I was driving around my newly acquired home of Oklahoma City the other day admiring the landscape. It is dotted with what looks like 1960’s Soviet Era architecture. This is a lesson in urban sprawl. This somewhat flat landscape is littered with the beckoning lights of consumer America.
Corners filled with chain gas stations, chain pharmacies, chain fast food restaurants, and the occasional car dealer, all of them vying for your attention and the right to fill your needs. They tell you that you are going to be better if you consume their products. The signs of progress read, “2 for $2.99!”, “Value Menu”, and “Special!”
They drown out the competition with noise and promises of a making a better you or at least aiding you in the quest towards a better you. Theses national and international corporate giants strangle the local “mom and pop” stores. They leave behind in their wake a bland, tasteless message of uniformity and industrial ingenuity. They strip the creativity from our cities and our neighborhoods. Quite literally, they dumb down the required process to pictures and prefabbed projects that simply require someone to put A in to B.
The big box stores buy in a massive volume and take great care to offer the same experience regardless of your location. The fast food restaurants fight each other to offer you the cheapest meals possible with exciting names and a veiled effort to be more nutritious.
Upon the holy trinity of fat, sugar, and salt these restaurants draw you in with the offer of affordable meals and capture you in to a web of addiction. You get processed proportions of fat, sugar, and salt that allows you to function, if just barely. There is a hidden cost to these big box and fast foot endeavors. The consumer pays the hidden cost of any short cut.
I offer this not as a scathing critique of fast food and big box stores. I offer this as a parallel of the church and warning to the church. Be careful of stripping the creative force from your communities and taking short cuts. The consumer (disciple) pays the hidden cost of any short cut.
We are guilty of this big box, fast food plague. Over the last fifteen years I have witnessed local churches strip away the surrounding creativity and replace it with a purpose-driven, prosperity-laced, righteously-imbued processes of being church. In the process local identity vanished in hopes of attracting more people to consume our products.
We have slapped those cheep labels upon our communities that read, “Value Meal!”, “Confessing”, and “Open and Affirming.” We advertise an inferior product with an unholy trinity of Easy, Traditional, and Desperate. We seek to draw people in to this mess. We want to believe that Jesus the Christ is moving us to offer a product that we hope for, but do not consume ourselves. We are like the saboteur offering poisoned wine to our guests and pretending to drink as to cover our dastardly plans.
I do not accuse the church of being anything other than afraid. The church seems to be grasping at straws looking for an answer to this crisis of faith we have found ourselves in. We have forgotten the reason we are here any way. We are here to glorify God and enjoy God forever.
We glorify God in accordance to the Word of God. The Word of God informs, inspires, and enriches the life of those that chose to live a path that should glorify God. God is a, being a spirit, eternal, unchangeable, just, good, wise, truth, and beyond our full understanding. How are we to market this in this dying economy? Have we lost our sense of awe or subsistence upon grace?
In our efforts to stave off death we have become ineffective. We have replaced the resurrection with promises and hopes that death shall not visit us. We offer a steady diet of Easy, Traditional, and Desperate. When God is calling us to a diet of Discipleship, Community, and Death. We are to die to ourselves. The church dies and is reborn over and over again.
The church is not the same as it was over 2,000 years ago as the church is not the same as it was 500 years ago. The church changes. Those that live in to it transform it. The church dies and resurrects.
The problem is not that we die or that the church shall die. The difficulty lies in the resurrection. We shall surely die. We might have an affect upon that in accordance to the choices we make in this life. We surely do not have any effect upon how or to what we shall resurrect to. This is the fear of the church.
The church can only trust unto God that the resurrection of its hard work and dedication be what God needs it to be for the coming generations. God has a vision beyond our own. God is a being, a spirit, eternal, unchangeable, just, good, wise, truth, and beyond our full understanding. How can we die to ourselves and fertilize what is emerging from the good work that so many good people have offered before us? Will we drink of the cup to which we offer our guests?