Saturday, March 28, 2009

Observations from a Brief Vacation

I just got back from a family reunion/mini vacation in the Orlando and Jacksonville, Fl areas. I've gathered many thoughts and some still are swimming around my head and yet to be “gathered.”

Thought # 1:

My one of my sisters lives on an island north of Jacksonville. On her island are several historical sites including the Kingsley Plantation. I won’t go into the historical details about the cotton plantation except to say that it “employed” at least 50 slaves. Their humble cabins are pictured above.

While at the plantation I wondered into the site’s bookstore. I skimmed a several books about the people and times of the place. The thing that caught my attention was the fact that the area had been transferred between Spanish-Catholic rule and English- Protestant rule four times. Each time it was under Catholic rule, the slaves faired better . . . a few even being able to earn their freedom. However, when they were back under English-Protestant rule, they did much worse.

I spent some time pondering the whole slavery issue and of course the question that comes to mind is how did the Protestant Christians allowed such horrible injustices to be propagated under their watch? Having grown up in the South, I’ve been an eye-witness to the unorthodox, but unfortunately comfortable, blending of Bible-belt Christianity and racism. It still amazes me and makes me sad.

But a more relative question is what injustices prevail, comfortably, under our Christian watch today? How have we compromised the gospel of Christ for personal gain?

Thought # 2:

A while back I did a series of postings about what I would consider as the perfect church. I ended up describing an imaginary group that met at Starbucks . . . not too early in the morning . . . and had deep discussion about scripture, culture, philosophy and the honest happenings in our own lives. But it wouldn’t just be session in “sharing the ignorance.” We would have guest speakers or listen to tapes (MP-3s) of excellent speakers on Biblical topics. We would also be a close-knit family that supported each other throw the thick and thin . . . with whom we can be totally honest without fear of social retribution. We too would share the sacraments, practice church discipline, have leadership and pray for each other.

While I was on this vacation (it’s a long story and I will give a brief summary) someone, in our group, went to church on Sunday morning. It caught my attention because they described the church as a very causal meeting at a Starbucks-type coffee shop. Then as they explained more detail, I got a different impression than my “perfect church.”

This coffee-shop church was really a mega church with a popular pastor with a big following. As part of their out-reach to the 20-30 age group, they have coffee shops set up where the pastor is piped in on a flat screen, HD TV.

As I listened more, it was not at all what I was thinking about. It seemed to have a setting where members were even more disconnected from each other. It seems to only serve two purposes. 1) Give this pastor a feeling of an even larger kingdom (with hundreds more in his fold from these satellite sites). 2) Give people an even easier, less painful way to achieve their penitence. I’ve said for a long time that for most church goers . . . going is simply penitence. God likes me a little better if I go to church on Sunday morning and listen to a religious lecture. This coffee-shop church didn't seem to carry any moral authority. What I mean, it seems that you could comfortable attend there and continue living with your girlfriend or boyfriend and everything would be cool. Is this the face of the Evangelical church to come?

So, this trend concerns me. While it is church in a coffee shop (like I had purposed) it seems to have moved in the opposite direction of what I was thinking about.


Hope T. said...

i think you're right that many people attend church so that God will "like them a little better" but what immediately came to my mind was that they also attend largely because other people will like them better (family and friends). I hope that doesn't sound too harsh but most of us are people pleasers (I certainly include myself).

I like your coffee shop model of church, although one piece of it confounds me and that is leadership. Leadership always seems to disintigrate into prideful, arrogant oppression. That is a wide generalization but that is the way I feel recently. Leadership is so corruptive that I find myself longing for a more Quaker type of equality. At the same time, I have a very high view of the sacraments. So I am a Protestant with very strong Catholic-leaning sensiblilties who wants a more Quaker organization.
So far, I have not found anyone else who wants to form a church within those conflicting parameters.

MJ said...

Leadership is tricky. Certain it is abused far too often in the Christian context.

I really think that the New Testament was far more informal in church form than people (later) made it out to be. But there is an issue of some form of control, and that could be via group. Elders in the NT was simply (in my humble opinion) the senior people in the church should help the younger.

I started a house church once and it had to end because I couldn't keep it on track. The diversions were extreme. One family demanding that we take on all the Jewish law. Another wanted us to take up arms to fight Bill Clinton. Crazy stuff. Each family were trying to impose their radical ideas on all of us.

Once concept that I have, and if I were new to this island and my wife weren't settled were we are, would be to join a high church (Episcopal, hey maybe catholic) yet find my real church in an informal Christian group that did meet at Starbucks or a bar. The high church could administer the sacraments, marry and bury us etc. but the small group would meet the real needs of true fellowship.