Feasts or Folly?


I mentioned the George Barna book a few posts ago in which he says that in the US there are ‘revolutionaries’ who will change the face of the faith. These are the Christians who have chosen to live as faithful disciples without darkening the doors of a church.

This would make my vocation and ministry a fool’s errand. In fact, that would make the feasts and fasts of the church (the Church Year) nothing more than a cultural phenomena whose time has come.

While we have all heard of the ills of ‘organized religion’ and God knows I hate the bureacracy of my little slice of Christendom, is the ‘no church’ movement the wave of the future?

PS I know that the ‘Body of Christ’ is the people of God more than the building that we call ‘church.’ That does not make our spaces of worship less set apart for God’s use, however. In fact, how can we be set apart as the Temple of the Holy Spirit if we know no holy space, no ‘thin place’ in the world? I hope and pray that my parish nave and sanctuary is a ‘thin place,’ a place where the human and divine intersect. I also hope and pray that we all see ourselves as that intersection.

17 thoughts on “Feasts or Folly?

  1. I haven’t read Barna’s book, though I mean to do so. Having said that, it doesn’t seem that God meant us to walk in the faith alone, beginning with Genesis and the garden. The idea here seems to be that people are doing without the church because the church doesn’t fit their unique selves. This seems backwards. Shouldn’t we fit ours unique selves into the church (or a church)? I expect church to be like my birth family — I received guidance, structure, and the basic rules of life. I return to reconnect and recharge. Father Neo, you are far from obsolete.

  2. “I hope and pray that my parish nave and sanctuary is a ‘thin place,’ a place where the human and divine intersect.”

    I never actually saw the movie “Sixth Sense,” but I remember the previews in which Haley Joel Osment whispers “I see dead people” in that innocent, yet knowing voice. That’s kind of how I feel when I participate in the Eucharist, watch a baptism, make a sacramental confession, or even exchange the peace with my brothers in sisters in the pews. In those moments I feel like whispering to the person next to me, “I see the Kingdom of God,” fully expecting the other person to whisper back, “Yes, I see it too.” Father Neo, I’m sure that for many of your parishioners, the nave and sanctuary where you serve are indeed thin places. May God bless you and your ministry.

  3. I like to think of unchurched Christians as on a different path to the same destination. Lord knows the established churches will have a lot to answer for–I know people whose experiences with church have been absolutley horrid…

  4. Ranter–what, qualifies as a “horrid” church experience? I think you’re right that the established churches will have a lot to answer for. But my experience with the “contemporary,” non-denominational churches is that they were fun and friendly, but didn’t do much to help the church’s congregants encounter a holy, mysterious, loving God. (Not saying that all churches that do “contemporary” services foster shallow commitments–just the two I’ve attended appeared that way.) But I don’t know what it would mean to be an unchurched Christian–it doesn’t make any sense. It’s like a free-floating body parts severed from the Body of Christ–those fingers and toes need to be joined to the rest of the members to be fully joined to Christ, I think.

  5. xMore about the horridness?
    those molested by priests… priests who scheme to get into the Wills of their parishioners at the expense of their family (my mother’s priest, and this is ultra-charismatic, conservative ECUSA, told her I had totally rejected Christianity and the only reason I inherited a nickel was because she died suddenly before she could update her Will again), priests who convince their wealthy and impressionable female parishioners that their husbands are possessed, so they will divorce the husbands who are limiting their donations…
    You can tell I have a problem trusting clergy…

  6. Yikes! That is horrid indeed! Unfortunately, there are too many stories like yours. What keeps you ‘at the table?’

  7. an instinctive fear of hell fire beaten into my mentality when I was a wee babe, an elemental understanding that the body of Christ as it exists on Earth as an institution is of far greater importance than the contingent of lunatics who run and occupy in, and a sainted wife who would be horribly pained were I to lose faith.

  8. I grew up being afraid of hell, the devil and the rapture! I would grow quite anxious if my mom was not in plain sight or if I couldn’t find her. (She would be raptured, but me, I was an 8 year old heathen!)

    Thank God for saintly wives. I’ve got one as well.

  9. Ranter,

    Given your comments here, I understand your perspective on many fronts. Mine just happens to come predominately from the vantage point of Rome (briefly Geneva too) vs. Canturbury.

    As for the topic of Hell, here are a couple of books that have brought some clarity to me where Hell is concerned.

    Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship by N.T. Wright (an Anglican god!). This is a very brief book and the section on Hell is even smaller, but N.T. points out the shoddy biblical scholarship and interpretation by way of the Church universal on this subject. He doesn’t quite give up the notion of “Hell” altogether, but definitely puts it into a different light.

    The Last Word and the Word After That: A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. The purpose of this book is a total deconstruction of Hell proper. Nicely done. Can’t say I agree with everything he says, but very solid scholarship, where Hell is concerned, in the form of a fictional tale from an (maybe “the”) Emergent church leader. The “emergent” part is what gives me pause, but whatever it takes is what I say. People’s image of God imbued to them via the Church universal has done in my estimation nearly irreparable damage. This particular book is the third in a trilogy and raises a lot of eyebrows.

    I abhor the notion of Hell as traditionally understood. I frankly think it’s quite a shitty way to scare people into a pseudo-relationship with God. If you ever want other titles on this subject I have quite a list.

  10. I used to hear train whistles and think it was the sounding trumpets, and get very depressed that I hadn’t been sucked up… I totally relate to that.
    Oftentimes I think that my view of God is like that of a police officer… the less He knows about me, the better. I want to stay on His good side when I’m in his sights, and stay out of His way as much as possible. It’s not healthy, but it is where I am at.
    When I was a child, I used to spend hours agonizing about my anti-church Grandmother, who was aging, and how she would be in Hell, with the burning and the brimstone, and her rheumatoid arthritis, on top of all the other torments. It’s a lot for a nine year old to carry around. Her death began a ten year separation between me and all things churchy. Had I not gone to a Catholic college and married a theology major who was setting her sites on being a nun, I would probably be unchurched to this day.

  11. Quote from the Lenten lecture I heard tonight (talking about Christ’s harrowing of hell on Holy Saturday): “Scripture makes it clear that there is a hell; what is unclear is whether there is anybody in it.” Not sure how faithful to Scripture/tradition that statement is (due to personal ignorance), but it resonated with me.

  12. Recently, Fr. Neo asked the congregation what they thought about when they heard a fire and brimstone sermon. I remember one Jesuit when I was a child who seemed to have a huge effect on the congregation of Nativity of the BVM in Cedar Rapids, IA. Other than that sermon, I have heard a lot of talk about the evil of fire and brimstone that I don’t understand.
    As for the conversation here, I want the fire of that Jesuit. I want the fire of the Holy Spirit. Where it goes, it goes.

  13. I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone but me, but I wish the church that we attend today was more like the temple in Jerusalem. No one [denomination]could lay claim to it. It truly was God’s house and His alone. It was the central place of worship for all believers, regardless of the particulars of thier individual doctrines. Even the early church fathers still went up to worship at the temple. We know that James prayed there and was killed there. But just imagine if there were one house of worship for all Christians within any given city and we HAD to cooperate with each other and work out our differences and share the facilities. . . could we even do it?

  14. It is said that the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. If that is true, then we sort of do worship together in the same “place”, in Christ. In fact, “On Christ a solid rock we stand, all other ground is shifting sand.” And could that be why the curtain in the temple was rent from top to bottom…and why the temple was subsequently flattened?

    The Roman church tried to control lots of cultures and spread the church and got a lot of regional variation, like plant communities. From place to place the church intermingled with the local culture and the climate and geography and came up with a local version of itself. In some places, it thrived. In some places, it came up fast and blew away.

    Baptizing or casting out demons in the name of Jesus is pretty much OK wherever we do it, even if the people and place is different. Some folks handle snakes and do it. Some sing. Some dance. Some freeze into austere poses and avoid talking to each other. If all these folks are not agin’ us, they’re for us, I think. They can only worship in the name of Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit.

    Our big challenge will be when we start getting persecuted. Let’s see how we handle that. That might bring more of overt unity. I think we may get a chance soon to see.

  15. I guess the problem I see though is that even though theoretically you’re right, Morpheus, I’m not sure that really holds true in practice, especially when it seems we have an over abundance of denominations all laying claim to exclusive truth.

  16. The root problem with this “no church” movement tends to be that this is a Western idea, from Westerners who think they can afford to turn their back on the church. Unlike, for example, the persecuted Christians in the East who die for the ability to go to church.

    Sure churches have problems, every place will where there are humans. 🙂

    My concern is that Christians with this attitude have the “Jesus and me” idea. Not the “Jesus and all of the Church” mentality. He didn’t come to save just me, He came to save many, and there are numerous scriptures about this.

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