Peter Rollins wrote a book of parables called The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales. I think it's exceptional. My favorite parable is called Finding Faith; a story in which a preacher has the unusual gift of causing people to lose all their religious convictions when he prays for them. The preacher doesn't see much use for this gift until he meets a man who, despite declaring his love for Christ and being very involved in his church, engaged in ruthless business practices. He explained to the preacher that the business world was a cold one and he simply did what he had to do, but he went to church every Sunday to remember who he really was. The preacher finally understood the value of his unusual gift. He prayed for the businessman, causing him to lose all his faith in God. Without his prayer groups and Bible studies to put a glossy finish on the lens through which he perceived himself, the businessman had to face the reality of how he was actually living. He started to despise his business practices, had a breakdown and left his job. Eventually he put his skills to work challenging the corrupt system he once participated in.
In the commentary that follows Pete asks if perhaps our religious convictions and church activities have become safety valves, allowing us to blow off a little steam, inoculating us against a deeper change that would permeate every aspect of our lives. I remember watching a video a few months ago in which Pete was lecturing at a university and he explained how it's actually in an employers best interest to have their employees sit around the staff room complaining about management, because if they weren't allowed that release the pressure would build to a breaking point and people would be forced to take steps toward actually changing the situation.
Does going to church inoculate (that links to a great talk our church pastor shared on a related subject) us against more meaningful spiritual practices? I think it's a big risk for some and completely true for many. I mean, if I couldn't talk about Jesus with my church family who would I be having conversations with? If I wasn't giving my time and resources to the church who would I be giving it to? If I couldn't worship on Sundays or be inspired by a good sermon where would I go to worship and be inspired? Without church to help us let off a little religious steam we'd really have to live by our beliefs because there would be nobody else to do it for us.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think the answer is to join the ranks of the de-churched but I am becoming aware of the huge potential for complacency and compartmentalization inherent in church life. When we are a part of a large institution, like a church, it's easy to lose our sense of personal responsibility. For example, I may not go out and feed the poor but if there is a group within our church who does this I probably feel that I am in some way contributing; especially if I throw a few cans of soup their way. We probably use the collective term "we" in church way too much; usually it's only a handful of people actually contributing. The next time our pastor says "We did this!" I'm going to reflect on who was actually involved and scratch my name off the list!
So that's what I've been reflecting on tonight. Any thoughts?