home. This day there were about sixty people from a local congregation helping weed, move rock, and generally spruce up the entire campus. Great folks all, and I'm sure they were a bit sore come Sunday morning.

One of the people who came to help was a boy of about seven years who helped clear some of the larger weeds from a fallow section of the campus. As we worked on removing Russian Thistles, he said that tomorrow is church. Having sixty of his fellow church goers on campus, in turn assisting a Christian organization accomplish tasks too large for the staff to do by themselves, I observed that he was in church right now. Understandably, his retort was "where's the church building?"

As I was readying a short instruction on "church" and community, someone yelled that it was time for the group picture across campus and my interlocutor took off to have his picture taken. I guess pictures of such events are important but I missed the chance to broaden this young man's understanding of church as something more than Sunday morning meetings.

It occurs to me that even this well meaning group of Christians, who have elected to put their faith to work still struggle with teaching what church really is. Somehow this seven year old had gotten hold of the idea that church was done at a building on Sundays. I don't suppose he's much different than many adults who also seem to think that a building on Sunday morning is the place where the church does its thing.

This is a tragic occurrence because it results in an artificial and inaccurate understanding of our common faith. We can see this in major church splits when one side or the other will sue the opposing group for anything from the property, to the cash in the bank, to the parsonage. There are myriad reasons used to justify this behavior but one commonly used is that "we aren't suing brothers and sisters, we are suing the legal entity called the Main Street Church." It never dawns on them that this obfuscation doesn't excuse their behavior. This artificiality also allows us to argue over things because they have to do with the "church." At least one Baptist church of which I'm aware had an argument when they decided to add a drum set to the band. This apparently was going too far, changing the music from sacred to well, pedestrian. Not that anybody objected to drums per se – just not in "church" thank you very much. Christians go to church together on Sundays and then argue with and sue each other on Monday because apparently on Monday, we're not in "church."

In my own world this plays out in a number of ways – what women can and can't do in worship, what sorts of religious items can be on the stage, or even whether the praise team should have microphones and where they should sit or stand. All these discussions take on an air of more gravity because they have to do with "church." If we would learn that "church" isn't primarily Sunday morning, we might begin to get our priorities more in line with God and quit beating each other up because we've been wronged or think we might be.

Maybe.

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