My faith community doesn’t do a special children’s sermon every Sunday.  Bored Boy

In fact, we don’t do them most Sundays.

Now we only do them on festival Sundays, or special occasions. Sure, some of our children leave the sanctuary during the sermon on Sunday mornings to go with our Deaconess and hear a message or do an activity specifically geared toward them, but that’s not a children’s sermon.

No more coming to the front every Sunday.  No more sitting quietly and looking at an object lesson. No more watering down the story about Rahab, glossing over that she’s a prostitute (because it’s kids, you know) and trying to make some sort of moralism out of it.

No more of that.

And there’s a reason.  It’s important to be honest here.  There’s a reason for why we’re not doing that every week anymore.

The biggest reason is that a children’s sermon has, by and large, turned into a “viewer” event at most churches.  That is, the kids are called up front to be viewed by the parents while the pastor engages them like an episode of “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

And that’s really annoying to me.

It’s annoying because then the message can be as cheap as it wants to be…because the message isn’t the point anymore.  Just the act.  It’s annoying because then kids get the unspoken social cue that they’re supposed to be cute and “ask the darndest things.”

We should teach our children to ask questions.  We don’t need to teach them to be cheeky.

We also then have this “dual sermon” thing going on during worship, where the children’s sermon will have this simple, distilled point, and the other sermon (“adult” sermon?) may have a more complex point.  But which one do you think most adults will remember?  Perhaps Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed is multifaceted and complex and requires a great deal of pondering, but if you also hear that it simply means some trite moralism that uses a potted plant as an object lesson, which one will you cling to?

Jesus often posits that “infants” and “children” are the true holders of God’s wisdom.  Fr. Richard Rohr expounds upon this in Everything Belongs (a book that also belongs on every bookshelf) by calling it “beginner’s mind.”  That is, it may not be children per se that hold the kingdom of God, but those who are open to learning and unlearning…as children are…who do so.  When seen in this sense, the “children’s sermon” does more harm than good, especially if it aims to explain really complex texts as moral tales.

In this light, the sermon is for everyone, adults and children.  Maybe especially children, as they are the most open to confronting and questioning assumptions.

And I know some parents miss the children’s sermon every week because it is nice to see all the kids in the church together and cute to watch them and…yeah, I get it. To a point.

And I’m sure some kids miss it, too.  They like sitting with the pastor and sitting next to their friend that sits five rows over.  And some really like a special message for them in that unique situation.  Some children are obviously ready to listen to a sermon, but some need a different environment to stay focused.  I don’t deny that.   In that case I suggest a separate space for the sermon portion where children can engage in a similar message another way.

But I really can’t justify the children’s sermon anymore as a regular practice.  I know some love it, but I have some serious problems with it.  And I’ve tried it every way, in every style, in every form.

And I just can’t get around the fact that they don’t do for what I think we, as a faith community, want them to do.

It allows more to be lost than to be gained, I think.  It doesn’t encourage questions more than it suggests pat answers.

And, really, anything that gets away from worship being “entertainship” is good by me.

Look, I love children.  I’m good with children.  And we have a ton of children in my faith community.  The 0-7 age skews our average age like crazy.  And for these reasons, I think it is important that children are involved in the liturgical work on a Sunday morning, but not as spectator or spectacle.  Rather as worshiper of a God and as a fellow traveler on the road of faith.  No need to carry them; they can walk on their own.

I’ve never seen a 6 year old happier than when I’ve handed her the communion cup to help serve.  Exponentially larger than any children’s sermon smile.

After all, the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these…

 

imagesHeard across America last month on The Mindy Project, “He’s hot like a youth minister…”

Yeah, that’s a thing.  Have you noticed it?

Our youth minister really liked the line.  One of our health and healing workers at the church, an acupuncturist, made sure to relay the scene to him.  Smiles and laughs followed.

But man if there isn’t some truth there, right?  The popular church sure does hold up beauty in its pastors and people.

Look at some of the popular pastors you know: T.D. Jakes’s suits cost more than most of his parishioners’ monthly incomes; Joel Osteen’s teeth and hair are never unpolished (cue the “Soul Glo” theme from Coming to America); Joyce Meyers’ earrings could double as nunchucks they’re so big and sparkly; Mark Driscoll’s tight jeans betray their price tag shock value by looking just a little too distressed to be naturally distressed…

We love attractive people telling us about God.  Perhaps, then, we’ll begin to believe that God is attractive (have you seen Jesus without ripped abs?) or that God wants you to be attractive.

