Monday, May 18, 2015

Five Link 5: The Pew Report

         So, the latest Pew survey on religion came out.

         Douthat is pretty excited, in fact he wrote multiple articles about it.
         In the first he takes three categories he fleshed out in his book Bad Religion--Biblical, Spiritual, and Secular, and looks how those groups fair in the survey. He argues there are a lot fewer “Biblical” folk around, instead they’re bleeding into the Spiritual center, even if they identify as “Biblical.” So, even people who are claiming orthodoxy are doing so while not connecting to orthodox traditions. Similarly, they are evangelical, but not members of an evangelical denomination. So, a self-identified “biblical” population may not change much for reporting purposes, but the denominations connected to them may decline.
         In his second article he takes a slightly different route to say a similar thing. He points out that the Pew study is about identification, not practice. So, someone might go to church the same amount, but no longer identify as Christian. He then goes on to wonder if the whole thing just reflects the atypical maturation process of Millennials—that they’re not getting married so they’ve not boomeranged back to church in order to connect with a community to help them instill values and a sense of the transcendent in their children.
         In some ways, both these articles point to the polarization and atomization of modern America. On one hand, people today are strongly encouraged to pick a side, either atheist or fundamentalist—middle ground is discouraged. On the other hand, it points out non-practicing affiliation is a value for many Americans. 
One might wonder, if a war was called between the two factions, would anyone show up?

         Kevin Vallier of Bleeding HeartLibertarians has a different take away from this poll. He points out to his Atheist friends, who are gloating at the demise of Christianity, that the kind of Christianity that is disappearing is the reasonable kind. Their shadow-self, the Fundamentalists, are going strong. He mourns the disappearance of the reasonable mainline-middle-man (he describes such a person as a father figure) who could bridge the gap between a fundamentalist mother and atheist son.

         Then there is Clint.
         He sees the Pew Report as a product of masochistic mainliners. We, he claims, have a deep seed of self-loathing within us, and therefore these reports (or at least how they are read) are shaped to cater to that impulse. The very categories different denominations are put in are categories only mainliners would use. In short, there is a much richer religious story in America than this report would show, so we should pull our heads out of our belly buttons and take a look around.

         My own take is as it has been for a while; mainline decline has to do with the 3D’s, Demographics, Decentralization, and Disestablishment. Sometime this summer I'll be preaching on this subject, so wait with bated breath!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon: “Lord, may we be weird together.”

          In Matthew and Luke’s Gospel, we have 2 forms of the Lord’s Prayer. In Mark we get a very truncated bit about forgiveness… In John’s Gospel, we get something structurally quite different—imagine for example, if we prayed today’s Gospel lesson every week… woe to the Sunday School and Confirmation Kids who would memorize that Lord’s Prayer.

          But perhaps we could shore things up, summarize this prayer spoke by our Lord:
          “LORD, You have chosen us, we are Yours and You have given us to Your Son.
          We dwell, we abide, with Him who is Word of God.
          You have revealed Him to us, He who comes from You.
          May we faithfully live in this relationship—may we live weirdly for the sake of Your will.
          Leave us not alone O’LORD, but give to us companions upon this journey with You.
          Or to summarize more starkly “Lord, may we be weird together.”

          Let us pray:
          “Lord, may we be weird together.”

          Jesus prays that his sanctity might sanctify us. To sanctify means—to make or recognize a thing or a person as Holy.
          To quote one commentator, “Holy things and people are the same as normal things and people, but kind of different. “Kind of different from normal" sounds like a definition of "weird" to me.”
          Jesus’ followers—we Christians—are a little weird… we live in a different reality.
-        We’re a little weird because we’re people who’ve been chosen by God—we’re people who’ve grasped that God has knelt down and grasped us—grasped up our life and called us by name, and chose us to be freed from all that would oppress us.
We’re a people struck with the question, “What should I do now that I don’t have to do anything.”
We’re a people promised life eternal, and therefore our life is forever changed—our way of being forever altered.
-        We’re a little weird because we’re people who abide—people who are steeped—in God’s Word, Jesus Christ the Lover of our Soul.
We are people too, whom Christ steeps in.
That relationship shapes who and what we are—God’s Word within our hearts and upon our lips, a relationship with God.
-        We’re a little weird because we’re people grappling with Jesus’ origin—that he’s from God and is God.
What does it mean that the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen:
-Stood upon particular ground in Galilee?
-Told particular stories that still work upon our psyche to this day?
-Spent time with the least of these and sinners?
-Sent us forth and Died that we might live?

          Yes, we’re weird because we’re chosen by God, abide in his Word, Jesus, and know that Jesus is from God.

          And I don’t want to sentimentalize this weirdness—Stonings, beatings, persecution and hardship were the consequence of this weirdness for the Early Church who proclaimed Christ as Lord.
          Weirdness weighed heavily on the Saintly Desert Mothers and Fathers, living as hermits out in the wilderness with nothing but Jackals and Jesus as their companions.
          It’s weird to claim “In Christ There Is No East or West, in Him no North or South” in a world riven with Civil and World Wars.
          Weird to claim “The Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God” in the Jim Crow South, or an Apartheid state, or anywhere fellowship between people is denied.

Sanctity—Weirdness, can wear a person down.
It can turn you inward.
It can weary the soul,
malform it,
 or silo us off,
leaving us alone in our weirdness.

          And that’s why we cry not only “Lord, may we be weird,” but, “Lord, may we be weird together.”
          That’s why we are Church, not for buildings or programs, but that we weird ones,
we holy ones,
we sinner/saints struggling to be faithful in the World as it is,
might bear with one another. So that it’s not me and Jesus, but us and Jesus!
          And think of the witness of that.
          When Jon, the owner of Flannagan’s pub, saw us there together at Pub Theology last Tuesday, it was clear he thought, “What it God’s name brings a group of people like this together.” And that is our answer, “God’s name.”
          Think of the witness our strange fellowship…
          What brings together Jesus’ disciples—A Tax Collector, a gaggle of fishermen, a political assassin, a religious radical, and two hot tempered brothers.
          They’re united only in following Jesus
—in going out together two by two supporting one another
—defending each other’s weirdness from a world seeking sameness.
Feeding one another’s soul,
keeping us looking outside ourselves,
giving one another rest,
and reminding each other we’re never alone.

          “Lord, may we be weird together.”
          We chosen ones, we abiding ones, we knowing ones. We in the world, but not of it. We bound together, in Jesus.
          We pray, “Lord, may we be weird together.”