We are the Body

This lighted pear with the church design was a gift from a friend. I loved seeing it this morning and thinking about the ways it teaches the role of the church in the world.  Our purpose as members is to get out of the four walls and shed light to others.

At a time when the numbers of religiously unaffiliated is growing rapidly, my sense is that I have been rescued from a shallow and frivolous life not just through affiliation but commitment to the church which is the Body of Christ.

 

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Cor. 12:27

John Calvin would not endorse our casual thinking about what it means to be part of a church.

The church is the common mother of all the godly, which bears, nourishes, and brings up children to God, kings and peasants alike; and this is done by the ministry. Those who neglect or despise this order choose to be wiser than Christ. Woe to the pride of such men!”

A summer studying the letter of Ephesians with other women has renewed my love and commitment to the church that Christ loved and gave Himself for.


Hillbilly Revel!

I recently completed J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy.  As I read, I was struck by how sorrowful his story was and how different from my own family’s hillbilly story. I interviewed Granny Lawhorne, the young girl with the bow in this photo, in November 1995 when she was 83 years old.  As she recounted the difficult plight of being an Amherst County Virginia hillbilly; her tale was sprinkled with deep belly laughs and joy.  There was no elegy edge to her story at all.

Well, I’ll just tell you, my mama’s name was Emma Henson Burch and she married my daddy Frank Benjamin Burch on August 20, 1892.

Daddy was 20 years old and Mama was 15 at the time of their wedding. They were married at the Oronoco Church of the Brethren on Route 60 at the top of the mountain near Buena Vista, Virginia. They got married right after a revival meeting and then left the church in a horse and buggy and went 20 miles or so to Pleasant View where Emma’s sister Molly lived. That was the way honeymoons happened in them days. Mama went to housekeeping with a straw tick and a frying pan. She had to gather field straw to fill the tick for their bed and she cooked all their meals in that frying pan over the fireplace. One of her relatives had given her a few small potatoes so they would have something to cook.

That was all they started married life with. They didn’t have a stick of furniture but they managed to raise 10 children and Daddy never held a public job. You know I think people would die today if they had to live like we did then. The worse problem we had was how to get clothes. We grew and put up our own food but there was no money for clothes. Mama made shirts and underwear for my brothers and underwear and dresses for my sisters out of cloth the she saved from 25 pound flour sacks.

What I remember about my life as a child was working!  As soon as I was big enough to stand up on the stool at the sink, Mama put me to washing dishes. The older you got the more jobs she put you doing. We did have some good times though. We had get togethers called “Bean Shellins,” “Corn Shuckins,” and “Molasses Pulls.” At the corn shuckins, they would hide jars of moonshine in piles of unshucked corn. The men shucked corn like crazy trying to uncover those hidden jars! Moonshine was one of the ways that folks in the mountains could get their hands on money. The Colemans and the Noels and others all had family members who served prison time cuz they were caught by revenuers selling whiskey.

I also remember it being a good time to go to church. We walked 5 miles each way to get to Oronoco even when I was a young child. If they were holding nighttime revival meetings we would hear the 11 o’clock whistle blow down in Buena Vista and still have about three quarters of a mile left to walk.

As I read J.D. Vance’s book it occurred to me that while his Mamaw saw church as “breeding grounds for perverts and money changers,” Granny found solace for her soul and strength to follow the upside down values of Jesus’ kingdom at church. Her 93 year life was characterized by hard work, deep love for others, exuberant joy and resting in the grace of God.

 

Survivor and the American Church- Pt.1

survivor one world logoThe 24th season of Survivor premiered on Feb. 15, 2012.  America has not tired of watching contestants struggle and strain to outwit, outplay and outlast each other in the hope of winning 1 million dollars.

In every season successful contestants reveal that a key to winning is to identify which of the other challengers is the most threatening enemy.

A recent blog post by Mike Breen made me wonder if the American church has identified its most threatening enemies.

What is it that is seeking to vote the church off the island in America? 

He suggests there are three enemies:

  • a culture of CELEBRITY
  • a culture of CONSUMERISM
  • a culture of COMPETITION

CELEBRITY

The idea of celebrity is deeply woven into American culture and values. All you have to do is look at the ridiculous nature of Reality TV and you see how Americans are constantly craving celebrity (either to be a celebrity or to find the next celebrity and stalk their every move). Now there is nothing dark or sinister about “celebrity” in and of itself. You can’t find an argument that says Jesus wasn’t a huge celebrity in his day.

However, there is a difference between being famous and being significant. If Jesus was famous, it’s because he was doing something significant. The problem with many pastors is they make decisions, develop personas and define success from the lens of what will make them a celebrity/famous (even if they don’t know it or see that they are doing this). So in American church culture, it’s pretty easy to become a celebrity: Grow a HUGE church. Now all in all, it’s not terribly difficult to grow to be a giant church if you have the right tools at your disposal…but that doesn’t mean the ends justify the means of getting there.

For instance, though Jesus was a celebrity in his day, he was willing to say things that ran people off in droves. In fact, the book of Mark chronicles the way (from about the mid-point of the book on) how people left Jesus to where, at the end, virtually no one was left. NO ONE wants to be associated with him for fear of the consequences. That’s a Charlie Sheen-esque flameout (obviously without the character issues!). That’s not something you see too often in American churches.

I suspect it’s because riven deeply into the American psyche is the desire to be a celebrity. And American pastors are very susceptible to this. Many subtle things happen in people who desire to this kind of celebrity status:

* They can disengage community and isolate themselves, setting themselves up for moral failure.

* They can make decisions that are numbers driven and not always Kingdom driven.

* They can skew to a shallow understanding of the Gospel as opposed to a holistic one that leads people to discipleship.

* They can put the good of their church (their personal Kingdom) over the good of God’s Kingdom.

Question: In what ways are your decisions made by a subtle undercurrent of ambition and a hope for celebrity?

Mike Breen, “Obituary for the American Church,” Verge Network

More tomorrow!