I tried to find a hiding church deacon on Google Images, and I failed. Not even Google could find them they hid so well. But, churches seem to have found a wonderful way of hiding out in the most unlikely of places.
One the unbelievable locations is urban environments. Big cities, huge populations, and tons of churches, but it's hard to find them. Sure, you can point out the architecture. Most churches in large cities have remarkable architecture. But, one has to wonder, "Are they present?" "Are they available?" Or is their stony exterior only reflecting a cold interior?
I know there are churches throughout suburbia that hide out their too. After all if it was not for white flight, they wouldn't have a church. They thrive on the fear of the other. They're hiding out, not seeking a return to the urban center. I'm not sure they would be welcomed back should they so desire to move back into urban centers. They left and in their absence much as decayed.
The church I grew up in was in the city. Now, it wasn't a huge urban environment, but white flight had definetly occured. My church's pews were filled with people who drove into the urban environment to worship, and after Sunday School and Worship concluded they quickly exited. This area had a large population of non-whites. Yet, I don't recall any opening of the church to this community. It existed for the people, the white people of suburbia. In the very place that needed the kingdom of God, the church hid out.
The church of today can't define itself on belief alone. Belief helps guide, but it doesn't pay the bills. Belief provides the best intentions, but when the outcomes are disastrous nobody cares about intentions. People care about results, but not the results that are temporary. People need results that change their lives. People need change that they can see in their community.
Change only occurs when somebody calls out or challenges the status quo. So the church whether it be in the suburbs or a large urban environment needs to stop playing hide-and-go-seek with the kingdom of God. It needs to take the responsibility for the least of these that adorn their street corners, soup kitchens, and welfare lines. And, yes, it takes leadership of the church to stop their obsessive crouching, praying for God's leadership at every need, and live in the fullness of the Spirit. Some say that we live in a world full of dire need, and their right. It's going to take the secular and the sacred to change this world for the better. When more secular organizations help people that sacred organizations, I think it's about time for the Church to proclaim "Olly, Olly, Oxen Free," and change their community.
The Israeli navy intercepted a Gaza-bound catamaran today
. On the boat were 9 Israelis, not Palestinians. They wanted to let people know that not all Jews support the blockade. This act of defiance against their own government, peacefully carried out, cries out for some attention from the American Church. Not only should this one act be voiced through the American Church, but the entire conflict ought to be spoken loudly through sanctuaries and fellowship halls.
The violence, ignorance, and struggle for power is nothing new. Many Americans have simply grown accustomed to the violence and lack of progress. Many Christians that do speak out staunchly support Israel, if only so that the Tribulation will occur (not Biblical, FYI). In any case, moderate Christians have not spoken out.
I understand that we have serious issues here, in our borders, to which we must grant attention. Yet there are people on both sides of the blockade that are dying or suffering because of the stubborn ideals of both sides. This is no doubt a complicated situation, but peace will not visit the Middle East until the blockade is lifted. The blockade was to prevent the spread of weapons, and create anti-Hamas sentiment, but it seems that 1.5 million people have only suffered.
The American Church could send money, supplies, or get political. These are all positive and will aid in the ending of the blockade. Beyond the politics, this is a human rights issue. Simply put, the innocent people of Gaza, and many Israeli civilians are not the perpetuating force. The powers that be continue the status quo of fighting and violence.
While the American Church doesn't control popular social ideas, it certainly influences them. As long as the story of struggle in the Middle East is absence of pulpits, prayers, and people's daily lives progress will be slow. It starts with the small things. Below is the Prayer for Peace. An international effort, it is a prayer said by millions across the world around, at noon in every time zone. Essentially, this prayer is said once an hour. Read more here
. Here is the text in English. Go in peace.
Yesterday I attended St. Anne's
in Winston-Salem, NC. This Episcopal Church does not have the high vaulted ceilings or even knee pads for praying. Their liturgy isn't high. However, they have a spirit of service and social justice. Their worship reflected appropriately the incarnational nature of social justice. It was during the Prayers of the People I was handed a stark reminder of the War in Afganistan.
