Sunday, June 12, 2005

Another Sunday in America

Forgive me, but I am weary of the church.

Possibly I need to see a therapist. I expect a good one could help me sort out all the reasons for my persistent discontent. My feelings run up and down a range from sympathetic disappointment to outraged disgust.

Understand now, I have been a "churchman" for the past 45 years! It stands to reason that much of my disillusionment arises from my own failures and inconsistencies.

Still, the older I grow the more uneasy I become about the whole church enterprise as I observe it today.

There is no doubt that my feelings and my angst arise from my daily experience in the city among very poor people. But these emotions also come as a result of my movement in and among the church and church people.

Then, I must admit, it is not really the people of the church individually, at least not for the most part (!), with whom I have an ongoing beef.

It is something about how the church determines to use its resources, including its time, its talent, its public voice and its material wealth. My observations around these matters trouble me greatly, especially in view of the reality facing so many poor, struggling people in this country and around the world.

Rock stars, actors and sports personalities have more to say and are up to more in terms of actively addressing the issues facing suffering people than are church leaders and church folks.

This is not to say that there is no interest in the church about these challenges. It is just that the church spins its wheels and so quickly loses its focus. Its considerable creativity and energy ends up, more often than not, being spent on itself and its members.

Why is this the case? How can the church remain so immobilized in the face of so much human misery, much of which could be alleviated with just a little more effort?

So, today we will march off to church one more time, won't we?

What will happen there?

What will be said? What will we sing? About what will we pray?

Where will our tithes and offerings go?

What will it all matter?

We claim to be there to "worship God," to "praise God's name."

But, what will our God think? How will God regard our exercises today in view of what God knows about this world?

Meditation for today: Amos 5:18-24


Anonymous said...

Larry, I've been reading your blog for some time now and it's definitely making a difference in how I'm viewing the poor in our society. And I'm sure that if I spent extensive time at CDM, my whole thought process would be seriously readjusted.

But your words today about the direction of the church hurt a bit. It seems to ignore the enormous amount of good done a significant percentage of people that may not directly involve the poor. Many serve in many different ways...we all have different gifts.

Can the church do more to attack the poverty problem? Yes, yes, yes. Do we spend too much on our facilities? You bet. Are there too many of us who do nothing and take comfort in thinking we're saved by grace? Absolutely.

But let's not dismiss those who tirelessly work in the kingdom serving others in myriad ways...others whose specific problem may not be poverty.

Steve said...

I'm certain Larry is not dismissing all the good that is being done by the church. What he is saying, I think, (and what I agree with) is that the church's resources and attention are OFTEN on the peripheral things of this world -- building campaigns, flashy worship, or petty arguments -- while neighbors who live all around our church buildings are neck-deep in sorrow and pain. Sometimes it seems our structures and wealth have betrayed us, when the largest percentage of the church's budget goes into paying off an expensive building and the attention of the leadership is on keeping the members happy (and in the pew on Sunday) -- not necessarily expanding the kingdom of God or fighting for the oppressed.

So Larry, I think your comments are timely and prophetic. Amos' message was not about the Israelites adding a program that "helped the poor," it was about making love for the poor and justice parts of the church's very D.N.A.

Thanks again for reminding us of God's priorities, Larry. My prayer is that the church at large will wake up to that reality, and soon.

Larry James said...

Thanks to both of you, Anonymous and Steve, Jr. I have to confess I agonized over this post. As I wrote it, I considered not putting it up. I know that churches do much good and many good things. But, the painful reality that someone needs to address has to do with the neglect of the marginalized in our culture. It goes much deeper than what our programs happen to be. It's about where our hearts reside. I appreciate the words you each left here. Our problem is not a new one, as Amos' words indicate. But, it is our problem today. We need to begin to address it by changing our fundamental apporach as disciples, at least that's how I see it.

MarkS said...

Perhaps those who defend the church and its priorities are those who don't daily look into the faces or delve into the lives of the poor and disenfranchised. The problems are so enormous that to spend an hour in an elders meeting discussing landscaping or the new addition is sin. Bravo to the ones who are doing good, but somehow as a whole we have missed it. How could a fellowship who supposedly has spend 200 years looking at Jesus and his priorities not put widows, orphans, poor, alienated, minorities, foreigners, estranged at the top of our lists of church activities? A congregation in my city is spending thousands of dollars and countless hours for 130 of its teenagers (mostly from upscale homes) to spend a week of camp at a state park. No doubt, some good will come from this week, but some great things could also come from spending the money leading those 130 teens in some kind of innercity effort on behalf of the poor. How many air conditions could those thousands of dollars purchase? How many lunches could be prepared? How many yards or parks could be cleaned up? Somehow the church just hasn't gotten it.

Jeremy Gregg said...

MarkS, there are many wonderful lessons that can be drawn from camping, particularly for kids who are used to living in the plasticized reality that is most of urban America. However, has the church considered that there are literally thousands of low-income youth in major cities that have never left their own neighborhood? The camping program could still be a wonderful experience for the church's own youth, but how much more meaningful would it be if they could partner with a non-profit to bring along youth from the inner city?

The experience would provide far more value to the church's own youth, and would provide many inner-city kids with an amazing learning experience that they might never otherwise receive.

I realize that your intention was to point out the misplaced priorities of your church's leaders, but in this situation it might be easier to change those priorities through the activities those leaders have already chosen rather than convince them to cancel the camping trip in favor of launching programs exclusively for the poor. Sometimes, taking that first small step can lead towards changing the entire path.

MarkS said...

Jeremy: Excellent ideas! I'm for anything that can turn our hearts and the hears of our children toward the ones Jesus spent much of his time with.

I was shocked to learn that there are people, young and old, in Memphis who have never been outside their own neighborhood. What a joy it would be to have them at a camp like the Jr. High kids are enjoying. Blessing to you.