My mood has been as tenebrous at the Memphis skies of late. I can’t quite put my finger on why. I enjoy my volunteer work as chaplain at a local hospital. I enjoy the opportunities to preach at two local churches, albeit less so than when I first began. I feel more genuinely in love with my wife than any time in our thirty-six years of marriage. I am proud of my sons and love them and their families dearly. Yet something is missing. Something that should be…? Something that used to be…? I’m not sure. But I think I’m just really bored with Christianity.
When I was a twenty-something Marxist working in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960’s I felt more vital and alive than I have at any time since. I was surrounded by people who were so committed to their work they were willing to be jailed (and often were) for doing it. The “movement” was governed by participatory democracy, which essentially meant that those involved made the decisions. No one had the “right” to vote on a decision if they were not going to be involved with the outcome of the decision. There were no absentee ballots. You had to be there. Consequently, meetings were always very well attended. No matter what the weather. No matter what personal conflicts may have arisen.
About a score of years after leaving the movement I was pastor of a suburban congregation in an affluent upper middle class community. Like the average church in America, on any given Sunday forty to sixty percent of our congregation chose to sleep in, go to soccer or hockey practice, or engage in some other non-worship activity. Leadership meetings were often cancelled due to lack of a quorum. Yet all the real decisions were made by those who held the power positions, whether they attended church regularly or not. Decisions were only made after weeks of arguing, debating, and posturing. Yet the final outcome rarely had anything to do with advancing the cause of Christ or serving the “least of these my brothers” (Matthew 25:40).
I guess I should have foreseen what was to come when I found myself without a job in 1970. The small church I had been attending often enough that people knew me by name offered to pray for me. Local Communist Party members offered to pay my rent and help me find a job. I was not a member of that church. Maybe they would have offered more if I had been. But I never joined the Party either. Yet they provided help when I so desperately needed it.
When I was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements every meeting I attended was invigorating. Yes we often argued until the wee hours of the morning about strategies and means, but we felt alive because we truly believed what we were doing and planning would ultimately have a positive impact on the community.
Today when I preach I feel like I am little more than a talking head who provides a degree of entertainment to those who had the energy to come to church that morning. Oh, people are very gracious with their praise about my sermons, but I don’t see my efforts causing a change in people’s lives that leads them to an increased level of service to the least of Christ's brothers and sisters.
The infant mortality rate in many neighborhoods here in Memphis is higher than that in a number of third-world countries. When I mention this to good Christian people, they come back with something like, “Well it’s the fault of the mothers. If they weren’t so drugged out on crack they would take better care of their babies.” Or, “There is no reason for that. Why aren’t the mothers taking advantage of TennCare (Medicaid)?” Even if that were all true, we’re talking about babies…babies dying of malnutrition, abuse and neglect…babies the Bible says are made in the image of God!
Last week the local newspaper carried a story about horrible abuse occurring at the local animal shelter. A day or two later another story in that same paper mentioned that hundreds of people had called offering to adopt the abused and neglected dogs and cats as a result of reading the first story.
Last week the local newspaper carried yet another story about the high infant mortality rate in our community. A day or two later I was in a meeting with about fifteen or twenty area pastors. Not one of them mentioned getting calls from their parishioners asking what they as a church could do to help “the least of these” children.
Starving, abused and neglected dogs and cats? People will sacrifice time and money to make a difference in their lives. Starving, abused and neglected children? Even the Christians in our community don’t seem to give a shit.
Now before you get all hot and bothered about my use of a four letter word let me ask you a question. How hot and bothered did you get about the deaths of all those babies? Yeah, I thought so.
Like I said, I’m bored with Christianity. I’m tired of playing church. I don’t give a rat’s ass about church traditions that ignore Christ’s call to a discipleship of healing, reconciliation, justice, peace and mercy.
Christ I pray, show me how you would use me.
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.