In a blog post by Mark Driscoll, “16 Things I Look for in a Preacher,” coming in at number 11 snuggled between Driscoll’s desire for the pastor to be emotionally engaging and not be a “coward” is the exhortation that the pastor needs to “look like they have it all together.”  From clothes to haircut to overall presentation.

When I read that I ran and vomited in a trash can.

Look, you don’t have to go far to find that the church worships beauty, especially physical attractiveness.  The apostles are all ruggedly handsome in their depictions.  The various Marys in the Bible are never overweight, never suffering from hair loss, and certainly don’t have any moles to speak of.

In fact, in the recent movie Son of God (which was surprisingly un-bad), Jesus’ mother Mary clearly has had plastic surgery, making her look like an odd choice for the role.

Beauty and aesthetics have their place within the worship of a God who encompasses beauty.  I’m not denying that.  But take a look at the stock photos on church websites: happy families with bright teeth and 2.5 kids all around, often representing a racial diversity not present in the congregation.

And all the while we’re reading and hearing ancient stories of Jesus touching lepers, healing the sick and the lame, loitering suspiciously at well-known watering holes.

It doesn’t sound very “stock photo” to me.

I think it’s a little bit of an illness that we have here.  This idea that God or Jesus is “put together” and expects/desires/wants/needs for us to be so, too.  Even the local evangelical church-plant pastor who I hear all the time say, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” never leaves home without his tragically hipster jeans and plaid shirt…

It may seem like all sorts of judgment on my part, but I’m trying more than anything to be observant.  Because my faith, more than anything, tears me a part in all sorts of helpful ways…ways that allow me to not be so tied to appearance and the necessity of having it all put together in deference for letting go of appearances and engaging life, and others, more fully.

It’s sad that “youth pastor hot” is a thing.  It’s sad that it is based in reality.

When the writer of Ecclesiastes penned, “Vanity, vanity…all is vanity” it wasn’t a prescription for the church.

I was just introduced to a bgraduationook by Christopher Rodkey, UCC pastor in Pennsylvania, where he argues that we, as a church, subconsciously encourage our children to leave the church.

For many denominations it’s called “Confirmation.”

Confirmation: the culmination of a process whereby we fill children’s heads with dogma.

Confirmation: the culmination of a process whereby we use books that look a lot like school books to “teach” children about faith.

Confirmation: the frustrating program that pastors secretly dread because they have to fight with parents and youth over sports schedules and vacations and the youth have enough homework, why give them more…

Confirmation.

Now I will admit that my faith community has gone through a bit of a transformation with regards to Confirmation.  We use a question-based curriculum that doesn’t intend to fill heads with ideas, but rather (I hope) fills hearts with questions.

And I don’t really ever have trouble convincing youth or parents about the importance of our weekly meetings.  We generally have 100% attendance.

And yet I can’t help but think that this whole process is talked about as a way for our children to achieve, graduate if you will, from the need for church.

Church then becomes something you did and accomplished, not something you live and do.

We teach about the faith.  We don’t teach faith.

And by “teach faith” I don’t mean that “I want you to learn to rely on Jesus” language that is so often used but so often vacuous.

I’m talking about living into a pattern of life whereby you see yourself in a cosmic sense as part of a radical movement within the world that we call the church.  Yes, that does mean that you often rely on Jesus, rely on your faith, to ground you.

Yes, that does mean that you must learn some history and be familiar with some doctrine that the church has historically taught.

But more than anything it means that you begin to live into faith more radically.  And it will affect the way that you buy and sell, the way that speak and act, and the way that you see yourself and others, and the way that you view work, and school, and home.

And the church then becomes your feedbox as you gather with a community to hear ancient words, sing and pray in community, and learn to encounter a God together so that you can identify when and how to encounter God anywhere.

That’s Confirmation.

But instead of that, we’ve created a system, a pipeline, to bring kids in, teach them in the style of the school room, parade them in front of the congregation, and effectively hood them with a hug and a handshake.  Some even wear special robes for the occasion.

And then they come on Christmas and Easter to tour the faith that they used to participate in, pointing out the places and memories where this or that happened, like they’re touring their old elementary school recalling Ms. Clodfelter’s therapeutic shoes scuffing up the asbestos tile floors.

