The aging couple was introduced to the church body. Long-term missionaries, they had served (or was it survived?) West Africa for over twenty years. I considered the statement, but instead of allowing space for a holy wow, my thoughts turned to more negative notions.
How does a woman wear tired like an accessory, a man’s carry sorrow like a knapsack?
How many churches wanted a piece of their story in the early days, before the results weren’t quite so world-changing as expected?
Certainly, there were colonial implications to their work; weren’t they the embodiment of the “great white hope?”
Was this a complicit, parasitic relationship?
What does a couple do when their entire economy–their occupation, health, and home–is threatened by a ravaging disease, and why does God not eradicate the scourge?
How does the church economy value their effort, really? Can a relief worker return to the church economy after the work is completed? Will there be money for transition, for reintegration?
I tuned the questions out, took a minute to survey the room. I noted a gussied up hypocrite or two. I am a lawyer during the week, which allows me a window into the secrets of others. Some have tax issues; others nurse failing businesses. Some are contract-breacher; others are trespassers. I noted all of this less from a position of judgment, and more from a position of juxtaposition. Oh, the irony of we who lift our hands on Sunday, and scoop them into the mud on Monday.
This is my church. And though the noting of their hypocrisies were convenient in the moment, in all honesty I must confess–I am them.
How often have I contributed to the burnout of the missionary, given the promise that I would visit, or call, or support, only to renege? How often have I spoken holy words on Sunday, only to utter curses on Monday? Have I been the contract-breacher, at least in the metaphorical sense? There is no doubt.
They say that the younger generation is leaving the church in droves. Recent reports show that attendance for the Southern Baptist Church (the church of my youth) has been on the decline for seven years. Article after article discusses the mass-exodus of millennials from the church. I don’t need statistics or articles to tell me what I already know, though—church attendance is down because my generation has become consumed with cynicism and a taste for pointing out hypocritical ironies.
Yesterday, I considered my own cynicism, my own penchant for noticing the hypocrisy of my fellow church attendees. I asked myself, “how does it feel to carry this load of negativity?” and the answer was “not so good.” So, I did that thing that the good book teaches us to do when the darkness of our own hearts creeps up on us. I simply uttered, “I’m done with all of that; teach me to love.”
Then, in a sort of Brave New World altar-building experience, I tweeted:
A prayer for this church generation: replace our cynicism with wisdom, our love for irony with a love for our neighbors.
— Seth Haines (@sethhaines) September 14, 2014
I tweeted this during church, mind you, so I didn’t expect much of a response. Apparently, though, I am not the only person tweeting during church. (Counterpoint: perhaps everyone really has left church and they are all sitting at home tweeting Brave New Church thoughts?) The tweet was retweeted, began to build momentum, and as it began to make the rounds a few thoughts occurred to me.
Maybe the millennial church, if only a small minority, is tired of the cynicism and the noting of hypocritical ironies.
Maybe we’re all ready to walk in a better, more hopeful way.
Even if it’s just a minority of folks, maybe we can lock arms, sing a few hymns, and decide that we’ve had enough of all of the negativity.
Perhaps we can live toward the coming kingdom.
These might be pipe dreams, and I’m not suggesting that we should not ask hard questions and push against hypocrisy. Isn’t there a way, though, to move from the default position of cynic to the default position of wow. Maybe it begins with extending charity to those around us, with the recognition of the beautiful people of both the local congregation and the church at large. That’s my best guess, anyway. To that end, and in an attempt to make a personal shift, I pray in the words of St. Francis, “mighty God, great and glorious, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Grant me, Lord… a perfect charity.”
And if I’m employing proper scriptural imagination, my best guess is that perfect charity will drive out cynicism. Let it be.
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