Hmm, I Wonder What My Father’s House Shall Be Called?

PrayerThe fashion today finds some churches talking smack about how long the worship portion of their Sunday meeting persists.

“We open with 20 minutes of nonstop praise to the Lord!”

“Well, we spend 40 minutes lifting up His name!”

Meanwhile, churches continue to build or renovate so that the altar area is more like the stage at a KISS concert. It used to be that a church could drop $50,000 easily on sound equipment. How 2005! Now they spend that much on stage lighting.

Can I ask a simple question?

What did Jesus say His Father’s house shall be called? A house of a 45-minute worship set with lasers?

When was the last time you heard anyone brag, “We open our meeting with a half hour of prayer”?

Something is monstrously wrong in American Christianity when a church of believers can sing some bad rock songs interminably  and then brag about it, yet you can’t get the assembled Body of Christ at that same church to spend five minutes in shared prayer.

I wonder if we’ve reached a stage where we can say that our Father’s house has become one of misplaced priorities.

He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
–Matthew 21:13

You see, there is more than one holy thing such robbers can steal.

by Dan EdelenComments (3)

On Fish, Time Travel, and the Longing for Something More

“I am encouraged when I see a dozen villagers drawn to Walden Pond to spend a day in fishing through the ice, and suspect that I have more fellows than I knew, but I am disappointed and surprised to find that they lay so much stress on the fish which they catch or fail to catch, and on nothing else, as if there were nothing else to be caught.”
–Thoreau

I read that unfamiliar quote from Henry David Thoreau while searching for a different pithy saying, and I have not been able to shake it.

The fish alone. Nothing else to be caught.

In pondering the meaning behind what the poet/abolitionist/philosopher/naturalist wrote, it got me thinking in several seemingly disconnected directions. But that’s how I am, so bear with me.

Which is why I’m switching writing about fish ponds to time travel.

A supposed Gallup poll cited by the podcast Mysterious Universe noted that when people were asked what piece of technology not yet invented would they most want and for what reason, “time machine” was cited by just over 80% of respondents. Why? To go back in time and change their broken past.

Thoreau’s 19th century statement about men and fish and a 21st century poll that had people desiring to go back in time, though seemingly unlinked, share an underlying desperation.

What so troubled Thoreau was that the act of fishing on a frozen body of water went beyond just catching the fish. The transcendent qualities of the experience–the camaraderie shared by the fishermen, the rapture of nature, the participation in the blessings of the Creator, the innumerable numinous aspects of the “mere” act of fishing–were lost on the men who huddled around a dark blue hole in the white canvas that was Walden Pond.

The fish alone. And nothing more.

 Caspar David Friedrich - "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog"

Caspar David Friedrich – “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog”

What are the great questions that form the backbone of all human inquiry? Who? What? Where? When? How?

And why?

When more than 80% of respondents in a poll about desired technology want a time machine to go back and undo whatever it was that went wrong in their lives, the underlying question that has troubled them is the one of why. Why did things turn out the way they did?

For most of human history, people have struggled more with the other questions. Who is God? What has He done? Where can He be found? When can I know Him? And how?

But despite the why of the Book of Job, why is more of a modern question. It is a step beyond the more basic questions. That Job asked them may make him the first “modern” man.

Today, in 2015, the other questions of life pale in light of the question of why. Science has told us much, but why still eludes us. By its very nature, why is a transcendent question.

And this brings us to the American Church.

If I could categorize 2014’s chatter about the Church, one of the top three topics would be, Where have all the churchgoers gone? This lament is everywhere and everyone has an observation and an answer. (Though some good detective work will show that the actual number of supposedly “former” attendees is not so much avoiding church altogether. Instead, they still attend, only not every week as they once did, which makes the attendance numbers on any given Sunday lower, making it seem as if those people have dropped out entirely, which is not the case. Lies, damned lies, and statistics, right?)

What I see almost none of the handwringers noting is what I think is behind much of the drop–or the more sporadic attendance. And it goes back to fish and time machines.

When today’s church tries to answer the cry of why, the common response is to point to God’s sovereignty. And this proves problematic, because the Church is mistakenly assuming something.

For the mass of men, there is only the fish. When these men go to church, they get a bad rock concert atmosphere that stands in for transcendence. They get a message delivered by someone who experienced something transcendent a long time ago and has been running on the fumes of it for years now.

