“Dying,” Morrie suddenly said, “is only one thing to be sad over, Mitch. Living unhappily is something else. So many of the people who come to visit me are unhappy.”
“Well, for one thing, the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. Most people can’t do it. They’re more unhappy than me–even in my current condition.”
“I may be dying, but I am surrounded by loving, caring souls. How many people can say that?” – from “Tuesdays with Morrie“, by Mitch Albom
Christian culture doesn’t make me happy. To be sure that we’re on the same page – I’m using this definition for culture: “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group”.
On ‘customary beliefs’ – I find myself in a Christianity that’s full of conflicting customary beliefs. I’m not sure what to believe – or why it’s okay to not believe some things and a deal-breaker to not believe other things. It’s not just the main battlefields of the armies of Calvinism vs the militias of Arminianism; but there’s also countless smaller debates – skirmishes on any number of topics that constantly rage on seemingly without end. There’s no peace – and the only unity exists so long as the other people on your side believe exactly as you do – otherwise they’re not worth the time of day. If you associate with them, their ‘bad company’ will corrupt your ‘good character’ or worse, ‘damage your faith’ and turn you away from the truth.
On ‘social forms’ – Christianity has become bound to hierarchies in hierarchies built upon domination and subordination. It’s one of the big debates going on now – but apparently the Father/Son relationship is one of authority and submission, so husband/wife relationships are also built on authority and submission, as well as church leaders / the congregation are to exist in a pattern of authority and submission. Somebody always leads, somebody always follows or else the whole house of cards will come tumbling down. But for those of us who read the Bible understanding mutual respect and love as the nature of all relationships – we can see the tendency to over-promote authority and submission as the human tendency to seek power and control over others. A hierarchical God, seriously? How does that really work? God, Christ, Holy Spirit, various ranks of angels, wasn’t Jesus made a little lower than the angels? Then people – but also in various ranks – in the churches it goes like Pastor, then varying degrees of associate pastors, Elder, Deacon, husbands and men in general, wives and women in general, children. Then as family units, the order goes God, Christ, Man/Husband, Woman/Wife – nobody seems to notice the absence of the Holy Spirit and children, but it’s not like they were that important anyways.
On material traits – We like our stuff. Our t-shirts, our sermons, our books – we’d fill up whole libraries of books and just keep on writing more of them. We’ll sell you any number of Bibles in any color of any translation with any number of special features – maps, timelines, study notes – we’re a stuff-oriented faith these days. We have mountains of it, and faith will move it for a an extra shipping and handling fee. Figure in the seed/faith prosperity gospel and you have a stuff-oriented teaching that pretty much never delivers on it’s promises because it impoverishes vulnerable Christians in order to enrich greedy Christians.
We’re not at all like the original culture Christianity had – they were all brothers and sisters (no hierarchies), they were more concerned with the Holy Spirit’s power than their own (Jesus didn’t send Him to us so that we could ignore him), and we didn’t really care about stuff (we held everything in common and gave to others as they had need.) We didn’t police each other’s theology and were plagued with false teachers – but that’s par for the course in a saturated religious market-place where idols and false gods are so plentiful that new converts are bound to mix-up the details.
But when I’m at church – especially at the SBC churches – I’m in a culture that doesn’t make me happy. I’m in a culture that says that I’m beneath them (hierarchies aren’t so great for those at the bottom, but the ones at the top get the nice view – or so I hear, I wouldn’t really know.) I’m flooded with Bible Studies that don’t really study the Bible itself (I still don’t know why I’d study some woman’s autobiography instead of God’s word – I certainly wouldn’t choose to learn from it or teach it.) I’m in a church with changing theology that crashes in from all sides like a tumultuous sea and I’m drowning in these really complicated theological beliefs -ism and -tion words that seem nothing like what I read in the Bible. It’s certainly not like how Jesus taught on the tough things.
So here’s the deal. Culture is what we make it – we can make it better and/or we can make it worse. It’s up to us to write the books and the songs and the studies, to organize ourselves and to re-write the rules so that nobody is left out or perpetually at the end of the line, to steer us in the right direction as to putting more value in people than in stuff. So I’ll do my best to make up my own culture.
I think I’ll base it off of Jesus’ teachings – he and his upside-down, inside-out family of believers who live out a few basic principles:
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; do not treat others in ways you would not like to be treated.
- Love your neighbor as you love yourself; everyone is your neighbor – even your enemies. Love yourself – take care of yourself so that you can take care of and love others, too.
- See a need, fill a need – it’s not enough to throw money at a problem and hope that fixes it; give your time and skills. Educate yourself as to what needs are present in your community and work together to fill them with others.
- Friendship, not finances – Christianity should never be a money-making scheme; relationships are more important than excessive wealth. True prosperity is taking care of others.
- Level playing field – Christianity isn’t a spectator sport where only a few are authorized to play the game and a great many are only allowed to watch from the bleachers; every player is needed in the game. Nobody rides the bench. There’s only one team captain – J.C.
- Same page – there are worse things than not being on the same page; no more policing each other’s beliefs. Learn to embrace diversity of thought and style while maintaining unity of spirit – one Spirit moves through us all – taking us all on our different journeys together.
- Empty chair – too many groups get too comfortable with their small circle, there always need to be an empty place at the table, and empty chair reminding us that our group isn’t ‘whole’ or ‘complete’ yet. We should welcome new-comers and embrace the changing group dynamic that they represent.
Does Christian culture make you happy? If not, what principles would you teach in culture 2.0?