Write...or Die Trying

I used to work in a factory. Now I work in an office. Either way, my writing was dying. So now I must: Write...or Die Trying.


The Perfect Church

[From an email list I'm on, regarding frustrations with finding "the right church"]

> But those of you who are in a church, yet see many of the same things
> I also see, How do you deal with it?

Mostly by remembering that people are fallen, fallible beings. Keep in mind that we often hold other people to a higher standard than we're willing to commit to ourselves, particularly when it comes to church leadership, and particularly if those failings touch on raw nerves in areas of our own lives. If we were stumbling with something difficult, we probably would not be very uplifted by having someone explain to us where we went wrong, what we could have done differently, and then, in the end, disregard us on the basis of our failures--no matter how sincere we were when we set out. No church can survive, no matter large, if Christian love is extinct, dormant, or grudgingly given.

I am firmly in the camp of those that want to decry the warm-fuzzy (misleadingly labeled "seeker-oriented") churches and their focus on the external and passing emotions (a la Rick Warren/Saddleback christianity.) They grow their attendance for the same reasons that live concerts attract people: the energy and excitement of live performance. To thwart the Tired Debate That Will Not Be Named regarding worship style: I'm not confining that notion to, shall we say, musical preference, because that's such a small part of the service that it often has little effect on either drawing or keeping non-committal Christians in a pew. By "live performance" I simply mean the emotional reaction that many churches try to elicit from their parishioners through the Pavlovian reaction we have to large gatherings of people, fancy motion-graphics in the slide presentation, and professional-level audio production. It's all great stuff and can be used powerfully--but the world can only support a finite number Billy Graham knock-offs before reaching the saturation point.

In my own draining experience in different churches with competing agendas, competing communicative theologies, and hard-headed people (i.e. all of us,) I've found that the only thing really lacking in our churches is loving members that want to help, lift up, and support the work of the church. There's no shortage of theories on how to reach people, neither is there a lack of information on how to lead people in the most effective way. There is, in my opinion, a huge shortage of people who will throw themselves under the train if it will save a spiritual life (or lives.) It's simply a matter of too many chiefs and not enough indians (I could care less if that cliche is politically correct or not, it's still as effective today as when my then 85 year-old great grandmother taught me the concept.)

Now, to keep this within the realms of our discussions here: how do you "vent" this in a work of fiction? I think the first thing we all must do when approaching our fiction, especially if we're writing "Christian" fiction, is to ask ourselves if *we* would be interested in hearing what the story would have to say. Would we react positively to the work if it contained a rebuke we felt personally? Play devil's advocate and see how we would react to the same message, coming from the opposite perspective (yeah, but they're *wrong*, so that wouldn't count, right? ;-) Would it simply reaffirm what others believed, without being helpful to those who defend a different perspective? Not what would Jesus do, but what would we do? Read Chekhov's "A Blunder." It's a critique of common social constructs in pre-revolutionary Russia. But it's short (only a couple hundred words,) sweet, and to the point--and far more powerful than if he had come out and pointed a finger at the audience and, quite rightly, expounded on the flaws and hypocrisies in their own lives.

In the end, there may be almost nothing we can do about it. I was in that situation. I had lost my effectiveness because nobody wanted to listen to what I had to say, even though I still firmly believe that I was correct. I didn't say it in love. I wasn't patient. I wasn't forgiving. I was everything I was accusing them of being. Maybe that's why it angered me so much.

There is no magic bullet for all that ails the church in America today. It's not a simple problem, either. If it was simple, everyone would be fixing it because the solution would also be simple. But it's not. There is no perfect church. It's a fallacy we've built up in our minds to justify our own emotional responses to things we don't like. I attend a wonderful church now and we still have problems; we're not perfect. But we try to minister to each other as best we can, pick each other up when we go to far and fall on our faces, nurse each other's wounds, and work out our own salvation, as we're told to do. We're navigating the confusing currents of our post-modern (man, I hate that term) world together--and that's what makes all the difference.


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