"Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God." ~Lenny Bruce
Over the last couple of days I have attended an annual gathering at the seminary from which I graduated. It is always a nice time, seeing old friends, catching up and hearing what the school is doing these days, what new things are exciting both professors and students. The days consist of worship and lectures by professors and former students. This year the alumni speaker was,Craig Wright,who happens to be a playwright,producer and screenwriter for such television shows as Lost and Six Feet Under. He had been asked to speak about what popular culture and the entertainment world has to teach the church of today. As he offered his very entertaining lectures, he was clear that he was not a 'church-growth' expert and that what he said was, above all, his opinion, nothing more.
Now it is not big news that main line denominational churches are declining in membership, and have been doing so for many years. The plethora of books and seminars on this subject is mind boggling. I have to admit to my overall sadness, and perhaps boredom, on the subject. There is such desperation in the intent of nearly all of these offerings. And so, I am imagining that those who planned the event invited this former student, not only out of the desire to have such a successful student back on campus, but because they thought he might actually have some answers to this perilous dilemma. A dilemma most students will walk out the door to try to solve.
It would be impossible to try to even summarize Wright's lectures in this small space. But I will try to elaborate on one of the key ideas. He spoke about the purpose of entertainment as that which keeps us from being confronted with our 'being-ness' and 'Being'. Basically, that's seminary talk for what it means to be a human being in relationship to the Presence of God, however we name it. This 'being-ness' is all tied up in what it means to be alive, our fear of death, our anxiety over all the things we are anxious about, what happens after we die,…well, you get the picture. Wright was saying that what entertainment does is keep us from having to really confront what it means to be truly alive. And as human beings in the 21st century we are people grasping at being entertained. We spend countless hours watching television, playing video games, on our computers, and on and on.
Now, I don't think he was saying that any of this entertainment is bad in and of itself. It is only how we use it, how much we use it, that causes things to get dicey. When we use all the many ways we can be entertained to keep us from really living in the moment, from being aware of what it means to be alive, with all that means, we are denying the gifts of life. And to deny the gifts of life is also to deny the Creator of life.
So in answering the question about what popular culture, which has entertainment as its main goal, has to teach the church, his answer was clear: it doesn't. Creating worship services that entertain only created an environment in which people have another opportunity to disconnect from what it means to be a creation of God, in all its complexities. The church is meant to make us MORE aware of what it means to be alive. The church is meant to share the gospel, the good news of how the Holy moves among us. The church is about serving…one another, the least, the lost, the left out. The church is about sitting still, which is what Jesus did a lot of, especially when things got tough, when being human was at its lowest and highest points. In sitting still, in not being entertained, we come to remember our own breath, to feel it, to hear it, to know it for the power it holds. And in this knowing we connect with the Breath that moves through all Creation, as a reminder of the fragility of our very lives, and we can perhaps, with grace, offer our gratitude.
If every church put as much time and energy in these three things: sharing the gospel, serving, and sitting still, as they did in marketing plans and ad campaigns, goal setting and 5-year plans, perhaps we might find a way not only to survive but to thrive. I suppose only time will tell.
It promises to be a beautiful spring weekend…..ripe for sitting still….enjoy!