Most men go to church, experience nothing transcendent, fail to use amid the assembly the gifts God has given them to any appreciable measure, barely interact with their fellows, and then stumble off to a fishing hole on a bleak, frozen pond to get some fish. Because there is nothing else but the fish.

These men go to church on Sunday with the question of why eating holes in their guts, and the church tries to answer that transcendent question with a supposedly transcendent answer, yet nothing of those men’s experience in church from week to week ever takes them anywhere into the genuine transcendent light of God. You can’t meet transcendent needs of people who are stuck thinking only of fish, if all you can talk about is the fish itself. And churches today are absolutely mired in talking about the fish.

You can blame the leaders, but the fact is, most of them are generations removed from the last transcendent moves of God in this country. A lot of them are struggling themselves with the blandness of their spiritual lives.

Most people experience nothing of the transcendent moves of the Holy Spirit on any given Sunday, and we do next to nothing to empower men and women to serve each other in the midst of the assembly, so their spiritual gifts–one very real connection to transcendence–go unused.

Every day it seems I hear of another Evangelical who has “swum the Tiber,” looking for transcendence in the Roman Catholic Church, but I’m not sure the Catholics have got the transcendence thing down any better than the Protestants do, especially in America.

Or else you see once solid Christians incorporating Eastern spirituality into their beliefs, a surefire way to dash themselves on the rocks of heresy.

And it’s all because we have a serious lack transcendence in our churches today. Coincidentally, all my thinking on this started with Thoreau, and only as I sat down to write it did I recall that he was labeled a Transcendentalist. How fitting.

When human beings ask why, they will only be satisfied with the kind of answer the Church gives today if that same Church is taking those people to a place–and person–of transcendence week after week. People who experience no genuine transcendence in the day to day will simply shrug off our answers, especially if for all our talk of transcendence, we don’t deliver or experience it either.

We live in a world of the mundane, largely of our own making. For most, there is only the fish and nothing else. To solve the problems of mankind, the Church in America has got to rediscover transcendence.

The Church knows there is something more than the fish. If we’re not reinforcing this in everything we say and do, both on Sunday and during the rest of the week, then we will not be offering the one thing that people desperately need, even if they are unaware of that need.

God help us if our own experience of transcendence is as empty as the people we’re attempting to save.

by Dan EdelenComments (6)

Men, Pick Two…

BusinessmanIf you’re a man still in the prime of life, this may apply to you.

I’ve been an adult male for a few decades now, and this is what I’ve learned:

  • You can have a great career.
  • You can be a great husband.
  • You can be a great father.
  • You can be a great man of civic duty.
  • You can be a great friend to other men.
  • You can be a benefactor of the downtrodden.
  • You can be a creator, dreamer, or visionary.
  • You can be a pillar of your church.

In 2014, you can pick two of those, three if you’re a Type A personality.

But the rest you must lay down and leave behind.

Some aspirations alway suffer. I think it is harder than ever to be that kind of man who somehow does all those things in the list. I knew a few men like that, but most of them have passed on. You just don’t see their likes anymore.

It’s not that there’s something wrong with men today. Society is different, and the demands of being male in America have never been so difficult. Most men I know are struggling just to keep their heads above water, and not always in the one area we always think, financially. Men today are weighted down with a level of expectation that their dads and granddads never had to bear,  and someone is always adding more deliverables.

Increasingly, men are making choices that don’t include being a pillar of their church. American churchmen are starting to see that they can’t measure up to whatever demands the Church asks of them. That list seems endless, and curiously, it often consists of the very line items that precede that pillar of the church line. Sure, all noble ideals, but something’s got to give!

I think there are men across this country who plop down into that same old pew on Sunday morning and get a message about how they’re not measuring up to some ideal they never asked to be compared against. Fact is, they compare themselves against that standard Monday through Saturday all on their own, and none of them is really dying to have someone else add to a burden they so crushingly bear all by their lonesome. Yet there they sit, taking it, because they think that this is the abundant life.

While grace is the antidote that that life of burden, too few men ever find a place of respite, and for all the Christian men I know, darned few seem to have found anyone or anything around them dispensing that most precious grace. If anything, grace is a fountain in Shangri-La to most men. They may think it exists, but practical expressions of it feel like a fairy tale.

If I were to have one hope for 2015, it’s that I hope our churches can become bastions of grace and not dispensers of millstones. God knows men everywhere need more of the former and less of the latter.

by Dan EdelenComments (5)

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