The current behavior of the church subconsciously works on our children to give them the message, “This is the culmination!” instead of the real message intended, “This is the beginning!”

In fact, I see this with the baptismal rite in many places, too, especially with adult baptism.  We have these rites of faith that now have become rites of the culmination of faith…

I hear many complain that families “don’t take Confirmation seriously” anymore.

I wonder where they get that idea.  I mean, if it’s just a mechanism for leaving the church (as our rite has set it up to be), why wait until it’s done?  Now is the acceptable time, right?

As a rite of the church, Confirmation needs to go through a serious re-adjustment.  And not just in curriculum.  We need to rethink the whole thing.  I’m considering ways for this to happen, but in the meantime we must at least admit that at some level we’re graduating our children out of church, all the while blaming them for being uninterested in the church.

And I’m a reluctant Christian at times because, well, if this is the message that we’re sending with our actions, if not with our words, well…what does that really say about the faith that we’re trying to pass on?

(Let me begin by saying: I’ve paimagesrticipated in many beautiful and full Christian weddings that have been rich in depth and meaning.  The following is in no way a commentary on weddings that I preside over, but rather a general reflection over the state of Christian weddings today)

I had the pleasure of co-presiding at a Hindu wedding this last week.

She’s Hindu.  He’s Christian.

Love, it seems, doesn’t know religious affiliation…though many religions think they have exclusive knowledge of what love is.

The Christian ceremony of marriage is beautiful and rich in meaning, in flow, in design.

But in function, well, more often than not these days a couple wants a short service (at which they’ll wear thousands of dollars worth of material to show off for 20 minutes and in pictures they’ll rarely look at again) with a hefty price-tag.  “Make it simple,” is the common line.

A ceremony can be simple and still take a while…

And think about it.  Think about what the abbreviated service says. Families process in separately.  The Father of the bride exchanges her for a handshake with the groom.  There are readings, a short reflection, vows, the giving of rings, candle lighting (or some other symbol of unity), and then a kiss and applause.

It says that love is simple.  Lord knows that’s not true.

Of course a marriage ceremony is, in Western culture, largely utilitarian.  None of the above is necessary except for the presence of an official who witnesses two people make vows to one another.

But that utilitarianism, which is largely a product of law and right order, has so greatly influenced a religious understanding of marriage, which is in itself a huge symbol of Divine love for humanity, that we have religious weddings occurring with little depth of meaning past “I wonder how much she spent on that dress.”

What are we saying about love here?  That love is individual.  That it should be acted upon quickly.  That its extravagance is seen primarily in material expenditures.  And, assuming there is a reception, that it should be seen almost exclusively as party.

If that is what we’re trying to say about love, then there is certainly no problem with a short ceremony and long party.  In that case, a couple really should go to the courthouse to get married.

But that is not what the Christian faith says about love, and not what the Christian marriage ceremony says about love at its fullest.

I didn’t really have reason to reflect on it, though, until I participated in a Hindu wedding.

For this Christian-Hindu ceremony, we intertwined the different necessary expressions of the two traditions into one.  This was no easy feat.  The Hindu wedding ceremony is long and involved, spanning many days.  It is rich in meaning and symbol.  It involves the whole family on both sides of the proverbial aisle.  It involves prayers, offerings, and multiple processions.

For the wedding ceremony itself, the floor surrounding the couple was covered with baskets of fruit, symbolizing the bounty of the Earth, a habitation we all share.  The altar had statues, but also grain and coins, symbols of a world economy that the couple would now enter into and participate in as one.

The parents of the bride welcomed the groom into the family.  The father entrusted his bride to the groom by noting that she is “as precious as gold,” and that he was now entrusted with the care of their daughter who is precious to them.

They walked together around the altar, step-by-step, plotting the journey of life they were now to take together.  They were tied together by a knot in their ceremonial scarves.  The whole ceremony was done in tandem.  They exchanged necklaces, exposing their necks to one another, a vulnerable thing to do.

It was all deeply moving, and in light of many secular-Christian ceremonies, full of such rich meaning that you saw love for what it is: celebratory but serious, a family affair, a journey together through the various economies the world puts on us, primal and earthy, yet transcendent and heavenly.

The extravagance was in the clothes; yes.  But also in the time spent on the ceremony.  Also in the number of family who participated. Also in the rich use of language and chant.

