This Thursday just past I wrote about my perception that a deep sadness underlies the snarkiness that defines many people these days and bemoaned the church’s inability to minister into that sadness. When contemplating possible responses I suggested a couple of approaches and said, “It is probably some of each and highly individualized.” As is typical for me, I am making a case that while the US is not a “Christian nation,” it is based on any number of Christian principles and if people of faith are not actively a part of its operation it will not function well. Our democracy demands people of a particular character to be at its best, and while that character need not be theologically Christian, it is the character that Christianity prescribes.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day, thus I find myself in reasonable, if not whole, agreement with Pat Buchanan’s column this week. Buchanan wonders, “Is Democracy in a Death Spiral?,” and while he manages to sound somewhat bigoted in his discussion he makes a valid point when he says:
In Federalist No. 2, John Jay called us a “band of brethren” and “one united people” who shared the same …, religion, principles, manners, customs.
Democracy requires common ground on which all can stand, but that ground is sinking beneath our feet, and democracy may be going down the sinkhole with it.
The nations failure is in many ways Christianity’s failure. Our government, by design, is not the keeper of principles, manners and customs – that job was left to other institutions in our national design. Thus those institutions bear as much responsibility for what we are seeing as anything else.
If we are going to repair our democracy we must not repair simply the government, but also those other institutions. I am beginning to think that one of the places the church has gone wrong is in its failure to recognize that the answers are usually “highly individualized.” Hence the title of this post,”Christians are not manufactured, they are crafted.”
Christians are not gingerbread men, cut from the same mold and just decorated slightly differently. We are each unique and different people. We come from every imaginable background with vastly different perspectives, prejudices and problems. A truly objective observer would find far more different between the average Presbyterian congregation and the average African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregation than they would similar and yet are not the members of both churches brethren in Christ? In both places Jesus is meeting people where they are and calling them forward to where He wants them to be. We are defined by the journey, not where we came from, or where we are on it. Since the Reformation the church has split and split again in that effort to bring everyone on the journey.
But nowadays it seems our concept of church is monstrously large, relatively homogeneous and anonymous. Like a giant factory, we order ourselves in a way designed to make the same thing over and over and over again. But as we have organized ourselves that way we see the decline of our democracy and one must wonder if the two things are related. Hollywood has found massive success selling exactly the same product in a variety of packages and often to the same people several times over. But the church is not Hollywood and our product needs to adapt itself to every consumer. Like a smart phone, our products may all come out of the same box, but within minutes of the customer getting their hands on it, it becomes something very different.
Have you ever wondered why customer service is so bad in the smart phone industry? It is precisely because they are trying to sell identical widgets into a highly individualized market. The customer service people are trained to do the same thing transaction after transaction when each of us comes to that transaction with different communication styles, desires and capabilities. Anymore, it seems like churches suffer from the same issue. They are designed to conduct the same transaction repeatedly when each transaction is really a thing unto itself. Is that not the biggest difference between manufacturing and craftsmanship? The manufacturer makes widgets and sells the same widget over and over and over again. A craftsman makes what the customer needs. In business money is made doing the same thing over and over and over again, it lowers overhead and unit cost and allows for low pricing which increases marketability. When the prices get low enough people will settle for something that is “close enough” to what they need.
But here is the thing about Christianity, it comes at the highest price imaginable – a price we recognized just the weekend past. How dare we try to commoditize something so precious? How presumptuous are we when we let our desire for apparent “success” drive us to try and cheaply manufacture that which is so carefully crafted? At some point we need to:
Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
This Sunday morning let’s go to church without a list of action items. Let’s “cease striving.” Let’s listen. Let’s craft and not manufacture. It might just save our democracy. But more importantly, I know it will save a lot of souls.