October 17, 2017

My Favorite Comment (May 2011)

By Chaplain Mike

Every once in awhile, I receive a comment from a member of our Internet Monk community that I can’t get out of my mind. It strikes home with me as so true and so well put, that it becomes a part of me. I tell others about it. I go back and read it over and over again. I may even piggy-back on it and write a follow-up post.

Sometimes such comments are spectacular examples of Biblical insight, logical reasoning, imaginative writing. At others times, they are simple expressions of humanity and truth. My favorite comment from recent days falls into the second category.

Perhaps I love this comment because it rings true personally for me and speaks to the place I find myself in my life and faith journey. I can’t deny that. But I also think these words express something genuine that today’s Christian communities need to hear. If you’ve been following IM, you will know that I think there is entirely too much hype in contemporary evangelicalism. There is constant sense of trying to get ourselves revved up and “radical.” At this point in my life, frankly, I’m tired of religious enthusiasm and the noise that attends it. Evangelicalism in particular has this large segment that has been captured by the ethos of youth culture, marketing culture, and leaders who are more promoters than servants.

That’s why I love Ken’s comment. His words give me space to breathe, a calm place where I can think and be quiet. Here is what he said:

I have wondered for awhile if we expect too much.

A few years after college some good friends of ours decided to leave evangelicalism to go back to the mainline church. I remember a discussion I had with him. “How can you go to this dry bones place where you won’t hear good teaching and sermons?” was my complaint.

He gently tried to explain to me that he was going to worship God. He never managed to get into my head that church was not about the pastor. He did not have grandiose expectations of his priest. I go to worship.

It was not to fix him, or hear the latest and greatest, or to become a super christian.

I have since started to attend a more mainline church and I understand. It is not about my priest, or that we are the best church in town, on God’s cutting edge. Just a Christian community that gathers.

Thank you, Ken, for this quiet reminder. I, for one, don’t need a place on the “cutting edge.” I need a sanctuary, a community, a place where I can meet God, love my neighbors, learn to do what is right, practice kindness, and walk humbly with my God.

I know what some will say. But how will we ever reach the world with that attitude? Doesn’t that encourage complacence and quietism?

And I respond. I know of no plant that is better off without strong, deep roots, roots that go down into fertile, quiet places where they receive constant nourishment and where they grow strong and stable. And I don’t know of any plants that have such roots that are not bearing fruit in due season and accomplishing more good through quiet, unassuming service in their given vocations than those who talk all the time about changing the world and run around in a spirit of frenetic activism.

I’m with Ken on this one. Thanks, Ken.

Comments

  1. Yes, I’m with you too on that.

  2. I am with too. About year ago I decided to lower my expectations for church. Now, I only demand that Eucharist and Baptism be observed and that they subscribe to the Nicene Creed. I don’t care if the music isn’t too good, or the pastor isn’t a good speaker. I don’t care if they have a children’s program, a youth program, a coffee house, or any other program. I also don’t care if the church is Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. I don’t care if a church in San Fransisco affiliated with the denomination wants to ordain a homosexual. I am tired and have a complicated life, and I don’t have time or energy or money to care about the rest.

    • With you there, too. Although I never expected it, when I began afresh in my “mainline” congregation, I was as much surprised to experience authenticity in worship, as I likewise realized how much artificiality I had left behind.

  3. amen…

  4. “But how will we ever reach the world with that attitude? Doesn’t that encourage complacence and quietism?”

    Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but my first reaction was of a recent youtbube video I found on another blog I read.

    Let me first say that I am a young 42 year old who loves music and loves to dance. In my early years as the pastor’s daughter sitting in the pew, I was bored to tears! I wanted to be entertained! And felt the pull of the world and ended up there with all of it’s entertainment that ended with me at the bottom of the pit with all its muck and mire. A whole nutha’ story!

    When I watched the video, I knew what they were attempting and I wanted to scream out, “NO! DON’T DO IT THAT WAY!! BE DIFFERENT! PLEASE BE DIFFERENT!”

    Through all the seasons of my life and the last leg of this most amazing journey with Jesus, I can say that I will be entertained by the music I listen to in my home and in my car. I will be entertained by the movies or t.v. shows that I choose to watch. But please, please, please do not attempt to entertain me in church with a second rate version of the world’s entertainment with God’s name attached to it. It’s sickening. Just give me Jesus!