The Christian ceremony, when done fully, has all of these elements…or should.

And if the elements are absent, I don’t really blame a couple.  The church hasn’t done a very good job at critiquing culture when it comes to weddings other than railing against cost (which it rightly should).  But have we spoken against form and function in the prevailing culture?  Have we spoken for order and symbol, primarily how marriage is a symbol of God’s love for humanity?

A good challenge for those of us in the church is to find ways to include the whole family in the service outside of the obligatory ushering role for a brother and the two mothers lighting tapers for a unity candle (which, by the way, is not an ancient part of the ceremony). We have bridesmaids and groomsmen stand at the front flanking a couple in honorary (and stationary) positions when we could include them as intricate parts of the ceremony, driving home the point that, as persons in this wedding party they are entrusted with helping this couple in their marriage and keeping their vows.

The Eucharist could regain an important place in the ceremony as the couple’s first act is to host a party for everyone, celebrating the great feast that God shares with humanity.  Communion is not common practice, though, at most weddings.

Generous use of prayers and music (and especially music everyone sings), a couple’s procession around the altar, an offering of treasure and flowers given away to charity (as love is charitable), families standing together at the front or doing a remembrance of baptism at the font with the whole family: these are all options for the Christian wedding and speak more fully to Love as a gift to the community, to the family,  and to the world that we all inhabit.  Marriage is a calling like the priesthood.  It is not for every individual, but it is for the benefit of the whole community.

Have a number of readings.  Use ancient vows full of meaning, but perhaps include statements of love from the couple to one another, or letters written from the attendants offering their hopes and wishes for the love they see in the couple.  Have clear, distinct rings.  The ring is a symbol in and of itself: an unending circle of love.  Today, though, we don’t look at the circle, just the rock that sits atop it.

Forgo the aisle runner, buy lilies and offer them to God or to the guests as a sacrifice of beauty, for love is a sacrifice of beauty that each person gives to the other.

I don’t know.

All I know is that we’ve created a culture of utility when it comes to Christian marriage ceremonies.

We shouldn’t speak shallowly of love.  Love is rich.  An extravagant dance and dinner is necessary; love is a party.  But love is also a solemn vow, a serious symbol for a world bereft of symbols that speak deeply.  The Christian church can do better, and we should be imaginative in doing so.  We can learn from other cultures.

It can be more.  Love as a symbol of Divine love deserves more for those who profess faith in God.

I loved my wedding. We had communal singing, Eucharist, and even an offering taken up for charity. But if I could go back in time, I’d use my family more, my attendants more, and I’d, as we like to say in liturgical circles, make the symbols big.  Really big.

I’m often a reluctant Christian because we’ve made the symbols small.

But we’ve sure enough made the price-tag big…

I wasn’t going to post about the recenscreen shot 2014-06-10 at 7.30.47 amt school shootings that we’ve endured as a nation these past few weeks, but here I am.

I wasn’t going to post about them because I just don’t think I can anymore.

When I look down at my son, when I drop him off at school, I don’t think of him as in danger, or as a target.

But I guess we’re starting to these days, right?  I mean we’re talking about more armed guards in schools, we’re talking about lock-down procedures and evacuation routes not just for fire, but also for “live-fire” scenarios.

And I guess now we’re talking about bulletproof blankets to cover my baby should someone come shooting up his school.

In Isaiah 11:6-9 we find a vision for a new Earth, and it doesn’t look like like my son huddled under a bulletproof blanket.

And it doesn’t look like my son cowering behind an armed guard with a gun, a teacher with a gun, or even he himself holding a gun.

In that day, “The wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child shall lead them.”  In verse 8 it gets even better, “the infant will play near the cobra’s den, and a young child will put it’s hand in the viper’s nest.”

The problem with that day is that we don’t think it’s today.  The problem with that day is that we think the prophet is talking about animals.  And, I guess, in a way he is because he’s talking about the created order, the whole created order, being turned on it’s head.

But primarily, though, the prophet is talking about people.  Humans.  You and me.

And the prophet is talking about creation not living in fear, even in natural fear.  It would be natural for the goat to fear the leopard, the child the viper.  But in the world that has “knowledge of God,” even that kind of fear isn’t needed.

Because God is doing a new thing.

