Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Church. . . It's Complicated (Dialogue Column 9.15.09)

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter.

Each week Jen and I watch The Soup, a TV show dedicated to making fun of trashy reality TV shows, snarky talk show hosts and poorly acted cable series. Their tagline is “We watch it all for you, so that you don’t have to!” The show is often hilarious and it allows us to keep a toe in the scum-covered waters of pop-culture without actually having to watch all this stuff (although sometimes even a half an hour of The Soup makes me despair for humanity).

One of the reality shows made fun of on The Soup is called Denise Richards . . . It’s Complicated. Richards, who once played a girlfriend for James Bond and was also once married to actor Charlie Sheen, is not what you would call the sharpest tool in the shed. From what I can gather from the clips of her show I’ve seen, the only thing “complicated” about her life is how she ever got her own show in the first place. Yet, this reality show that Jen and I have never really watched has given Jen and I our own inside joke. Now whenever anything is difficult, we like to add to it “. . . It’s Complicated.” Such as, “Parenting. . . It’s Complicated.” “Long Division. . . It’s Complicated.” “Programming the Remote Control. . . It’s Complicated.”

I want to share this inside joke with you, our church, as we begin our stewardship campaign this year. I haven’t run this by the Stewardship Committee yet, but I’ve thought about hanging up a banner that says, “Church. . . It’s Complicated.” (Of course, then I’d have to explain the joke to all the people that don’t read my newsletter column, so perhaps, I’ll just skip the banner.) As much as I the minister or other leaders of the church might want to make being a part of a community of faith convenient and easy, the fact is that being a part of a church is. . . well. . . “complicated.” It demands commitment, time, effort and sacrifice—that is, if it really is going to resemble anything like following Jesus.

Recently, I read a sermon by Peter Marty, well-known Lutheran minister and writer, that makes my point well. In it, Marty uses two Quakers as examples of how the call of Christ actually complicates rather than eases the life of a believer:

The late Quaker philosopher Elton Trueblood understood this complicating nature of the Christian way. "In many areas," he wrote, "the gospel, instead of taking away peoples' burdens, actually adds to them." On a number of occasions, Trueblood told the story of John Woolman, a successful Quaker merchant in the 18th century who lived a wonderfully nice life until God convicted him one day of the offense of holding slaves. After that, John Woolman gave up his prosperous business; he used his money to try and free slaves and even started wearing undyed suits to avoid relying on dye that slave labor produced. Says Elton Trueblood, "Occasionally we talk of our Christianity as something that solves problems, and there is a sense in which it does. Long before it does so, however, it increases both the number and the intensity of problems."

What a powerful way to think about how complicated it can be to follow Christ in our culture!

As each of us at First Christian consider our own finances, talents, time and energy, we cannot escape from the fact that we must give of all of these things in service to God and people in need—at least not if we want to be faithful to Christ. In the midst of a busy schedule, how can I make time to volunteer to help others? With medical limitations, how can I give of myself to others? Out of the things that I want to buy in the coming year, what would I be willing to give up or forego to support my church and its ministries? Are there things in my life I don’t really need (an extra latte, a more expensive cell phone, one more purchase on Ebay, etc.) that I could let go of in order to use that same money to supply the basic needs of someone in my community (Open Door Food Kitchen, Juda House, Royal Family Kids Camp, etc.)? These are the tough questions that stewardship time should force us to think about?

Jesus never promised that following him would be easy or even fun, although he does promise that doing so will be fulfilling and joyous. How can that be? Well. . . “It’s Complicated.”

Grace and Peace,

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