Monday, June 29, 2009

Random thoughts; poetry, words, constantinianism

Poem for Today; this poem accompanied sunday's sermon. I heard the idea that God's hardest work is done when we think the story is finished, that God can do no more.

Wendell Berry

What hard travail God does in death!
He strives in sleep, in our despair,
And all flesh shudders underneath
The nightmare of His sepulcher.

The earth shakes, grinding its deep stone;
All night the cold wind heaves and pries;
Creation strains sinew and bone
Against the dark door where He lies.

The stem bent, pent in see, grows straight
And stands. Pain breaks in song. Surprising
The merely dead, graves fill with light
Like opened eyes. He rests in rising.

From; A Timbered Choir; The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997

Word for the day: Terminus; a final goal; a finishing point

Thought/Quote that insterests me:

The influx into the membership of the Christian church of larger numbers of persons for whom that new affiliation is not the expression of a strong personal faith experience or commitment means that there will be a need to adjust the expectations of ethical teachers with regard to how insightful and how unselfish we can ask people to be. The conversionist ethic of a minority under pressure can expect of its members a 'heroic' level of devotion: a church of the multitudes must on the other hand be satisfied with a run-of-the-mill level of understanding and devotion.

John Howard Yoder in an essay entitled 'The Kingdom as Social Ethic' in a volume of his essays; The Priestly Kingdom.

I go to visit and consult with other American Baptist churches in the state. These churches are often experiencing the shock of declining numbers, aging membership and few families and/or children, and a financial decline as well. Often I hear a lament that 'people' that is our society or culture, are just not interested in church anymore (and sometimes this is quite a bitter expression on the part of the church). Well-intention folks, very few to be sure, want to push the church to do things to be 'more popular' or 'more relevant.' I have heard many churches saddened by the fact that 'people just don't come to church anymore.' For earlier generations, church attendance was simply a matter of good citizenship and social expectation. While many in the church pine those bygone days, I hear Yoder telling us to celebrate and be glad that the 'run-of-the-mill' level of devotion is rapidly disappearing, for this implicite popularity of the church, in the end, watered down its ethic. We sought to be popular instead of seeking to be faithful. I actually find myself both frightened by this and exhilerated. While the financial support of the institutional church is shrinking and I don't know how long many smaller churches, even my own which is generous in giving compared to many, will last. I am also hopeful in the smaller number of folks who join now, not because it is expected, but because they have seen the futility of a life without faith in our culture and who want to be a part of a community of love and generosity. Which means the small local church will continue exist, but it may have to change its structure. Already the phenomena of house church seems to be rising in popularity in some places as well as bi-vocational pastors. some seem to see this as a failure or defeat somehow. But Paul was bi-vocational too if I remember correctly.
Yoder's words suggest to me that while the shape of church may have to radically change in my generation... perhaps the shape I inherited was not not terribly effective and a radical change may be just what we need.

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