See, here’s the problem I have with armed guards, with armed teachers, with armed citizens, and with something as ridiculous as bulletproof blankets: it buys into the fear.

If the day of the Lord is to eradicate fear, then why do we belabor under the wrong assumption that we must continue to purchase it?  This youth at Reynolds High School was obviously hurting and sick.  I do not believe he was a monster.  You don’t have to be a monster to do monstrous things.

But his parents were law-abiding citizens with a closet full of guns.  Why?  Recreation?  Collection? Sport?

It doesn’t really matter now, because in the end they were saved for a mass shooting.

And the remedy to that, I think and believe, is not to buy more guns, is not to buy more kevlar, is not to arm more people.

The remedy for that is, I think and believe, to take the prophet seriously and believe that today is the day when the world is filled with the knowledge of the Lord.  And I don’t take that to mean that everyone is Christian.  I don’t take that to mean that everyone thinks the same things.

The “knowledge of the Lord” is not the ability to recognize God, it is the ability to trust as God trusts.

And how does God trust?  In the Jesus story, God trusts the power of life and resurrection enough not to repay hurt with hurt, but to bathe in love and forgiveness.  I mean, what would it look like if we raised our children not with a closet full of semi-automatic guns and hand guns, even if we teach them to respect guns, but rather with a closet full of the belief that semi-automatic guns aren’t necessary in this world.

They aren’t necessary to have a good time, they aren’t necessary to obliterate targets, they aren’t necessary for common citizens.

They just aren’t necessary.

We need to excavate fear, dig it up like Indiana Jones, and reveal it for what it is: an idol we’re being forced to worship these days.

It’s obvious these people need mental help.  But they also don’t need easy access to weapons.  And I don’t think that’s an either/or situation.  It’s a both/and.

But I really expect the carillon cry on this issue to come from the church, to come from Christians.  I really expect it to come from people who look at Jesus and see someone who didn’t repay evil with evil. I really expect it to come from people who hear stories every damn week about the Jesus who healed the sick, even the mentally sick.  We need to provide that care.  And I really expect it from people who every year hear the story of how Jesus told Peter to put his sword away. “The one who lives by the sword, dies by the sword…”

I really expect it to come from those who would wonder what it means to hold a weapon with no other purpose in the world than for the killing of another human being, a being created out of love by the God who creates all things for joy and good. Licensed police officers, military officers, they all consider that question…at least, I hope they do if they take their work seriously.  We, as a society, have called them to that office, and it’s not one to be taken lightly.

Certainly not one to be taken “recreationally.”  We have licensed law enforcement, and give them licenses, for a reason.  Part of that reason is, I think, because they take it seriously enough to honor the responsibility.  I don’t think the average citizen does, and we’ve shown that by having these “open carry” situations throughout the country now…that, in and of itself, is a sign of mental health issues, I think.

And look, with all this talk, I’m not even talking primarily about gun control.  Gun control has not worked well in Chicago.  I’m all for it, but do I think it will save my baby?  No.  This is a complex issue.  But the church doesn’t just need to condemn the shooting, they need to condemn the situations that led up to the shooting: mental health, easy access to semi-automatic weapons…

And we need to condemn the fact that too many of the “faithful” in this world don’t trust that the Earth can be full of the knowledge of the Lord if they would just live into it.

I’m talking about changing the hearts and minds of this world to realize that the day of the Lord is today.

And tomorrow.

And it was yesterday…we just didn’t trust it enough to live into it.

“I’m lonely.”index

I hear it a lot.  I hear it a lot from young adults.

My armchair analysis is that the “I’m lonely” phenomenon with young adults probably has much to do with our ability to keep our childhood friends over great distances with ease.  Social media and emails have replaced the slow-and-tedious pen pal connections of our parents.

Thus our “friends quota” is largely full post college, and for some, post high school.  We go into adulthood thinking we don’t really need anymore friends (and, thus, not reall cultivating the skills to make anymore).

There are exceptions, of course.  But we have young adults coming to the church, and on the one hand they’re looking for spiritual connection with the Divine, especially the Divine seen through the lens of Jesus.

On the other hand they’re looking for friends.

If my armchair analysis were to go deeper (“let’s explore that, shall we?”) I’d also posit that many of the people who express that they are lonely do so not because they don’t have friends, but because they don’t have the deep, satisfying relationships that provide close, personal connection.

