I’m sometimes known by my tendency to be loyal. One thing I’m loyal to is voting, interestingly enough. Like my friend, DJ, I try to “make it to the polls” at the end of my block during every primary and general election. I think I do it mainly because my neighbor Debbie is always volunteering—so it’s nice to go and see her. She does a great job of introducing me as the preacher on the block, which is fun.
But lately, I’ve been getting a little discouraged. The House of Representatives voted to defund Obamacare (which, though imperfect, will help some people in need—myself included), or it wants to cut SNAP (a.k.a. food stamps)—the laws themselves won’t go anywhere because the Senate won’t vote them to Obama’s desk, and he will veto them. It’s a colossal waste of time and it discourages any sense of involvement from the electorate, who is too disillusioned (for good reason) to participate in their fake government. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, 1.8 million people are poor, making it the poorest city of the U.S.’s top ten biggest.
When politicians are so utterly clueless (even while their biggest fan and strategizer disagrees with them!), it’s a wonder why the voter turnout rate is so low. It seems to me like people are disillusioned by an imperious government that isn’t working for them or their interests—but is instead having an irrelevant and unproductive conversation. (Meanwhile, what Boehner and Obama can agree on is bombing Syria!)
Dialogue and conflict, notably, are key to community and relationships. If the government stifles it by making the conversation irrelevant, even the most loyal, will stop paying attention or at least feel like they’ve wasted their time by doing so.
That’s exactly how I felt when I watched the series finale of what used to be one of my favorite TV shows, Dexter. Executive Producer Sara Colleton said the following about the show’s finale which was guaranteed to disappointment, just as the last four seasons of the show have:
“There will be people who hate it, but we can’t try to anticipate that or put it through the lens of any other show’s finale, because that was another show. This is our show. This is Dexter.” — Executive Producer Sara Colleton
That’s exactly the mentality that doesn’t work to build a sense of community. “This is Dexter.” Well, if it is,
then it stinks. If this is what it is, if this is what our government does, then we’ll all be disillusioned—we lose loyalty that corporations and networks so strongly seek after.
Dexter was most compelling when the show’s creators made the serial killer that killer serial killers a character with whom we could have conflict, disagree with, and even one whose actions we found questionable or reprehensible. Eventually, afraid seemingly of people being turned off by the show’s central character and no longer watching, the creators made Dexter into a superhero. What makes something compelling is that it makes you feel alive, active, valuable—I want to have agency, I want to have meaning, I want to be engaged.
And after watching the inane series finale, it felt like I had wasted 96 hours of my time watching a meaningless show. The time I spent in a voting line? Feels the same way.
We are in danger if the church starts to feel that way to people. Inconsequential, meaningless, ineffective. That’s the danger of the Western church. While Christians die all over the world, Western ones guilt us for not attending church with headlines like this. And the comment section help us realize that, yes, the American church has been increasingly irrelevant and not compelling for decades. People dying for their faith? In the U.S. we’ve standardized it and corporatized it into oblivion. We’re looking for customers, not disciples.
Circle of Hope, seventeen years ago, made a name for itself by offering an alternative to the obligations and manipulation of the evangelical church. But we need to keep being fresh, new, and compelling. We need to keep including people in the church, or else some of Jesus harshest words to the fake believers around him will be true of us.
If the church gets stuck in mundane arguments like Congress does—or if we think, well some people will hate us but too bad, “this is Church.” We’ll be so worried about offending our audience, like Dexter’s writers were, that we won’t actually say anything or do anything of any meaning (which of course communicates that those who are following you are meaningless too). We won’t be very good includers. We might have some loyalists and insiders that have stayed connected to us because of their dutifulness, but we won’t be doing anything new. Nor do I think we’ll be passing the torch on very well–the church is always one generation away from extinction.
We need to help people feel like valuable children of God, and compel them to be on a mission to redeem the world for Jesus. God sent His own Son to earth in order to communicate that basic message to us. He said to us, “I love you so much, I’m becoming like you, so that you believe in me!” The church needs to be that incarnational. We need to let people know their thoughts, feelings, and spirits matter.
That’s what it was like at Broad & Dauphin’s Stakeholders meeting earlier this week. We gathered together to pray and wonder about what God would is compelling us to do. Everyone was invited—and nearly 40 came!—to literally be the church with us. Church isn’t something you go to, it’s something you are!