Church and Grace

A video’s gone viral, perhaps you’ve seen it. It talks about loving Jesus but not religion. I appreciate some of the sentiment; but truthfully, the kind of dichotomy that guides this common phrase makes me want to scream and yank fists of hair from my head. Meanwhile, the internet-o-sphere has also been abuzz with tales of a well-known church that seems to rule its congregation with a heavy hand. That’s sad, sad and tiring. We need the common, plain practice of “pure and undefiled religion,” but we’re desperate for grace. We’re one confused lot. I’ve been thinking of jotting a few thoughts, but then a friend wrote in response to a series of posts (Why the Church?) I did a bit ago. I think our interaction offers a good entree into all this.

Dear Winn,

I was just reading through your blog and came across the “why the church” series. You invite (albeit from 18 months ago) people to comment. I have one question which you did not address.

Background: I like my church. It’s over 200 years old and has a splendid collection of conservatives and liberals, young and old, homeless and rich, etc. Problem is, Trudy and I don’t have much time to give it. Often, waking up on a Sunday morning is the only real down-time we have throughout our week. Putting our daughter Emma down for a nap and watching CBS’s Sunday Morning are the perfect ways to worship our Creator. We go to church, just with less frequency. I’m becoming convinced that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Nowhere is weekly attendance mandatory for us, perhaps unless we are paid by the church to do work.

So I guess my question is: What do we do for the uber-busy church attender who lacks time for an engaged church life?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

I am, as always, your friend,

Hey, Dwayne.

I’m glad you read those pieces; I enjoyed writing them.

There’s probably a lot of things I could say in response to your question, but I’m not your pastor and don’t know the textures of your life. So, it’s hard for me to give concrete advice. I’ll just say a thing or two in general. They may feel in opposition; but, heck, such is most of my life.

First, I’d say, relax. Take what comes and give whatever you have to give. In the church, people give what they’re able and take what they need. These things come and go. There really is no more time-annihilating season than early on with kids. It’s just hard, crossing the Rubicon hard. Do the best you can. Love will cover the details.

Second, I’d also say that everybody’s busy, and typically we make space for the things we truly want. Over the long haul, I can’t imagine a spirituality with roots deep enough to nourish and sustain us that isn’t melded with the communal practices of word and sacrament. God is everywhere, but God is uniquely present among the awkward and beautiful people He’s called His Body. Church is about physicality, presence. God with us, us with God – and all of us with one another. They say church isn’t about having your butt in the seat, but sometimes it’s about having your butt in the seat.

Does this mean such things ebb and flow in seasons? They must. Does anyone (including us pastor-types) need to freak out because we’re stretched in a season and need to call a timeout? Surely not. Does everyone (especially us pastor-types) need to be more playful about these things and (as Miska says) refuse to get our panties in a wad? Uh, yeah. Should we have questions if we find ourselves habitually unmoored from the practices and the people of faith? We probably should.

I can’t tell you exactly what rhythm presence and physicality require, but you’ll know it when it’s missing. Pay attention to that. And, in the mean time, catch sleep when you can and enjoy those Sunday mornings when needed.

peace and love,

2 Replies to “Church and Grace”

  1. Wrestling with exactly this, right now Winn, so your post is very timely. Rhythm, presence and physicality – those words have a good ring.

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