They read the names of soldiers that have died in Afganistan and Iraq during the past month. Their name, rank, and age were called out. This peace-loving, social justice oriented Church found the space in their prayers to remember those that have passed. The calling out of names evoked tears from my privilege-ridden eyes. I had forgotten the deep and emotional connection to this war.
Churches fight against the war, protest it, and advocate for change. Yet, seldom do many take the time to remember the soldiers fighting a war. The soliders I know that have returned tell stories that I can hardly bear. They are called out from their homes and families into harm's way. Regardless of one's stance on the war we need to support our troops.
The support shouldn't stop when they return to the States. It shouldn't stop when they step off the plane and into the arms of family members. We must continue to support our troops with the tools that will help them cope with their experiences. The greatest support churches can give is to provide outlets for soldiers within their communities to find meaning, and unearth their inner sufferings.
It's easy for those of us stateside to call out for the end of the war. It's complicated, I know, and I desire an end for the war. Yet, I realize that the powers that be have made a choice. I can fight it all I want. I can call it unjust, and evil. But, I won't. That's energy lost, energy taken away fromt those that need support. I'm not going to support an idea, I'm going to support women and men who have fought. I'm going to support soldiers that have returned home – soldiers in my community.
I refuse to see what the veterans of Korea or Vietnam experienced repeat itself. I'm going to embrace those that have opened themselves to the greatest sacrifice. I'm going to seek to provide a space for the least of these.
So, I wondered today, "What makes sense in a church?" Here are some things I came up with:
Worship TheologyDoctrine EducationSacraments HierarchyI've worked in churches – sometimes as paid staff, and other times volunteering, and these are issues that create the most problems, tense atmospheres, or divisions. Indeed, the most powerful source to draw together is belief; belief is also the most powerful way to divide. Churches may become places where the goal is to dissipate dissent, lest you be called a heretic.What we, those participating in the ecclesial experiment, engage and carry with us are hundreds of years of development. Choices were made, actions taken, and outcomes perceived. Whether one participates in a Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic, Methodist church, or any number of denominations there exists a history. That particular history shapes our doctrine, theology, education, worship, and action.Our history as a Church remains vital to what we do, and what we want to do. Throughout our history we find actions and lack of action that today could be classified as unjust. Let me not be misunderstood: history is not a bad thing. History becomes detrimental when we ignore it. The work of justice begins in the work of historical justice.Throughout history there have been actions both recently and distantly that have oppressed and repressed humans. From Papal Bulls to Baptist preachers endorsing slavery there are many examples that display full well injustices. During European conquests the second person to step off the boat was a clergyman with a cross in hand. Indeed, God had arrived! In my previous post concerning the decrease of the Christian influence, some scoffed saying my thinking was ludicrous. Those that do not warm to this idea (power has and is fading) are afraid that power over culture and society will leave them out to dry. Or, even worse, that the oppressive power that has occasionally been the Church will be put on them. Perhaps the loss of power, the loss of controlling power, signals the fact that if the Church wants a future it must know its past.Recently this has signaled a new wave of justice work. People within the Church have and are strengthening the fight of justice. Yet while good works abound we must dig through our history so that we might see how we gained the seat of privilege Christianity enjoys today. I am convinced that people can be encouraged to do justice work. I am equally convinced that the hardest aspect of justice work is reckoning with a past that when examined, might not look too favorable. If the Church wants to 'fix' problems, we must realize that we, the Church, with its power over culture and society has shaped or had a hand in influencing society as we know it. In varying situations that has been positive, and other times negative. When a church wants to encounter systems of oppression they must first look in the mirror. Engaging the full breadth of the Church's influence will help the Church know what direction it must move. This means recognizing that social-ills such as institutional racism, sexism, heterocentrism, and other -isms have not only been within the Church, but perpetuated by the Church (and in many cases still are). Justice work requires knowing the story. The story might anger you, might be hard to tell, and it might be shamed. If we do not remind ourselves of the story the risk remains that injustice could return to the systems we worked to dismantle. Forget not: Justice at some point was injustice.