One of the things that often goes unmentioned is that one needs a car (or at least a ride) to get to church. This is because a lot of churches are not on public transportation routes and even when they are, many places on Sunday the buses don’t run enough to make it practical to use them. A lot of churches talk about wanting to be multi-ethnic and embracing those with disabilities but they don’t seem to realize that by requiring people to have a car they are excluding many people of color (who are generally poorer and often don’t have cars) and those with disabilities whose impairments often make driving impossible.
Christians like to say the life-giving parts of the faith are incarnational, not academic. But if someone can’t get to a church they are locked out of this benefit.
I have a visual impairment disability that is just bad enough to render me unable to drive. In 2013 I asked for a ride to two different churches and got turned down.
From someone who is basically exiled from the church for not fitting in socially or theologically, here are some hard words (do I produce any other kind?).
As long as sin is communal and righteousness is isolating, sin will win. People trying to get me to come back to the faith tell me to read my Bible, pray, and go to church. You can do all these activities without ever saying anything of substance to another human being. Contrast this to fornication, and abusing substances. Relationships arising in this context are not always life giving but at least they are more real. In our single-serving culture people are rabid for authenticity and real relationships. They opt for messy love over plastic love because the former gels better with their instincts.
Made for TV moments need to be followed up. You know how it goes, someone is in a desperate situation, the camera swoops in and magic happens. Take for example the latest Billy Graham video where a women was about to commit suicide but went to church instead and got saved. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this but what it misses is the most important work is the follow up after the cameras stop rolling. Will people in the church support this woman, giving her rides when she needs them or meals or baby sitting?
Christians need to stretch past their pain points. If you don’t know someone that well of course it’s going to be stressful interacting with them but after you get to know them more a lot of this stress should dissipate. If you are married your relationship needs to be strong enough so that you can welcome single people into your life—working against the desire one party or the other has to veto the relationship. A lot of people are drawn to the faith because of the promise of comfort. This sabotages the church because the people drawn to comfort are the ones least willing to be comforters.
The church needs better connective technology. The church does a good job at putting on a show for those sitting in the seats but not such a good job of creating online spaces for its members and the community at large. The church needs to promote websites and apps that connect Christians together (for example a Christian dating website run by Christians). Same goes for smartphone apps. If there were an app that pinpointed people who needed help and encouragement that helped people get involved with each other that would be a blessing.
Our generation is leaving the church in droves. Some thoughts on this.
Sin is a pretty alien concept. It’s even so to me and I was churched and went to a Christian college. For the unchurched sin is even more so. This does not mean nonconformity isn’t punished any less, just that nonconformity to social norms (particularly when they pertain to differences one have no control over) has replaced nonconformity to what the church thought was right. And this is a shame system—there is no possibility for absolution. Ours is a shame culture even as guilt and absolution are trotted out as a smokescreen. So the church’s job with sin is akin to an advertiser who has to make up a problem, convince people that that problem is actually a problem, and offer a solution in the form of a product. In the church’s case salvation and absolution are the solution offered to the problem of sin. But it feels like the church is barking up the wrong tree because what our generation really wants is absolution for our peer-mediated shame which remains outside of the bounds of the Christian story.
The Christian story isn’t all that exciting to us. At Christianity’s inception people (especially Jews) has a concept of sin so a story with forgiveness in it would have piqued their attention. Trying to shoehorn the incarnation story on our generation in attempt to generate raw emotion doesn’t produce the desired results because we don’t feel guilty. We feel ashamed and often possess poor self-image but we don’t connect with the idea that there is some divine Santa whose naughty list we are trying to get off of. Also we have our own stories that we identify with and help form our values. It’s different for everyone but for me some of the stories are Magnolia, To the Moon, and His Dark Materials.
We live in an inhospitable time. Try taking off work to visit a friend in the hospital and you’ll probably get penciled in on the hit list for the next round of layoffs. In America the trend has been individuals (and corporations like the one above) optimizing for personal happiness at the expense of collective happiness. But hospitality is a casualty of ignoring collective happiness. People are out for themselves. Single people go to bars and sleep around. Married people go to church and only talk to other married people. The threshold at which people feel put upon has been receding so natural acts of hospitality are now deemed self-sacrifice and therefore rarely practiced. At a collective level the church does not have the tools to weather loss of hospitality since it is the medium through which everything else flows (edification, encouragement, community, etc..).
The emotional high one is sold in Christianity can more reliably be obtained elsewhere. Christianity is often marketed as giving one an emotional high. Often people will try it and when it fails to give them one they’ll try drugs. If you want the peace that passes understanding get some Ativan. If you want to feel joy snort some cocaine. If you want some spiritual experience light up a joint.
We have an absolute allergic reaction to hypocrisy. We are postmodern and post-postmodern. Authenticity is one of our highest goods. Anything shoehorned on us from the top down is going to get summarily rejected because nothing is the same on the bottom as it is on the top. We work from the bottom up. If we see hypocrisy in front of our noses we abstract up and deem the whole system as not worth engaging. We may not always tell the truth or support courthouses displaying the ten commandments but we prize integrity.
What is hope? I will never really know the answer but that doesn’t mean I won’t search. Some thoughts below.
Hope is an emergent property. Hope cannot be pushed on people. It doesn’t propagate from the top down. It bubbles up extemporaneously from below. It is ephemeral. It’s like a quantum particle that blinks in and then out of existence without obeying any laws we understand.
Hope usually bonds to the things on front of one’s face even as it’s masquerading as being bound to the ethereal (beyond the ability to be touched). The Native Americans come by it honest on this one, you take away their land and you take the light out of their eyes. For some of us our “land” was the American Dream and the ethereal hope was in God. When the dream was taken away we realized God was little more than a guarantor of this dream and required a new set of mental gymnastics to draw hope from.
Hope can not be sold. Hope is not a commodity. This is confusing because the marketing books tell you to sell hope. Many advertisements throw one in a situation where the realization of the hope offered comes in the form of the product being pitched. This isn’t true hope, this is hope being used as a trope to manipulate you. This hope behaves enough like true hope that it gets in your consciousness the same way carbon monoxide gets absorbed by your blood cells in place of oxygen. Understandably one builds up a resistance to being sold hope. When a church tries selling hope the results are not fruitful because at this point hope being pushed using one-to-many communication has been overdone.
Hope is communal property. The most devout believer and the most hardened atheist anthropologist would probably agree that today’s hyperindividualism is toxic. We are social animals. There is a giving and taking in hope that a community is a prerequisite for. Hope is coming together and building, eating, weaving, listening, as opposed to being on one’s Playstation shooting rendered soldiers. One cannot own hope which is a hard thing to grasp in our capitalistic society where things are either yours or mine. The flip side of hope being communal property is that a telltale sign of being in a hopeless situation is people ignoring and not including you. This is both a cause and effect of hopelessness.
You’ll notice when hope has gone. It’s like the electricity, you are barely aware of it working but you definitely notice when it goes out.