Sunday, February 03, 2008

Growing Up?

I don't know what is happening to me... I was talking to a friend the other day, and he was giving me the top five reasons that the music pastor at his church in Alabama should be fired because he isn't relevant, and how much money his church spent on their building and how ridiculous it is that the kids have somewhere to play, and how old fashioned preaching is and how much money America has and how its been a crappy influence on the church and blah blah... As this friend went on and on, something occurred to me. Something that oddly, living in New York City has shown me: I no longer want to gripe about the church. I no longer want to gripe about America.

I know, I know what some of you are thinking, whilst spewing your double espresso all over your Relevant Magazine. "Well shoot, Seth. How can you call yourself a thirty-something white, hip, American Protestant?" Well, I can't. Never could really. I bought some square glasses a few years back and two days later I lost them. And there is something about those square glasses... they tend to change perfectly good fellas and creative guys into whiny schmucks. And with every single one, somewhere along the way, the church burned them. Eventually they left it, all the while yearning for the potluck dinner of their youth.

I wonder someday if they'll end up like Citizen Kane, alone and isolated by bodyguards, in their state-of-the-art, nationally televised sanctuaries. A stainless steel earth swirls above their still body as they lie on the floor... Finally, they gasp their last breath, open their hand and out rolls their glass-snow-shaky-thingy to the ground. It smashes on the textured concrete and reveals a little white church. As the water drains across the floor, instead of "rosebud," they whisper "pot luuuuuck."

Seems like everyone is putting on cool, square glasses, or beefing up their biceps, and screaming for significance by slicing at the church that raised them, with all the lusty zeal of a teenage party-animal. Then they write a book about it and get rich off it. Then they write books about why their competitors are wrong, calling them heretics and get richer. And then the repeat the procedure, ad nauseam, and get triple rich. Then, ten years later, they write a book about how they were wrong for getting so rich, and get rich again.

I read those books and think, "Yeah, I guess I can see how we are crappy... it just doesn't seem all that bad to me. (Put down the book, rub my belly and yawn) What time is the potluck dinner honey? I'm starving."

Truth is, last 4 churches I've been to, even though they've all had pretty nice buildings, they all seem to really care about things that Jesus cared about: Spreading the Good News and helping the helpless, which would be, according to the bible, everyone. Are they perfect? No. Are they working on it? Yes. Sound a little like me? Double yes.

Then there is America. Last time I checked the news, I saw about 5 countries where people were being killed daily by either a crazy, tyrannical regime or some other sort of natural disaster- famine, starvation...

And as I shake my head and watch the news footage, I'm finally not afraid to admit that I am thankful. I am thankful that I wasn't born in that town in Africa with the lone chicken running down the middle of the dirt road/main street. No, for as long as I can, I'll be just fine to shop at the supermarket for my pre-plucked, de-boned chicken thank you very much, even if my hormoned-bird gives me gradual man-boobs and theirs won't. Because who knows how long that will last?

Let's not mistake "civilization" with "prosperity." Nothing wrong with a supermarket or a paved road, or nice carpet in church for that matter folks. And no, being thankful isn't the same thing as being selfish. It takes true humility to be thankful. And let me tell you, I am one humble dude. Middle name: Humility. I make humility look good baby. I put the hum in humility. (For typing this last paragraph, you may expect the Good Lord to send me to Africa, very soon.)

Seriously, It's what I do with what I've been blessed with that matters. If I'm truly thankful, I'll share what I have.

And last time I checked, if there is any country that is doing something about it, the U.S. is one of them. Are they doing it perfectly? No. Are we working on it? Yes. Sounds like me again.

So I guess what I am trying to say is this: I have nothing to gripe about. I live, eat, and worship in a country that facilitates and encourages, in bounty, all of the aforementioned verbs. Good lord. I just turned into my mother. Seriously. My left arm is a woman's arm that resembles my mother's.

From now on, for every negative thing I say about capitalistic Christianity, I should say something about how it is doing some, no, a lot of good.

This is not a prideful pat on the back. I'm just laying down my rectangle glasses. I'm shelving my hair gel and I'm turning off those Mac Christian adds with the "cool, real Christian and the dorky Christian guy." Cause truth is, I'm dorky. Yes, I like church. For all its funny, quirky, misguided, goofiness. Cause that's me too, and that's where I'm loved. The church has loved me in my worst and best moments. They've loved me, regardless of my idiotic mistakes, and not simply for what I can do to jazz-up the service. And certainly not for how much cash I've put in the bucket.

So when do I get my bar mitzvah?


Detuned said...

Don't be a fool. Put you're square glasses back on, then you would be able to see that the potluck dinner is just another tool of the capitalists, trying to trick you into giving up your TOTALLY unique and COMPLETELY new religious views.


Jeff McQ said...

I'm a new reader, and enjoy your blog. I'm not a square glasses guy, but I am in the process of de-constructing my religious mindsets because I grew up in church. I think many of us just want something more real than what we've been seen modeled around us. But the movement that trashes the church (why does EVERYTHING have to be a movement??) admittedly takes it too far sometimes. Guess that's our humanness showing.

Anyhow, thanks for bringing some balanced and timely thoughts into your blog.

Vitamin Z said...

I feel you on this one. Good thoughts.

Super Churchlady said...

YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!! After reading that - I'm ready to go to the Fellowship Hall for an ice cream social (that's homemade ice cream, btw.)

portorikan said...