    I know you have requested no links be added here, so I will tell those of you who are interested to go to youtube and search, “the renewed mind is the key”, the first video that comes up is the one. You have been warned! Cheese is the word! I might have snickered, or literally laughed out loud, its even possible I could have walked out.

    “I, for one, don’t need a place on the “cutting edge.” I need a sanctuary, a community, a place where I can meet God, love my neighbors, learn to do what is right, practice kindness, and walk humbly with my God”

    Me too Chaplain Mike! Me too!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Went to the link.
      Watched a minute or two.
      Not bad as a low-end Vegas lounge act, but as part of a church service?

      Note the YouTube poster’s comment:
      “I don’t need any further explanation as to why Christianity sucks…”

  5. Wonderful thoughts. My mom is a part of a church whose denomination changes the pastor frequently…they’ve had good ones, and they’ve had bad ones over the years. The music program isn’t great, but it’s good. The youth program is the same. There’s a growing group of twenty-somethings doing their best to blend in and mesh with a predominantly older congregation.

    I’m scheduled to fill the pulpit on a Sunday there soon. I told my wife when they asked me to come that the great thing about this church isn’t that they always have an exciting pastor or a wide variety of programs… it’s that they have real community. Many churches die or fall apart once the great CEO/pastor moves on to greener pastures. Music programs follow the whims and tastes of music leaders. You can’t beat caring community. It lasts and endures.

  6. David Cornwell says:

    Amen. I got very sick of church growth hype and noise. And the emptiness of “seeker services.” And trying almost everything to increase numbers. I want the Church of my old age to be more like the Church of my childhood and youth.

  7. Radagast says:

    Amen to this.

    As a Catholic we tend not to shop around for the best speaker – we take what is given to us – cultural thing perhaps (and one of the handful of reasons some leave the Church). And for those of you who have attended a Catholic Mass you know of the uniformity, the rigidness of the celebration, the predictability. And yet I enjoy it because – as Ken said, I go to worship.

    Now if I happen to be blessed with a good homily too – that is an add-on bonus. And when I hear a good homily – I am more apt to appreciate it because my expectation is not that I should get a great homily everytime – meaning it is not central to me (just think of all the pressure that takes off the pastor’s shoulders – having to always perform).

    I have a great repect for public speaking and those who do it well. I have even been to some evangelical gatherings and services and appreciated some great preaching. But in the end, as Rebekah intimates, I am not looking to be entertained. So Ken – your blurb resonates.

  8. “I understand. It is not about my priest, or that we are the best church in town, on God’s cutting edge. Just a Christian community that gathers.”

    Yes – it warms my heart! I would change the “Just” though because it’s not “just” it “IS” and that is so very very important (regardless of mainline or cutting edge).

  9. “Be still and know that I am God” is harder and harder to carry out these days. But the part that I find most difficult to deal with is the assumption that active = holy. If you aren’t involved in every activity that goes on in the church, somehow you are less holy than everyone else, and that makes me want to scream.

    As for reaching others by doing (seemingly) less: a quiet, peaceful spirit (which can be cultivated only by learning to sit still & be quiet) is exactly the kind of witness the world needs right now. To quote Cardinal Suhard, “Being a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means living in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” A witness is something we have to BE, not DO.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      If you aren’t involved in every activity that goes on in the church, somehow you are less holy than everyone else, and that makes me want to scream.

      It’s just another form of One-Upmanship, that’s all.

      Until, like so much of the business and political world, Everyone Runs Around in Circles Screaming 24/7 but Nothing Ever Gets Accomplished.

      What happened to “Life, and have it more abundantly”? What happened to just Living? Just BEing?

      • Just BEing makes you look lazy. Unacceptable in American culture and especially in American Christianity, where we’re supposed to “work til Jesus comes.”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          As in “The Boss is coming — Everyone Look Busy!”?

          Is this the Kingdom of God or Office Space crossed with Dilbert?

          • Ha, ha! I actually have a pin with the picture of Jesus knocking at the door & the caption says, “Look busy, Jesus is coming”! I get a lot of strange looks from people when I wear it.

