Thursday, January 26, 2012

Oh, Church!

The latest religious trend seems to go like this.

Step 1 - Have a negative experience or experiences with a person or a group of people who happen to be Christian.

Step 2 - Universalize that experience.

Step 3 - Create a definition of “church” that depends only on that universalized negative experience.

Step 4 - Mercilessly attack the definition of church that you just created.

Step 5 - Construct a new (and groovier) definition of church that you are okay with.

Step 6 - Never, ever call that new definition “church” or anything sounding even remotely religious.

Step 7 - Post it online.

Hypocrisy, greed, selfishness, prejudice, hatefulness, anti-intellectualism, and all the rest of the things that comprise “step 1” in this process are bad things, and rightly to be criticized. I have done my fair share of leveling criticism against these things, inside the church as well as out. Judeo-Christian history is replete with prophetic voices who call people of faith to repent and reform.

But to “hate the church” as a result? Sorry, but we wouldn’t even know who Jesus is except for the church. There is no organization in the world that has done as much good in as many places as the church. It is through the church that God’s love has been offered, grace extended, justice sought, forgiveness invited, and so on and so on … for generation upon generation, hundreds and hundreds of years before our time.

There are people within the church who are hypocrites. Indeed. There are people within the church who are suspicious of science. Yep. And selfish ones and homophobic ones and greedy ones and hateful ones and all the rest.

And you know what? There always have been. History is also replete with people such as these. And more than likely, there always will be. Our unwritten future history will be, alas, similarly imperfect.

Call for reform. Point out the hypocrisy. Confront the hatred. By all means speak up in the presence of injustice, oppression, and hatred. Name it, point to it, and do what you can to make sure it never happens again.

The church has a word for those things: “sin.”

The church also has a message to deliver in response to those things: “grace.”

As it turns out, the church also has a command to guide what happens next: “Go and sin no more.”

And the guy who said that originally, the one whose body in the world today is called the “church,” that guy Jesus, God incarnate, you know the one? Well I happen to love that guy a whole lot. And I happen to love the church, too - fallible, messy, ugly, beautiful, complicated, perfect, flawed, chaotic, diverse, one, holy, universal, apostolic - the church.

I do not begrudge anyone a new expression of church. Actually, I love new expressions of church! Always reforming, always contextualized, always adapting, always creating; the church has been expressing herself in new and wonderful ways for a couple thousand years now and that’s great. So that’s not my point.

My point is this: Please don’t condemn such a broad and diverse group because you have had bad experiences with some people within that group. Do your thing. Love Jesus in the way that makes sense to you. Create your church, by all means. But don’t insult the rest of us by saying that what you are doing isn’t church. Of course it is. It’s just your expression of it.

I love Jesus. I love the church. And I hope that you do, too.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Mystery of Death

I have prayed the prayer
literally hundreds of times
and I will pray it hundreds more.

“Give to us now your grace, that as
we shrink before the mystery of death,
we may see the light of eternity.”

We shrink.
Before the mystery.
Of death.

We shrink. God grows.

We are finite.
God is eternal.

Is it only as we shrink
that we gain the perspective
which allows us to see
the flicker of eternal light?

We shrink. The mystery.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thoughts on the Payday Loan Ballot Initiative

I just sent the following letter to the Springfield News-Leader:

"I am hopeful that Missourians will learn as much as possible about the "payday loan issue" currently in discussion in many venues around our state. There are valid points to consider on all sides of the issue, and it is important that we give full consideration to the question.

"I believe that I have heard and fully understand the opposition’s point of view, and I remain convinced that 400% interest rates are too high. Simply put, there is no compelling case to be made that charging a struggling family 400% interest (and even higher at times) should be legal. It is time for Missouri to cap those rates.

"Businesses that practice ethical lending need not fear the proposed cap. It does nothing to limit competition among lenders. In fact, it makes the competitive playing field level in that Missouri would no longer be inundated with predatory lenders, and ethical lending companies would therefore have an equal opportunity to do business.

"Most convincing for me is the damage done to families caught up in the cycle of debt, exacerbated by the practices of lending companies that charge triple digit interest rates. The hopelessness in the eyes of parents who literally fear for the health of their children can be quite compelling.

"Please learn as much as possible about this issue, and make an informed choice. Not to decide is a decision in favor of the status quo. And I truly believe the status quo is unjust and must be changed."

I hope that you might visit these sites:

Missourians for Responsible Lending website and Facebook page.

The ballot initiaive summary is here and the full text is here.