Part of this comes with the changing nature of our society.  I think my grandparent’s generation made friendships largely out of necessity.  The difficulties of war-time life, depression-era life, led to the desire to band together.  My grandparents on my father’s side never moved an they had many friends.  On my mother’s side they moved a few times for my grandfather’s work, but though my grandfather was gregarious, had very few close friends, but kept close ties to a lot of family.  Both sides never seemed too distraught about their friendships (though, granted, I never interrogated them about it either, and I won’t get the chance).

My parent’s generation, I think, made and continue to make friends for fun, and made them pretty easily.  It may differ from individual to individual, of course,  but I see this generation making connections that are pretty tenuous and relatively easy to maintain.  Some relationships are deeper than others, but it doesn’t seem to be the great expectation that depth is necessary for friendship. And those friendships that are deep have continued throughout the years becausemy parents treasured them so much they worked hard at keeping them long before the ease of social media and direct communication.

For my generation though, I’m finding an underlying unmet need for deep relationships, and the desire to make them easily. Those two don’t mix, though.  The kind of depth that forced situations, like the college dormitory or the high school track team, put on you only come through rare, intense situations.  After leaving those pressure cooker environments where strong bonds are formed, my generation is not sure how to make those loose, tenuous relationships of their parent’s generation, nor work hard at keeping really deep relationships from afar (it is work, you know).

Or, when they do make the loose friendships, they find them quaint but not enough.

Likewise, they’re not comfortable making friends for necessity’s sake because, well, they’ve been able to keep their friends from childhood!  Sure they live 800 miles away, but they’re still friends!  They “talk” almost every day over Instagram and Snapchat.

Unsurprisingly, these methods of keeping up do not satisfy a heart that needs something more than just an update.

Sidebar: I believe we can see much of the loneliness and PTSD in our veteran population being due to the fact that the close, personal relationships they formed in the service just aren’t found or easily forged in civilian society. Sidebar over.

Funny enough, I actually see this issue being more of a problem for men than for women.  It might be because I tend to work more with men on these issues, but with the changing landscape of male friendship (men are creating more intense bonds as many social stigmas over what it means to be a man who has male friends are evolving), many men don’t know exactly how to navigate the waters of loneliness.

All of this is to say that I’m finding young adults, myself included, making friends much for the same reason many from my generation get married: self-fulfillment. Hence why we want them all to be deep.

Despite the fact that that sounds very insular and narcissistic (and to a degree that can’t be denied), I think we come by it honestly, having been raised in a culture of “You can be anything you want” and “You can plot your own course.”

The trouble is that we’re becoming disillusioned by the fact that we can’t be anything we want, and that while our life trajectory has a good bit of leeway, surely more leeway than the previous two generations, we still hit walls on either side of the road despite the assurance that it’s all open range.

One of those walls is loneliness, something we thought would be abated by virtual connection.

What the fortune tellers say may eventually be true; “virtual reality” may one day just be “reality.”

But we’re not there yet.  And in the meantime I’m finding more and more people needing real rather than virtual.  I think the church can help if it’ll stop wringing it’s hands over shrinking numbers on the one side, and get off it’s hyper-fundamentalist kick on the other side.

Another sidebar about the hyper-fundamentalist kick in some areas of the church: I once heard a study (which I conveniently can’t find) where it was noted that people make more intense bonds over common dislikes rather than common affinities.  I have a working theory that one of the reasons very conservative churches grow quickly is not because everyone there loves Jesus so much and are aligned on that commonality, but because they dislike being wrong.  And the assurance of conservative churches that they have the right answers is a nice gel. We hate to think we’re wrong. Second sidebar over.

For the other side of the church, the supposedly “shrinking” part, take heart. Actually, shrinking numbers can help with this phenomenon, if attended to correctly and prayerfully.  The real connections that my generation longs for, both spiritually and physically, can be better met by a smaller more nimble group of people; a smaller more nimble church.

And I really (no, really) have hope that the church can teach my generation what it means to make and keep friends in the flesh again.  Of course some will wonder, “Well, we want those looking for Jesus, only, to sustain a religious community, right?  Is someone looking for community and not for faith really who the church wants in it’s doors?”

Of course it is.

The intensity of the Divine-human relationship is best embodied in intensely strong human-human relationships.  The one points to the other, which is why I have so much trouble with the “Jesus and me” language of so much of the evangelical world.

