So one of the truly galling facts of the most recent election is that so many people voted for a candidate of a party whose policies are in direct conflict with their interests as a class. Whether it was showmanship, demagoguery, or racial angst, a significant number of people voted for worse health insurance, less job security, reduced social safety benefits, tariffs, a degraded environmental quality, and so much more for the sake of taking a jab at “the system.” The system stood in for whatever grievance any person might have so a protest vote made sense no matter the cost.
Beneath that rage are real facts. The wealth gap is an appalling abomination. You can’t raise a family with a high school education. Minimum wage doesn’t get you an apartment in much of America let alone a vacation. Tuition has skyrocketed. Automation is taking our jobs. Our friends are addicted to meth, video games, or sex. Despair is real. It’s daily. It’s everything. The system is screwing us.
The heartbreaking realities of everyday Americans absolutely demand a moral response. Our political system, enslaved by corporate interests, has little concern with responding to those real needs so it creates new ones that it can respond to. Football players are kneeling. Illegals are stealing your jobs. Gays are marrying. All lives matter. On and on it goes.
So we become primed to respond to the symptoms of mailaise rather than the disease that triggers it. This is where I feel like we are as a Church.
Attendance is declining. Churches are closing. Where are the young people? Why is my church shrinking?
So the complaints pile up and they fuse with our own resentments until we are left with the conclusion that our resentments are reality. It doesn’t matter that robots and not the Chinese are stealing jobs. It doesn’t matter that increasing secularism and not stale liturgical prose are driving church closures – calamity is the midwife to irrational, spasmodic reaction. So as the country erupts in an undemocratic desire to make itself great again, the Church does likewise with equally predictable results.
We will make the Church great again with a new Prayer Book! Out will go the oppressive, antiquated, stale notions of holiness and in will come a renewed commitment to an egalitarian, modern notion of true Christian companionship! The problem is that even with a new Prayer Book we will still be the ones praying. We’re the problem. There is no health in us.
What we want is a country that lives into its ideals – what we want is a Church that lives into its baptismal covenant. We want internal commitment not external purity.
The push for external purity comes at the cost of internal commitment to renewal of life. In an age of social media it’s easy to believe that “Posting shapes believing” but it’s the opposite – we post for the sake of the appearance of a belief. Social networks reward the posting of certain kinds of virtuous content. So now we take on Prayer Book revision with the notion that Revision is Believing – but the challenge is not mobility in an era of perpetual reformation. The deepest challenge is believing because we are reformed.
Has our system of belief, action, and prayer been reformed by the act of submitting to being in Community? There is a profound difference between being in community and being in a social network. In a social network we choose the influences – we choose how we will be shaped. In a community we stumble across new influences that shape us and are surprised by the responses the Spirit leads us toward. In a community we look to the welfare of the whole to shape our grievance – our call to God – in a social network we insist that the whole shape their grievance to meet our demand.
The real facts of the Church today demand action. The real facts demand that the Church pray more deeply, believe more fervently, celebrate more faithfully, evangelize more truthfully, repent more lovingly, give more freely, preach more boldly, love more unsparingly, sacrifice more generously, go more willingly, receive strangers more warmly, and be, in so many ways, more godly.
There are facts today that should shock the conscience of any Episcopalian shaped by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. However we’re choosing to adjust the consciousness rather than to address the facts. We’re choosing to signal virtue rather than to say that the whole system of virtues is disgustingly, revoltingly in accord with the dominant and we, the Church, must choose to live in a counter-cultural way that accords with deeper and more lasting values.
We want a new Church – renewed Church fresh with the love of God and stirred to new works of loving mercy. We want a renewed Church inspired by the joy and wonder of God. We want a renewed Church that preaches repentance and forgiveness, that offers salvation and serenity, that binds up and restores, that casts down and raises up, that is evangelical and catholic and utterly centered on the life giving love of Jesus.
We want a Church that demands the most from us. We want a Church that demands that we resist evil. We want a Church that demands that we follow the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship. We want a Church that demands that when we fall away that we will repent and return to God. We want a Church that demands that we will continue in breaking Bread and in prayer. We want a Church that longs to be the Church inasmuch as so many want a nation that longs to be great – that longs to live into its ideals.
We don’t want a new Prayer Book – we want a renewed Church that wants to work, pray, and give for the sake, growth, and love of the Kingdom of God. So many want to make the Church great again that they’re willing to give up what makes us great. We don’t want a new thing – we want to live, with one heart and mind and voice, into that which Christ demands of us – we want to give our all for all.
The Church of tomorrow is not demanding adherence to the agendas of yesterday. It is demanding that the Church of yesterday live up to the demands of the moment. When we see that the Church today is responding to the facts on the ground today then we will trust them with tomorrow. Until that time we can only live into the call to love Christ and to make Christ known that we have inherited. We can only believe that the dream we have inherited is worth dreaming – yesterday, today, and tomorrow.