Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Like children but in the wrong way. . .

Perhaps the worst legacy of the Enlightenment is the flower of individualism that has become rampant in church and state.  We are to be like children but not childish.  Yet the unmistakable fact is that our religious and secular leaders and many of those who are led by them have taken up acting like children -- in the worst way.  They think only of themselves.  They act more out of fear than confidence.  They throw temper tantrums when they don't get their way.  And they won't play (pay) unless things go their way.

In the Church we have raised at least a generation of such children who won't go to church unless they get what they want there and so churches and pastors have ended up trying to placate competing tastes and preferences or the folks will vacate the pews.  So from the music to the preaching, things have been tailored to the whims of the individual sitting in the seats, looking up at the chancel, altar, and pulpit.  The pandemic only magnified this to the point where some will not come if you won't distance and wear a mask and others won't come if you ask them to wear a mast and distance.  Others have decided that the risks of venturing out are too great and you can have your cake and eat it too in front of a screen on Sunday morning.  

Our church leaders rolled over and played dead when the call went out from the CDC or state capitals or city mayor's offices.  No, our people do not need church and, yes, whatever church they do need can be delivered via social media.  Locally some parishes and pastors worked to keep the doors open and to serve God's people with Word and Sacrament safely and effectively but the hierarchies of most jurisdictions did not even given lip service in support to those efforts.  So the faithful learned that even our church leaders are not sure that worship is essential, at least not in person worship.  Like children afraid of standing up and being counted, the sound of silence was overwhelming from most denominational headquarters -- except to direct us to the appropriate orders and how to obtain a PPP loan.  

But the church leaders were being bullied by secular leaders who trampled upon our first amendment rights as if it were no big deal.  Like children, they behaved as if the rules were for others but not for themselves (visiting barbers, hair dressers, and taking vacations while telling everyone else to cut their own hair and stay at home).  The bickering between parties was astonishing while the nation looked for a united front of leaders to help us make it through the threat.  Blame was more common than the acceptance of any responsibility and the array of confusing thoughts, plans, and orders issued only made it harder for us to believe what we were being told and follow their direction.

The pandemic did not cause this.  We did.  Our stubborn individualism has become our Achilles' heel and this wound will not heal.  It would seem that there are not many adults left in the room of politics and government anymore.  What the pandemic did, however, was to highlight just how bad things are for us as a nation, states, and community.  We cannot just disagree; we must punish.  We cannot agitate for a cause; we must loot and burn.  We cannot a good greater than what is in it for me.  We cannot conceive of something beyond the moment.  It is not a matter that either party can fix because the political figures are only manifesting the inherent divisions and suspicion we have as a nation and people.

The world needs the truth of God more than ever and yet the world is even more deaf to the voice of God than ever before.  We will not tolerate the Word of God unless it justifies what we think, say, and do.  If it was once difficult for the Church to speak truth in a world of lies and deception, it has become even more difficult since the truth many churches choose to speak is little more than an echo of what our culture and society hold dear (for the moment).  As much as we would despair, this is not a time for second thoughts.  The Gospel is needed more today than yesterday and the people of God need the voices of those who will not fear speaking this Word of life -- both to expose the wrong and point to the right who is Christ.  If freedom has come to be something so shallow and trivial that it gives us license to self-indulge, we have lost all freedom and live in bondage unawares.  If the only thing freedom means is that we can dress as we want and do what we please, how can we complain when it becomes the cover for choosing gender or defining ourselves by what we feel in the moment?

Individualism is wrecking marriage for us and us for marriage.  It is stealing away the things that make us noble and giving us nothing in exchange for what it is made off.  Just as individualism has made us small and our causes small, so it has turned doctrine and the faith into something one person wide and deep. Finally, the Church itself becomes something only for the imagination and exists in one size, big enough for one, when the individual becomes the arbiter of anything and everything.  Such a church does not need to be in person since it always is in person where the individual is and the individual decides what feeds his soul (whether body and blood or a snack before a screen!).  Individual conscience and preference have been enlarged over everything else and are stealing away the gifts of marriage, family, truth, doctrine, and church community.  We prefer being only children of a God who gives all His attention to us, at least when we seek it, and we delight in a Church that exists for us and because of us.

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