I'm with you. I wrote something similar to this recently as well here ( ) and I know I used to do a lot of complaining, and still do, but I think a lot of time the complaining is just an excuse to get involved as we should. To not be patient and allow ourselves to be agents or change, or even to be challenged by the things we see from those we don't agree with. It's a humbling thing, and we're a prideful people.

euphrony said...

deviled eggs

jello salad

Thinking about where I've been in my spiritual life the last few years, I find myself remembering my younger days. I knew then, and worked, to make my faith my own and not that of my parents. Well, its harder to do, but I've been working to make my faith my own and not that of my church - or anyone else, for that matter. That's the best I can do, to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.

There is a multitude of things about any church that probably should change. So, work to change them; but don't walk away from the people. That's my thoughts, anyway.

Seth Ward said...

Good thoughts, friends.

I think for me, I'm a little tired of trying to be special. I've got problems. We all do. So for me, it seems clear that I've got two options.

1. I start over from scratch, stop going to church. Start meeting with friends. And then eventually, after about 5 years, I'm back doing something similar to church I left. I can deny that till I'm blue in the face, but that's the way it is. Eventually, it will become so similar, I call it church. And heck, all that might be healthy. But in the end, did it hurt my local church? Did I walk away from people that loved me out of a critical heart?

2. OR, I dig in wherever I am and make a difference, through service and love.

Because it's really about needing to love and be loved by other Christians in the end. If the simplest thing is to meet with those folks down at the building with the white steeple, then by golly, that's where I need to be. If God is calling you to preach or into evangelism... that's a different story. ("Calling" is a weird thing. I'd say if you've got this passion to do something else, something new. A "vision" of another "thing," then maybe you could call that a calling.) By all means, go do your thing. Just don't hack away at the church that fed you and brought you up when you leave. This is really what I'm tired of. Even if they did a sucky job. Because in the end, you are hacking away at Jesus, one way or another. And you should never forget that you are just as worthless inside without the Lord as they are.

I think something happens to a man in his thirties. He experiences a spiritual midlife crisis. And I think if he can make it through that without lambasting every church he's ever been to or that he is presently attending, he'll live a much happier life. Because what he really misses is that freedom he felt at the ice cream social or potluck dinner as a boy. It was all about joy then. And he's hacked because he let the church be all about something else.

I'll stop here. Any other thoughts?

(btw, I'm working this out just like the rest of you, so this helps me to hear what you've got to say.)

mama mae perry said...

I guess I'm considered the older generation even though I have some of the same feelings about the church as the younger generation - the sermon seems irrelevent, the music is uninspired, the worship is contrived. Why am I here? But, when the worst in life happens to you, it's the church that stands by you and holds you up!
Hi Seth -- Beka came by and helped me set up a blog. I've enjoyed reading yours. We miss you and Amber like crazy. Love, Mama Mae Perry.

Amy said...

I long for the sort of church I grew up in, totally screwed up but close like family.

I guess I'm a small church person at heart and I don't want to hear about how it's not growing. Doesn't mean it's not doing anything. :)

Where exactly that fits into your thoughts, I'm not sure, but that's all. I love me some potlucks and ice cream socials.

majorsteve said...

So,you've put away your hair gel and square glasses? I have one thing to say:

"Grasshopper. It is time for you to leave."

Seth Ward said...

Amy, I agree. And I think we should all be small church people at heart.

I think you summed up my feelings nicely.

Majorsteve, I suppose you are right... Why do I suddenly feel like Bruce Banner at the end of those old Hulk TV shows?

Chaotic Hammer said...

These days, my ecclesiology is a complete mess. Seriously. I don't even know which way is up on this one.

I'm interested in it. I'm reading everything from the church fathers to church history to postmodern and post-evangelical thought on the subject.

My small group and the neighborhood where I live are currently my primary experiences and expressions of "church". We sort of haven't been going to the building on Sunday mornings for a while. But it's not a well thought-out plan or anything. Nanx and I are studying our Bibles and praying on Sunday mornings, for at least two or three hours solid, sometimes more. I get literally about ten times more sermons in my reading each week than I would from just listening to a Sunday-morning lecture once a week.

But I don't want to be a "typical American a la carte consumer" of spiritual things either -- wandering around feeding my appetite in whatever way best meets my wants or needs. I do want to be an active, Spirit-led, available-when-needed part of Christ's body on earth in the present age.

I'm just having a lot of trouble figuring out exactly what and where that is, I guess. Definitely looking for answers on this one.

majorsteve said...

Don't worry about nothing 'cause nothing's going to be allright.

kelly said...

Wow, as always Seth! Remember, church is not just the building; rather, we are the Church--the Body of Christ--His Temple! In Him, we are satisfied!! There is something about that name--Jesus. He is good and His love endures. He understands that we are kids under konstruction. Therefore we are to seek Him first and share Him with the rest of the world per His leading...

-Hebrews 10-
[19] Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
[20] by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
[21] and having a High Priest over the house of God,
[22] let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
[23] Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
[24] And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
[25] not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as it the manner of some, exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

I pray that God would use us to exercise the talents/gifts He is given us. Thank God we are not perfect. We need Him to steer our lives and occupy voids in our hearts.

-Mark 2:17-
When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentence."

He came to call us! How great our God is and His amazing grace beyond words?!