Over reading week I was able to spend some quality time with my record collection, listening to most of them and even buying a new one. One of my favorites, purchased at an antique store in Charlotte, North Carolina is a compilation by blue grass great Doc Watson. For those of you who aren’t acquainted with old blue grass and country, many songs have religious overtones, rarely with theology that matches up with my own. I really appreciate the music that blue grass and country acts such as the Louvin Brothers have put out, but I can’t get behind the theology they profess in such classics as “Broadminded” (this is not the Louvin Brothers, however there isn’t a good copy of it on you tube, so Brother Don will have to do, and he does a pretty good job!).
While listening to Doc Watson: Favorites one such gospel tune stood out, “Old Camp Meeting Time.” The chorus is likely to get stuck in your head for a while after hearing it, as it did mine this past week. Over and over again I would sing “I like that old time preachin’, prayin’, shoutin’, singin’, I like the old time reading of God’s word, I like to hear them glory hallelujah’s ringing, I like the old time worship of the lord.” I can’t imagine what that was like for my wife to have to hear, but it got me thinking – and I know ol’ Doc is singing about camp meetings, but go with me – all I could think of is the split between that real old “preachin’” that Jesus did and what I have heard in many pulpits today.
At McCormick we’ve been having dialogues about ways to re-imagine the church. Doc Watson spelled (or rather sang) it out for me – no, we don’t need camp meetings to revitalize the church, but we need to get back to the central part of Jesus’ message. Take for instance the beatitudes from the sermon on the mount:
“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3-10 CEB)
Be humble. Show mercy. Make peace.
The Good News of Jesus doesn’t stop there. Some of the most impactful stories are of Jesus feeding and table fellowship, and of healing the sick and wounded, and comforting the sad.
These are all essential tenants of the life and death of Jesus that often go ignored by our churches. Right now on Facebook there is a blog that I keep seeing posted and re-posted, Rachel Held Evans, “15 reasons I left church.” Among them she mentions being ridiculed for asking questions, not being allowed to doubt, learning more from Oprah about justice than Jesus, the church seeming more like a cult or country club… the list goes on. This is a common experience for a lot of people, as I have experienced so much of this my self and have seen the many comments the posting of that blog to Facebook elicited.
Wednesday I saw a preacher’s Facebook status update and he gave a list of the ways he thought the economy could be revitalized. Among them was sending the National Guard to the border (he undoubtedly meant our southern one) and killing any “illegal” who tries to come in. This was a preacher. A man of God. Someone who claims to spread the “good news.” His version of the good news has nothing to do with the message of peace, mercy, healing or feeding that I’ve read about. His is the message that is creating a divide between our culture and our faith, causing so many to want to distance themselves from the church.
In a follow up blog, one that I have not seen being shared on Facebook, Rachel Evans answers what made her go back to the church. Number one on her list is Jesus. She also mentions communion, the support of a community that cares and grace. This is what many people, myself included want from church. I don’t want to preach or be preached at about hate and divisions. I need to hear the message of hope and unity. I need to hear about divisions being broken down. I need to hear about it not being important who you are, what you do or where you’re from – what matters is that you care about your neighbor, you feed them when they are hungry, clothe them when they are naked. Even when the scriptural message is difficult to hear and understand, I need a community that supports the struggle for understanding instead of using it as a weapon against those they disagree with. That’s what I like about Jesus’ old time preachin’, prayin’, shoutin’, singin’. That’s what I want from a revitalized church.
What do you want?