Friday, July 16, 2010
Some Thoughts about Japanese Beetles
According to Wiki: The beetle species Popillia japonica is commonly known as the Japanese beetle. It is about 15 millimetres (0.6 in) long and 10 millimetres (0.4 in) wide, with iridescent copper-colored elytra and green thorax and head. It is not very destructive in Japan, where it is controlled by natural enemies, but in America it is a serious pest of about 200 species of plants, including rose bushes, grapes, hops, canna, crape myrtles, and other plants. It is a clumsy flier, dropping several centimeters when it hits a wall. Japanese beetle traps therefore consist of a pair of crossed walls with a bag underneath, and are baited with floral scent, pheromone, or both.
And so we have captured bag after bag of these disgusting creatures in order to prevent the ornamentals in our yard from becoming a skeleton of branches devoid of leaves. It is the scent that attracts them to the trees in the first place and it is the scent that attracts them to the traps. Once in the traps, they seem unable to find their way out and eventually die and begin to rot under the heat of the sun. The solution is even more disgusting than the little critters are.
I sometimes wonder if the latest trends and fads in the church are like the scent that attracts Pastors and church workers. They want effectiveness, they want efficiency, and they want success -- the same things we all want. But in their impatience for the kingdom of God to grow through the means of grace, they are always seeking those methods, programs, and practices that they believe might hasten the work of the kingdom and assist the means of grace (or even replace them). They fly from church body to church body, from parachurch agency to parachurch agency, from book to book, from article to article -- in search of the newest and latest thing. They are earnest people and I do not doubt their sincerity. But in the end, the scent of what is new or what works becomes its own trap.
In the end the Church, the tree, is left wounded by the constant feeding after things new and different. Youth ministry, educational programs, and evangelism outreach are constantly remade -- over and over again -- and the Church grows weary from the constant change --- though some folks seem to thrive on it and move from congregation to congregation, from denomination to denomination, from independent to non-denominational group all in search of the newest thing. Their movement seems to skew the numbers a bit and make it seem that such constant striving after new, different, and edgy works.
Studies done at the University of Kentucky suggest that traps attract more beetles than they actually trap, thus causing more damage along the flight path of the beetles and in the vicinity of the trap than may have occurred if the trap was not present. I did not know this. It is making me wonder if those bag and lure traps are all they are cracked up to be. Maybe the pheromone is simply marking my yard for these beetles as THE place to stop on their journey of defoliation.
I wonder if perhaps the enemies of God have not dreamed up some of this all to make for the kind of bag and lure traps that entice us and our attention from the means of building the kingdom that God has bestowed upon the Church -- the Word and the Sacraments. The pursuit of these things has become its own goal, overshadowing the work of the means of grace (not by the intention of the folks who invent or are attracted to them but as a result of our growing frustration with the pace of the Word and Sacraments in doing what they are supposed to do). In the end we attract folks who are attracted not to the faith itself but to the the things we have, the technology we use, and their own culture we are mirroring. It is like looking at this kind of religion as a mirror and since it reflects back what you think about yourself, it is no wonder we find it attractive.
Don't get me wrong -- I am not justifying congregations that exist only for the sake of those who already belong, communities closed to new people, hidden buildings, Pastors who are preoccupied or even lazy about the need to teach the faith, teach people to share that faith, and be examples of those who give witness to the hope within them... I know these places exists and they do need to be challenged to do the work of the kingdom in their community and not simply serve their own community of faith. BUT... I do not think that the constant borrowing of things foreign to our theological confession or seeking of programs from denominations antithetic to our confessional and liturgical identity are the solution.
I don't have a solution to Japanese beetles... I do think that our solution as Lutheran Christians is to BE Lutheran Christians, with all the rich resources that our Confessions and liturgical tradition afford. To BE Lutheran Christians yet with a welcome to the stranger and a heart for those not yet among the household of God. To BE Lutheran Christians whose heritage of faithfulness is not something we glory in but the inspiration for being faithful in our own time and in our own neighborhoods. We have institutionalized the Gospel that our Confessions proclaimed instead of proclaiming the Gospel that forms and shapes the institution of our church body. We do not need to do this as wannbe Baptists or Pentecostals or evangelicals or fundamentalists. We can do this as the Lutherans we are...
BTW I have not even explored how some of the techniques, methods, and means of inviting folks have become our own bag and lure trick... by bringing the false scent of the world into our churches we are attracting people not to the Gospel but to the themselves and the culture that they love...