Killing the Church with Tradition
Easter has come and gone. I've found in my shorter existence as a pastor, and longer one as an active church participant, that now is the season in which there is often tensions and conflicts about the ways we are doing church and the ways we should be doing it. The high feast days have come and gone. In the coming-down-from-the-high something happen in the vortex of community that pushes some to want to blame others for their unmet expectations, un-articulated demands and possibly their unconscious essential tenants. It's not about being a killjoy as much as it seems to be a cyclical pattern of rejection and condemnation before a fear-full minority receives the rejection that they fear is coming.
This is true in my own life in the past weeks with claims that I am hiding, or embezzling money, as well as an anonymous critical comment left for me in the offering plate this past Sunday. (see image: click on it to expand it).
As I reflect on these encounters, past experiences and current theological reading I have to wonder if maybe the church is dying in our country - or at least struggling in a major Code BLUE way because we are so intent at any cost to not just hold on to tradition, but to be dominated by it. I'm not talking just about the little old ladies who only want to sing familiar hymns, nor about those that demand that a pastor/priest wear appropriate clerical uniforms. It's not just generational, geriatric or ageist. It's bigger. There is a strong surge, maybe a desperate plea for help, that rallies around the flagpole of tradition, even affirming negative aspects of our tradition out of fear or modernity and the increasingly obligatory need to adapt. Some examples include the continuation of destructive highly-hierarchical ways of relating to one another versus liberating and empowering forms of egalitarian collaboration, observation over participation, critical comment making over involved personal effort to bring about a change, cries of dogmatic and doctrinal heresy as opposed to thoughtful and time-consuming engagement of new ideas and reflection on past traditions, and the fight or flight response to emerging culture that pushes the church community to often feel the obligation to choose between total accomodation and dissipation in our pluralistic postmodern world or retreat back into the glory days of the 50s when churches were full and we were happy. [Another example is a recent article on President Obama's speech to the government of Turkey on the blog religious dispatches]
In my experience of the church I think we often don't recognize or welcome the growth, revitalization and "younger folks in the pews" that we desperately claim to want because we are addicted to the crack of the past, letting the hands of tradition so strenously wrap and hold themsleves around our necks that we can't inhale the fresh ideas, paradigms and air that is all around us. For the past years both in California and in France, I've worked with and for the transformation or revitalization of church communities (specifically in the PCUSA and the Eglise Reformee de France), maybe their is not an appropriate way to bring transformation, no peace-able way to bring change when it's perceived as possible only at the cost of throwing out all tradition.