            I was thinking last night about how insidious this whole issue is, even in small churches like ours that don’t have a lot of bells and whistles. We have traded worship for a program, and unless God intervenes in a big way, I don’t see a lot of hope for major change anytime soon. Bottom line, busyness is the new holiness. Everyone agrees they shouldn’t be a Martha, but somehow they fall into the trap anyway. O, the irony.

  10. Reading most of the comments here, it looks like there is a polarity going on. It seems like there is an either/or formulation. Either holy means being active or being quite. We can rightly be critical when everything is hype but not also when everything is quite? God speaks through silence as well as the spoken. I think I can appreciate how most of the posters are coming from Evangelicalism and so perhaps most of all they have known is hype. I come for the opposite pole-Roman Catholicism. I went from there into Evangelicalism, the the charismatic world and into a convergence of them to where I am now. I’ve known that profound kind of silence where God whispers into your soul. I have sense Him in times of Eucharistic adoration as well and while reading HIs word. And yet I have sensed God and His voice amist singing and even dancing. Both forms are biblical. That being the case, it seems the better question is how both are meant to be put together. I recognize many here are dealing with an element of jadednes. But lets not stay there. Ask God for grace to work through. I realize that for some that is what this site is about.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      I was thinking about some of that, too. I’ve been all over the denominational spectrum, though most of my time was in some form of Evangelicalism or another. When I read that, I’m reminded of something I heard an Anglican priest say to a potential new church plant: “I’m not interested in just being a chaplain” meaning that he didn’t want to be the guy whose sole role is to minister to those who are already Christians and already in his parish, but that he wanted to lead a community that makes a difference and is at least somewhat missional. I find myself uneasy with his sentiment while somewhat agreeing with it.

      On the one hand, as I prepare for ordained ministry, I have come to recognize that the main role of a parish priest is to be a minister of the Word and of the Sacrament. First and foremost, his responsibility is to care fore the souls of his flock. On the other hand, when Jesus gave the Apostles the Holy Spirit at the end of St. John’s Gospel, he says “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” I.e. there’s an inherent missional focus to being an ordained minister.

      I honestly don’t have a clear understanding how to not create a false dichotomy of those callings.

      • Tell me more about what you mean about creating a false dichotomy between being a parish priest and missional.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          For myself, I don’t really know, to be honest. This isn’t something I’ve really worked out in my own mind. Perhaps one of the problems is the seemingly ubiquitous assumption that to be truly missional you need to be attractional which leads to the kind of hype we’re trying to avoid. It seems that this priest was reacting against an apathy that he’d too often observed in parishes that led to a total lack of concern for mission and evangelism in favor of maintaining the parish culture. Like I said below, however, that wasn’t the congregational culture/environment I came from. I really, really like the idea of focusing on a “simple” ministration of the Gospel via Word and Sacrament. But I also want to be missional. I’m just not very sure how to do the latter without getting into the hype and glitz.

          • If we live according to the Word, empowered by the Holy Spirit via the sacraments and prayer, spiritual disicplines (including sharing faith), how could we not become missional? I realize we will need to go into depth here, but the outline is there! We must be careful not to confuse hype with passion. One the reasons I think liturgy is valuable is that helps buffer against some of the glitz. It brings within its framework that is a counter culture in that it is a foretaste of what heaven looks like. It is not an exhaustive picture but a picture none the less. I think this “counter culture” does moderate against what we know of as the modern glitz. It is not perfect to be sure, because we are, and can be over done.

      • I’m not denying that there is a missional component to the church community. I’m reacting against the hype.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          See, and I TOTALLY get that. ‘Cuz that’s where I am also. I spent 15 years in a congregation that made style-over-substance an art form (it wasn’t always that way, and they’ve since gotten better). I completely share your reaction against the hype. And I think you made a profound point in previous posts where you’ve observed that some congregations might be more accurately called “missions” rather than “churches.” I guess my struggle is what that missional aspect looks like. Of course, that’s not really the point of this thread, so I don’t wanna get us too off topic. Truth be told, I’m somewhat thinking as I type. I dunno.

          • I have concluded that perhaps the best way to be missional is to simple seek to mature in Christ and be faithful to Him. At some level, this will invovle by God’s grace, practicing spiritual disciples, one of which is to simply get to know unchurch people. As we get to know them, we share our faith by what we do and say. I gather that its the drive to get people out of thier Christian circles that to some extent drives what it means to be missional (pun intended).

