Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Buffet-style Christianity?

In church life, few things are more interesting than the carry-in, potluck community dinner.  More often than not, I find a new favorite dish this way -- and I'm assured of coming away with an interesting discovery, good or bad.  I've never been a picky eater, and I like trying new things, so the potluck dinners are right up my alley.  There is also something special about bringing a dish to a community table and bonding around a shared meal.  It has been said that the potluck dinner might be an additional sacrament of the church, and I think I might agree.

Most of what's great about a potluck dinner does not hold true for buffet style restaurants.  Though
this may challenge the stereotype of all of us native midwesterners, I confess to not being a fan of buffet style restaurants.  Most such establishments try to be all things to all people; the bragging points of the typical buffet restaurant almost always revolve around sheer size.  Invariably, buffets have poor imitations of many of their most exotic food choices.  And when I finally find one really notable item?  Its old and cold.  While the quality of the food at buffets consistently disappoints, we still end up over-eating anyway (or is that just me?).  Kind of a lose/lose proposition, no?

I've begun to wonder if local churches do not fall into the "buffet" trap.  Volumes have been written regarding the false notion equating greater size and success in the life of the church, so I'm not even going to bother to go there.  However, it is not only in size that we find some unfortunately similarities.  Even regarding identity, it is tempting to seek buffet-type attributes in our local faith communities.  

We attempt to be all things to all people, all the time.  We want to be a part of every new ministry fad.  We need every new small group and out-reach ministry.  We need every type of children's or family ministry.  We need to be on the cutting edge in worship style, even while we consistently honor all of our traditional worship traditions.  Most churches who try to do it all give a pale imitation of each, at best.  At worst?  Our attempt at "ministry buffet" causes us to lose our way entirely.

Far too often in church life, we equate being busy with being successful.  Much like the imitation crabmeat on a buffet, we accept a less than authentic call to seek justice.  Our instant banana pudding is our willingness to ignore quiet calls for help and mercy in our community because they don't fit our calendar or resource plan.  Instead of being satisfied with walking humbly with our God, we chase after the most recent theologically-flawed programing fad like stale, greasy tacos.

For a few years I taught an introductory course on missional church.  One of the challenges in teaching the course was to convince students that being missional isn't as much about "doing" as "being."  Our faith communities should seek to live a call from God to live the gospel together, not do as much as possible.  We can ask questions like, "What are the 2 or 3 most real needs in our community and neighborhoods?", "Where can we make the most difference?", and "What are passions of our people?"  These are the types of questions which help us discover our call and identity as missional congregations.  

When we seek to do every conceivable ministry, rather than that which fits the unique context, identity, and vision I believe God gives every church, we become too much like our buffet restaurant cousins.  And buffet-style Christianity is just as unhealthy.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Phyllis Schlafly's Low Opinion of Marriage

In a recent editorial on the Christian Post, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly tries to make the case that the wage earning gap between men and women is either voluntary (by women, no less) or justified, or both.  It is a ridiculous argument, but not one that truly surprises given she essentially argued earlier this year that if there were not so many women in our colleges and universities, there would not be so many campus assaults.

Ironically, her most recent musing reveals her incredibly low opinion of marriage, coming from a self-described Christian and conservative.  Our culture abounds with opinions on marriage these days as we continue to wrestle with the question of marriage in a larger civil rights discussion for LGBT, a discussion which is long overdue.  Those of Mrs. Schlafly's ideology hold themselves up as champions of marriage defense.  However, her own argument betrays her own weak view of marriage.

First, she says women choose lower paying careers and working circumstances, thus leading to the wage gap we all know exists.  She says this is not a problem, as women are generally attracted to men who earn more than them.  In fact, they are unlikely to even date, much less marry, men who earn less.  Wow, am I glad my wife did not feel this way when I asked her to marry me (more on this in a moment).

If her view of women isn't insulting enough, she then paints an equally insulting picture of men.  According to Schlafly, men are incredibly insecure regarding all things economic; apparently the male preference to earn more is so important it must be a controlling factor in the relationship.  Let me see if I understand this:  Women are essentially gold-diggers when seeking out a mate, and men are so insecure they can not handle the "threat" of a potential mate making as much (or more!) than they do.

As a school teacher and a minister, my wife and I clearly did not choose our careers primarily for personal economic benefit.  However, at several points during our marriage -- including its beginning -- Tara has been the greater wage earner in our family.  We have continually relied on the better benefits her career provides.  And I've never felt threatened in the slightest.  Instead, its been my privilege to be her biggest supporter and fan, while her hard work has allowed me to pursue my calling without feeling the burden of providing more for our family.

Is the husband who finds himself laid off and taking a job earning less than he would like, less than his wife (gasp!), less faithful or successful as a husband and father?  Can a woman only find contentment when she finds a good-earning husband she can fall in appropriately behind?  Do we want to reinforce these dated cultural tropes, or fight against them?  As usual, Mrs. Schlafly finds herself captured by her 1955 world.

Her opinion of marriage appears to be even further dated.  There was a time in human civilization where marriage was primarily a contract with two purposes: advance economic interests (often for the extended family) and produce children.  Certainly this is one of the perspectives on marriage we find in the bible, though it is only one of many.  I'm grateful scripture demonstrates a view of marriage which changes over time, with Jesus eventually challenging the notion that any of our human relationships must involve manipulation through abuse of power and money.

Instead, the best biblical perspectives on marriage present a relationship of love, support, encouragement, and mutual submission, rather than exercised power.  When given a choice between this perspective and those presented by Schlafly, I have to wonder who truly has a higher view of marriage.  If Mrs. Schalfly wants to defend marriage as defined primarily by economic acquisition and suppressed insecurity, she can have it.  The rest of us have moved on to something much better.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My New Blog!

Church of Christ Congregational
Stony Creek CT
Welcome to www.creekparson.com!  I am a progressive Congregational minister living and serving in southern coastal Connecticut.  Stony Creek is a village within the town of Branford -- hence the name "creek parson."

I'm a native of Missouri and have strong midwest roots, though I was also raised outside of Atlanta, GA.  Our family moved to Connecticut in the Fall of 2014 and have enjoyed immensely the terribly underrated New England hospitality we have received.  

The view from our church yard
This summer will be 16 years since my ordination and I've served three different churches as pastor for the last 15 years.  I've been blessed to have many wonderful mentors in ministry through the years, including professors, colleagues, and even family members.  More than a few parishioners have taught me a thing or three, as well.

Our sanctuary
Those who know me will remember I have played around with blogging over the years, but it never really took hold.  This blog will be my better effort :)  I look forward to sharing my reflections on life, culture, faith, theology, and even entertainment or sports; I eagerly anticipate your comments, too!  I'll include the occasional book, movie, or television review, as well as the occasional rant.  

Stay tuned to Thursday afternoons...

(my previous blogging effort may be found here:  jameslhilljr.blogspot.com)