Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pagan Madness

An interesting discussion in Bible Study yesterday regarding the church today and the passivity, and even at times, intimidation, that is nurtured by the buildings and the service of the present day church, vs. the synagogue. The synagogue of old had benches around the perimeter of the room. The text would be read, the word expounded on. And then the dialogue and discussion would begin. Disagreements were normal, expected, encouraged. Questioning was de rigeur. The participants were all educated, informed and invested in their fellow church members, whether or not they like or agreed with them, and deeply invested in The Way (Ha' Derech).  Of course, they'd been educated in an environment that was based on memorization, inquiry and exploration. They were expected to question, to mull, to read, to inquire, to find out, to wrestle with information, the text and each other intellectually. It was the culture.

Sharp contrast to the modern methodologies of the way most of us have been educated and the way most of us approach our faith walk and church community. There is little tolerance for questioning, with the expectation that paid ministerial and educational staff is deferred to.  Children and adults who know "too much" are considered know-it-alls, or show-offs, and those who question are considered disruptive trouble makers. Churches and our educational institutions are not places of discussion, interaction and intense debate amongst people who devote themselves to study, learning and each other. Most often they a places of passivity, entertainment, lectures and sermons that, while they might inspiring for the moment, do little to change lives. Perhaps that's because they are stand alones in a setting that does not value or emphasis community, mutual accountability, humility and growth. Educational institutions the country over are struggling to instill the basic of education (check out our national rankings among developed countries), while churches struggle to instill the basics of faith (just look up the stats on porn useage or divorces among church members/ pastors to be convinced) perhaps because we've given that part of our lives over to the "experts"; the people that we pay, as a community, to do the church thang or the academic thang, to know the religious stuff or the academic stuff; to be our collective archetype of faith and intellect.

My  husband, professional counselor and dedicated theologian, says that we all suffer from Pagan Madness. I love those words because they keep me remembering that I am not yet Christ-like, I am ever being sanctified, and my walk needs to be just that, active, constant and current. I need to be present on my faith journey and moving forward or I fall, once again, full bore, into Pagan Madness. ("Hi, I'm Lisa, I'm a compulsive pagan.") My experience in the church is that we forget this truth and think that somehow if we show up on Sundays, if we tithe a bit, bring bars for fellowship hour and take our kids to Sunday School, then we've done "enough," we're saved, it's finished. And yet, we are still not transformed, our minds still not renewed, our lives still not laid down.

And,  there is this expectation that people will look, smell, and act nice in church. Those that disagree are rejected. Those who know too much are held at arms length. Those that don't know enough are fondled, rather than taught, held accountable  and expected to grow up to be leaders in the church. Catch phrases and words are thrown around like candy, with the expectation that those who "get the language" have gotten faith. The reality is that hipsterism has replaced maturity and wisdom in our pews. The church is in a crisis, theologically and politically because of our pagan madness, and our inability to question, grow and expect more from ourselves and each other. We have become passive, rather than receptive. Entitled rather than grateful. Full of ourselves, rather than full of the Spirit.

Oswald Chambers writes: "I am put right with God because prior to all, Christ died." This flies in the face of our modern way of thinking which seduces us into believing that we are the ones in control in of our destiny, that we came to Jesus because we found Him. We are saved because God wooed us, initiated, died. Only after His sacrifice could we hear, responded and obey. Our salvation is only ours because we saw that He found us.
Our faith, which we are called to work out with faith and trembling,  is one that demands we question, seek, and find. We have to work the program (Christianity 101) or our Pagan Madness wins.



Lillian said...

Excellent!! I find this to be so exceptionally and sadly, true. A church that we attended for several years was doing it all right. And I'm not being facetious, they were seeker sensitive without selling out, people were (and are) being saved every time the doors were open. Growth was (and is) astronomical.

Not too long in our tenure there the pastor said something that I disagreed with. Lisa you know me, I questioned him. I emailed him, we had a great discussion and even debate. Never once was I made to feel "less than." That all changed two years ago.

The church took a move we didn't understand and felt was harmful. When I discussed my concerns with the same pastor (in the above paragraph), I was shot down. I was in essence told that if I disagreed with this I was clearly not in God's will and my salvation was even questioned.

We stuck it out for a year and watched as lives and families that had been on the track to healing were suddenly in divorce court and family services. We left. And sadly we cannot find a church that allows for thinking. How tragic is that, in the buckle of the bible belt?

Academia is no better. Secular or religious. When students have trouble with a professor I advise them to give the prof what he/she is looking for but don't loose sight of what they believe. I have been told by professors that I have not earned the right to my opinion. No I don't sit quietly for that one, and after the debate, I let them know that I will be keeping track of my earned grades and my final grade should reflect my earned grades and not be impacted by my difference of opinion. (I speak from experience on that).

My motto is question boldly! If we don't, we cannot own our belief system, it is merely a shadow. God is not frightened by our questions and is faithful to answer them. We will hear the the answer if we take off our ear plugs and allow ourselves to hear or see the answer.

OK my comment has turned into a blog post. Sorry. You touched a nerve. Thank you for touching that nerve.

LaughingLioness said...

Lillian- Question boldy-love that!. I'm so sorry to hear about your fellowship- what a tragedy! Thanks for your comments!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I need to learn how to "question boldly." I tend to rant and fume to my husband, which is sinful not because of my questioning, but because I get so worked up about what I don't agree with. I need God's grace to help me deal with my questioning spirit in a positive and constructive way. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts, and I especially love how you compare today's church to the Jewish tradition.

The Benson Family said...

I too agree whole heartily. Sometimes, I feel too "smart" for the church and feel very arrogant for saying that. I question things. Last time I questioned something that I felt was harmful to the children of the church, I was told that they were following God and basically told I was sheltering my children too much. I did see a change happen, but the dialog behind it was lost.

I also feel this pressure to be a nice Christian woman who likes to hear nice inspiring stories, have women's teas, and bake cookies when what I really want to do is read a meaty book about our faith and have a great discussion. I feel like my need to figure out things intellectually is a hindrance to faith. But, the truth is when I understand for example how creationism can be seen as truth and the why's behind it, my faith is so encouraged and I see just a bigger glimpse of God's majesty, wisdom, and power.

~*~The Family~*~ said...

This is exactly why we don't take adult bible studies anymore. Everyone has their little pat answers to the questions, about three answers cover about 95% of the questions, and if we even suggested that we might discuss something in depth you could almost hear the gasps go around the room.

LaughingLioness said...

It seems like the wrestling part of our faith is not o.k. in church.

Pam said...

WOW. I LOVE this post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.