Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where is the Love?

"Wookin pa nub en aw da wong pwaces, wookin pa nub ..."

For those not familiar with those lyrics, they are from a "Saturday Night Live" skit with Eddie Murphy playing the part of the old Little Rascals' "Buckwheat" pushing a compilation album in his later years. He used Buckwheat's accent and speech impediment to radically alter the lyrics of some familiar tunes of the day. It was a good skit and Eddie Murphy has since gone on from SNL to bigger and better things. The rest of the nation "wookin pa nub" (that's "looking for love" for those of you still trying to connect the dots); well, not so much. The digression of this nation's attitude and moral fiber is more than a little unsettling but before you begin to think I am about to go off on homosexuality, serial divorce and remarriage, teen sex, casual sex, adultery, or any of the other sex issues out there, think again. And read carefully.

"Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh ..." Romans 8:5a NKJV

Be honest. Do you wonder how many Christians believe this passage to be solely devoted to issues of sexual ethics? Do you yourself see this passage, read "flesh" (and "carnal" which comes a little later in the chapter in the NKJV) and immediately think "sex" but fail to more broadly consider what the Bible means when it warns against "the things of the flesh? My guess is that many, if not most, actually do think exclusively about sex issues though I have no data to support such a contention. What I do have is the intent of so many Christians who are up in arms about the proposed Islamic Center to be built a few blocks from Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan and their very hate-filled words, but they're not homos or adulterers so they're good to go; still acting righteously. Right?

What I also have is a stale collection of Christians who are gathered in nearly every church setting cursing their "neighbor" for one thing or another, but at least these accusers are not up to no good in someone else's bed so they, too, are righteously good to go. Liberals are "too damned liberal", and conservatives are "too damned conservative" (I'm being kind, by the way) but as long as we are not straying or doing anything weird with someone else's body and bein' all nekkid, it's all good. Right? Remember that I am not talking about Washington DC and partisan politics; I am talking about the many churches of many denominations in many settings, rural or urban, who have somehow come to believe that righteousness is strictly defined by sexuality or nationalism.

"Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate toward one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another, not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord ..." Romans 12:9-10

I have discovered, much to my dismay, that proposing to be fair about the "Ground Zero Mosque", as it has come to be called, has gotten me cursed from both sides and from all angles of the issue, the curses coming from - you guessed it - Christians. And to defend the president's remarks "in all fairness"? Forget it. I wondered if I would be tarred and feathered first by the hateful Christians who demanded that the president and the Muslims (or is it our "closet Muslim" president? I forget) be cursed. From the more liberal Christians who think I was not strong enough in my defense of the president come equal wishes that I die! To say that I am profoundly disappointed would not quite touch on my feelings but to be perfectly honest, I am not even sure how to feel especially when it is suggested to me that perhaps I should worry more about what is "right" than what is "fair". I am such an idiot. I thought "fair" was "right".

Allow me to express that given the nature and source of the well-coordinated attacks on this nation that fateful day in 2001, a new Islamic "anything" in Manhattan is in extremely poor judgment and taste and will not play well now; maybe ever. It may even be, as some have insisted, an intense if deliberate lack of respect for the feelings of those who survived the attack or who lost loved ones. But let me also express that those who planned and executed that attack on the people of the United States that dreadful day were, and are, as clueless about Islam as Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist people are about Christianity. These international criminals may well have been shouting "Allah Akbar" as they hit their WTC and Pentagon targets, but those proclamations did not express Islam, faith, religion, or anything even closely resembling righteousness. These were expressions of intense anger and raw hatred by murderers and cowards, pure and simple. The damage these murderers caused, however, may not be as profound or as long-lasting as the damage that is continually done in the name of the Lord yet "with malice in my heart".

"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things." Romans 14:1

The American Church has been in steady decline for the past 40-50 years, and church leaders - both laity and clergy - continue to scratch their heads and think through the persistent decline. Some try to think of new "bells and whistles" that might be attractive. Others are trying very expensive media ad campaigns that seek to reintroduce their churches to the general public but in relevant ways. Sometimes it is "about the numbers", but we must always be mindful that each "number" represents a soul that may be in distress and on the verge of collapse, a soul the Church is called in mission to reach out for. These absentee souls, however, are making a profound statement that reverberates throughout the Holy Church but does not seem to resonate well with church people. What are the absences telling us?

I think the Church may do much better by talking more to those who are outside rather than to those who are inside. Attending a "listening session" some months back with some of the lay leaders of the congregation I serve as pastor, we got an earful from many other church folks who were insisting that the Church must return to its biblical foundation and "preach the truth". I heard the words they spoke, but I felt the utter disdain they seemed to express not only toward those who sponsored the "listening session" but also toward those who would not agree with them. What they - and many others, myself included - seem to overlook is that one can be technically correct when it comes to expressing biblical philosophy or doctrinal truth while simultaneously being spiritually so far off the mark as to render the biblical Truth ineffective, at the very least.

People don't respond with love and gratitude to threats, and it must be noted that contempt breeds nothing but contempt. Many among those who are outside the Body of Christ feel they have been threatened one too many times with hell fire from self-righteous Christians who are painfully devoid of love and grace. The so-called "or else" theology does not carry a sound biblical message for lack of one simple element: "speaking the truth in love"; witnessing to this Truth by our actions rather than by our demands. The Christian message is no message at all if we use the Bible as a weapon to destroy rather than as a tool with which to build. The meaning of Holy Scripture is without context if we can quote chapter and verse but do not have the Word of the Lord written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

It may sound as though I am giving those who have left the Church and those who keep the Church at a safe distance an excuse for staying away. To the contrary, I am telling - and have told - these many absentee disciples that the Church is in its current state because self-righteousness is as much the harm and cause outside the Church as in. These missing souls have gained nothing in any sense by removing themselves from the corporate church, and they have placed themselves at grave risk by refusing to participate in fellowship with other believers - SINNERS ALL, mind you!! - and holding the many wayward and backward-thinking Christians accountable for their hatefulness and spite or downright complacency.

This accountability alone gave rise to the Methodist movement whose founder was intent not in creating a whole new church but to strengthen the existing Church. Such a philosophy is no less true of the first century Church that grew and spread so quickly because so many were eager to share this wondrous Good News! And the Church has continued to grow for some 2000 years even with us "hypocrites" at the pulpits and other "jerks" leading the Bible study schools.

Let's face it. We are all in desperate need of the Lord's grace for none among us is worthy. And we are not made more worthy by pointing out the faults of others. We are indeed heaping curses upon ourselves as we curse our neighbors. Where is the love in that?

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