Wednesday, January 27, 2010

irrelevancy isn't so bad....

My last post may have seemed like a bummer of sorts--the church is irrelevant: woe are we!

But it isn't' that bad. In fact, I think being irrelevant to the culture gives the church a wondrous opportunity to play a different role than the church has--in the last 1600 years--normally has played.

For well over a millennium, 'Christendom' meant something. It meant that the Christian Church was 'relevant' to the society and culture of what we somewhat inaccurately call 'the Western World'. All geography depends on where you are standing at the moment. I guarantee you that most people who live in Iraq and Israel places like that, don't think of themselves of living in 'the Middle East'. People who talk about 'the Middle East' are standing somewhere else and looking over there and naming it.

Leaving that strangeness behind, let me share with you a fact: "Christendom" is gone. The church is not 'relevant' to the culture and hasn't been for a good while now.

But that is not bad. I personally think it was a problem for the church to be propping up and legitimizing Western Culture. There was a complicity that I think was unhealthy for the church. So, being 'irrelevant' in what was essentially an compromising and unhealthy connection with the the culture is not a bad thing.

Christianity, in and of itself, is not totally irrelevant in all places. But where it is--oh, take Nigeria where Anglican bishops have done nothing to oppose the criminalization of homosexuality with severe penalties even for those who 'associate' with gay folk--it is not a good idea to my mind. And the 'religious right' plays much the same role in the US. Pat Robertson has publicly stated that the earthquake in Haiti was God's judgment on the 'pact with the devil' that Haiti made 200 years ago by allowing voodoo and Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on homosexuals and other sinners. God knows who believes nonsense like that but I'm betting quite a few folks do.

But, for the most part, the so-called 'main-line churches' (and probably the Roman Catholic Church as well) are irrelevant to our American Culture. (How many RC families do you know who have never had a divorce or who all have 6 or 7 kids?--that's the base line of irrelevancy....
None of which is a bad thing. I'm personally pleased that RC couples who are battering each other one way or another no longer feel constrained to stay together because of the the church and that birth control isn't something couples discuss with their priests. (You see, some of the trappings of 'being Relevant' aren't bad things to lose....And that fish on Friday thing was simply a centuries earlier attempt to support Italian fishermen...)

So, being irrelevant as we are...there are remarkable possibilities for the church. Like this--we can be the fool, the jester, the gadfly, the prophet, the shaman, the joker, the wondrous and so needed foil to the nonsense of the culture.

Just one example of how this irrelevant church keeps thinking it is relevant and matters to the culture--the culture, the state of Connecticut, has outrun the Episcopal church by legalizing same-sex marriages. We should have beat them to it as the joker and Trickster of the culture, yet, even though they got there first, our Bishop has yet to even 'catch up'. I still can't sign a marriage license for a gay couple. We should have been out in front, flaunting the culture that takes us as irrelevant and pointing the way for the larger society.

Come on, being on the edges, being loosed to dance and be fools for Christ and to flaunt the eccentricities of a society and culture we are no longer responsible to shore up with our support, that's a remarkable calling for the Church 'to be....'

I love and adore the opportunity to hang out on the limits of the society and the edges of the culture and proclaim, not support of the status quo but an outrageous and Godly alternative to the culture and the society and 'the way things have always been done..."

I'm sure I'll ponder this more in the days and weeks ahead, but know this: retiring from full-time parish ministry will give me the opportunity to be even more irrelevant and irreverent than I already am....Praise be to God....

Fear not 'irrelevancy' doesn't mean the church doesn't means we "matter" in a way that frees us to be 'of God' rather than a part of the Culture....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.