          • Pardon the grammar errors, I need to get back to proofing before hitting the submitt button! I think faster than I type!

  11. Where the gospel is preached in it’s purity, and where the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are, and there are people there who believe it…there is the church.

    Nothing more is really necessary. But a lot more is possible.

  12. I was part of a leadership team commissioned to lead a revitalization effort at my small (and dying) church. The plan was biblical, the training and prayer and discernment was intense (over a year before we started “doing anything”). I learned so much and formed some meaningful relationships in the process.

    People got angry, things got ugly (and personal), but we kept asking “How can we join God in the work he is already doing among us, and in our community?” We weren’t looking for innovation, we were looking to put love and grace first, rather than some of the nasty behaviors and attitudes that ruled in our church for so long. Long story short, we won that battle, but lost the war. Our “new vision” never took off – for lots of reasons. Our priest left, our vision for our little church pretty much ignored. I still wonder if we expected too much.

    But one thing that has…stung the most are that some of my friends and fellow leaders who left for greener (i.e. larger and more lively) pastures have repeatedly questioned why I stayed, not-so-subtly suggesting a certain level of co-dependence on my part.

    Your response to Ken’s comment says beautifully what I’ve been trying to say for a long time…I need a sanctuary, a community, a place where I can meet God, love my neighbors, learn to do what is right, practice kindness, and walk humbly with my God. I still have those things where I’m at, and that’s all we need.

    Now, we still have the practical matter of “affording” to keep the church open, but I see it as a different opportunity to re-envision what Christian community should look like for us. We no longer leave “ministry” up to the priest.

    • CaseyR — I hope you find the way to bring life back to your church. We were in the same boat a few years ago; our former pastor basically told us when he left that we had nothing to offer an incoming pastor in the way of salary or benefits, implying we should beg him to stay. Three years later, we’re bulging at the seams and the Spirit is alive & well. May your church find the same healing — keep it real.

    • “We no longer leave ‘ministry’ up to the priest.” You wouldn’t happen to know how to bottle that understanding, would you?
      Your words resonate with me. The only danger I see in what you said was (reading and weighing it critically) “what Christian community should look like for us.” How about “for those in need of it”? So many seem to be yearning for what Christian community can offer, but can’t find it. BUT. But doesn’t that concern (on our part) lend itself to supporting the “marketing” of Christianity as “meeting your need”?
      So isn’t the “answer” perhaps in something along the lines of backing up to the idea of “keeping the church open”? I say this in an entirely friendly, positive, food-for-thought way: Keeping “what” church open? The building, or Christ’s Body? Stick with the truth in your last sentence, and somehow, in some way, in God’s way, you’ll be fine.

  13. I understand the spirit of this post, and I understand the desire for a place of quiet reflection. I do think, however, that we need to make sure we aren’t shutting down the avenue for true celebration, or even enthusiasm, in corporate worship. I think sometimes, when we are going through a particular season in our lives, there’s a tendency to try and force others to be there with us. It can be just as irritating to someone who simply has to praise the Lord exuberantly to be made to be quiet as it can be for someone goading someone to be loud (actually worship leaders trying to hype people up is one of my pet peeves). I guess what I’m saying is that there can be manipulation on all sides in churches. It’s hard to find a church that actually is willing set it aside.

  14. Eugene Peterson spoke to this very issue in an interview last Sunday on PBS’ Religion and Ethics Weekly program. Since you may not allow link postings in these letters, it is easy to go to the program website to locate the interview segment.

    Tom

  15. On my best days I go to Mass and worship for an hour (or an hour and fifteen depending on who is saying the Mass). I don’t hear the yapping kid or the people who are talking. I don’t tear apart the deacon’s seemingly useless homily and get pissed that he didn’t invest more in it. I don’t even get upset because they have added stuff and run into football time with the announcements. Those are my best days when I use the communal time, oddly enough, for a singular worship of Jesus. On the other days I’m wishing I had recorded the game and wondering, will she take any action, ever, to quiet that child. I hope for many more best days.

  16. “He gently tried to explain to me that he was going to worship God.”
    that simple statement floors me.

  17. Charles Fines says:

    You can tell a lot about a church even when it’s empty by where the podium or speaking area is placed, whether at the center or off to the side. You can usually tell as much or more just driving by and noting whether or not the pastor’s name is on the church sign.