Look, we just don’t make friends easily anymore because we expect a lot out of our friendships these days.  Perhaps we need to let go of a bit of that as a generation.  But perhaps we don’t have to let go of all of it, and perhaps the church can be the incubator to foster such relationships with the honest purpose of helping people be more humanly whole again.

Because whenever I hear the phrase “I’m lonely,” I’m actually hearing “I’m not whole.”

And that is a spiritual problem.

 

This shooting in California has my heart breaking.index

Still.

The fall out has sparked some intense conversation, and it’s just heartbreaking to see some of the comments coming from the dusty corners of society where misogyny still lives and breathes.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think misogyny lives everywhere in our society.  But it has a hard time breathing in some places…and I thank God for that.

Unfortunately, one place it doesn’t have a hard time breathing is in the church.

People are pointing to misogynist video games, misogynist movies, and all other cultural points as contributing to this young man’s delusion that just because he has a sexual desire for women they should appease it willingly (or, even, unwillingly).

But, for my part, I’m going to let Hollywood alone.  I’m going to let video games alone, too.  They have their blame.  But, see: I’ve come to expect that from them.  Hollywood and the video game industry and marketing and the like have all used sex for gain, to force submission, to put sex on a pedestal.

But me?  I’m going to point to the church.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to ordain women, despite the fact that, while Paul (inconsistently) makes misogynist comments, Jesus (consistently) treated women as part of his inner circle and, indeed, entrusted them first with the news of the resurrection, the “gospel,” the “good news.”

Explain that rationale for me, please?  The men were all too chicken in their hiding places, and when the women told them about the resurrection, they didn’t trust their testimony (after all, in a court of law, women couldn’t be trusted, so why would God entrust this good news to them?).  And we look at this and wink and laugh as if it’s some sort of Laurel and Hardy episode, where the one who was supposed to “get it” doesn’t.

But I don’t think that’s it at all.  I think the women were supposed to get it.  Intentionally. Purposefully.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to let women vote, as if somehow their opinions are less important than the opinions of human beings with a Y chromosome.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to acknowledge the presence of feminine examples for God in the scripture, yet who claim to take the Bible literally.  If God is male, then God is also a hen (at least, according to Isaiah). And, for that matter, a rock.

What?  Those are metaphors?  Personifications? Which one(s)? All?  Or only the ones without male anatomy?

I’m going to point to churches who allow women preachers, but who won’t allow women preachers to lead churches by themselves.  Or who allow women preachers, but won’t allow them to preach primarily to men.  Or who allow them to preach, but as long as they tell their fellow sisters to “submit” to their male partners.

By the way, don’t ask me to preach at your wedding on any “submission” text.  Not going to happen…

But just before you mainline Protestants think you’re off the hook; no way.  I’m pointing at you, too (and, therefore, to myself).  We think that just because we ordain women that we’re free of blame?  Because I know more female pastors across all the mainline Protestant denominations without churches then I do male pastors without churches.  I know of situations where churches have rejected every female candidate received in the hopes that they would receive a male candidate eventually.  I know of churches who still feel as if their pastor is inferior or that they “weren’t good enough” for a male pastor, just because their pastor is a female.

The church should be the place where misogyny comes to die, not where it comes to life.

And, this is the thing: while I don’t hold Hollywood or the video game industry or politics or any of that fluff to a very high standard when it comes to gender stereotypes and discrimination, I do hold the church to a high standard.

I wish all the former could be held to a higher standard.  I expect the latter to be.   It’s sad, but not surprising.

And while this individual who shot up these innocent people may not have been religious (I haven’t heard either way), it doesn’t really matter.  If religion isn’t able to critique culture, to model for the wider culture a way of living that embraces the life of Jesus rather than the hate of any “ism,” we’re useless.  We can say that it’s sad that this man was violent, but on Sunday mornings many churches preach a violent, male god.  We can say that this man shouldn’t have thought of women that way, but until we acknowledge that we at least had a hand in that education, we’re speaking out of both sides of our mouths.

If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves; the truth is not in us.

It may be interesting to think about how Mario always saving the Princess has contributed to this misogyny that resulted in such violence.  But that narrative is just part of a much larger narrative of men saving the day, tracing it’s way back through the centuries.

The church has the ability, the call, to break off from that narrative and live a different one.

If only it had a good example to follow…