Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. – Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Monday, October 11, 2021

Why We're Not Going Back to Church After the Pandemic

Why We're Not Going Back
To Church After the Pandemic

September 1, 2021

If the church was actually what they said it was —
a hospital for sinners — then our sanctuaries
would be full of bodies. - Sam Bush

When hosting a party, it’s hard not to take a person’s absence personally, especially if the reason goes unmentioned. Without an RSVP, the host is left to assume the worst. Did the person die on the way over? Or worse still, did they have better things to do and never really like you in the first place? Such is the case, it seems, for clergy who are wondering where some of the pre-pandemic stalwarts have gone. I’m currently in my third year of seminary and, as someone who is hoping to be a future leader in the church, I went to a Sunday service four times this summer. (My kids went once.) I could provide a list of excuses, but none of them feel truly legitimate.

Why haven’t we gone back to church? The most obvious answer is no surprise. The Delta variant has kept at home those who are at a higher risk of infection. The pandemic is a good enough reason to explain someone’s absence in and of itself, but we’d be remiss to not explore other things going on beneath the surface.

One reason for playing Sunday morning hooky is that we’re exhausted. Getting a child dressed and out the door felt like an Olympic event long before the pandemic. For young families especially, church used to be simply another thing to be late to, but now it’s too much to ask. The spirit is willing but the flesh isn’t just weak; it’s depressed, it’s irritable, and it couldn’t find a babysitter last night. As Dan Sinker wrote in his essay in The Atlantic, “Parents aren’t even at a breaking point anymore. We’re broken.” Well, then, all the more reason to go to church, right?

Apparently not. I think an underlying truth is that missing church these past 18 months has been kind of nice. Our inner-introverts have thrived, our inner-extroverts have been tamed. We’ve been lonely, but Netflix has been helpful. The truth is, many of us have begun to wonder "What church is all that good for?"

These days, many Christians feel a general lack of urgency when deciding whether or not to get dressed whenever Sunday morning comes around. Self-discipline is a muscle that quickly loses its tone when not exercised. And it can be nearly impossible to get back in the groove once the momentum of a routine is lost.

For many people, going to church just doesn’t seem practical. Since the early days of the pandemic, we have been channeling the spirit of Marie Kondo, mercilessly ridding our lives of clutter and excess. A year and a half later and we are still in the business of extracting rather than adding to our lives. After all, if one’s ship is on the verge of sinking, the sensible thing to do is to throw things overboard in order to lighten the load. Keeping that family heirloom is nice, but it’s not helping the boat stay above the water. Similarly, if we were only going to church for sentimental reasons to begin with, we may never go back.

The English philosopher Alfred Whitehead once said,
“Apart from religion, expressed in ways generally intelligible, populations sink into the apathetic task of daily survival, with minor alleviations.”
It’s an apt description for believers and unbelievers alike these days. What is Covid but the apathetic task of daily survival?

Sadly, the church has not offered a worthy alternative. It has not expressed Christianity in “ways generally intelligible.” It has led many of us to ask what good going to church is if it’s not going to help in times of crisis.

Two thoughts come to mind. The first is that we have forgotten the urgency of our predicament. Again, I’m not talking about the virus as much as I am talking about life itself. In the apathetic task for daily survival, we have forgotten that we were already dead in our sin and that in Christ we have been made alive again (Gal 2:20). We have forgotten our need for our forgiveness to be proclaimed and received over and over again.

Our current understanding of church is equally apathetic. It’s similar to flossing or dieting. It’s good for you, but its benefits are only long term. Many people see church as a place that leans more toward a health and wellness checkup rather than an emergency room. And now, quite literally for many of us, we are in the emergency room [of faith].

If the church was actually what they said it was — a hospital for sinners — then our sanctuaries would be full of bodies. Which leads me to my second thought, that the church seems to have forgotten about the only actual ace up its sleeve: the proclamation that Jesus Christ loves us unconditionally and has forgiven us everything.

Of all the things that are essential to life (community, a sense of purpose and belonging, etc.), the gospel of God’s love and forgiveness is the church’s unique offering to the world. It is, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “necessary for our life and our salvation,” the very thing that can lift us out of apathy. Unfortunately, it’s a card that we have generally refused to play.

As humans, we are forgetful beings. Thankfully, the structure of our Sunday service is mercifully built upon the act of remembrance. Every week, we take the Body and the Blood as the memorial of our redemption. While Jesus’ death on the Cross was done “once for all,” his Body and Blood are meant to be taken as routine nourishment for whoever is hungry. “Don’t forget that I love you,” Jesus tells us. Of course, we will forget, but, rest assured, he is there to remind us every first day of the week.
I hope the church can serve as an emergency room for people in crisis. I hope it can be a place where people who are struggling feel comfortable showing up late and in pajamas. I hope it can be welcoming to people who are exhausted and offer the life-giving words that all is forgiven. I also hope that we can grant ourselves permission to cease the apathetic task of survival; to sink into the deep waters of God’s love and die, that we might be raised up, any given Sunday.
I’m still quite hopeful about the church’s future. As the great hymn proclaims, its foundation is none other than Jesus Christ our Lord. Yes, it’s a faulty institution, but it is still and will forever be the body of Christ. I can only hope that those of us who haven’t been back to church will eventually do so when they’re reminded of their need for him and that the church will be there to receive them gladly. In such a difficult time for so many people, the hymn is good to remind us that as we cry out, now more than ever it seems, “How long?” we can trust that “soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.”

- SB

No comments:

Post a Comment