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Monday, August 9, 2010

Into the Wilderness -- Part 3 of 2

Things have changed.

An example: Two generations ago, a Pastor was an important person. He was considered a pillar of the community. Small towns with small churches took great pride in having (and keeping) a Pastor. He was a learned man (sorry, ladies). In a very literal sense, he spoke for God.

Then, in the course of just a couple generations, we learned that God was dead. We learned that the Bible wasn’t a trustworthy book. It was unscientific and belonged in the category of “myth”. We learned that Jesus was simply a wandering sage, a healer among many healers in his time. Worse, we heard he was a womanizer or a latent homosexual. We learned that the Beatles were more popular than he was.

Then we learned that the Pastor who spoke for Jesus had been abusing children and having affairs with parishioners. We saw tearful confessions on television of giants – men who had built empires on broadcasting the gospel – about unfaithfulness, about pornography, about lust, about unethical financial dealings. These things had been going on for years. That was part of the shock – we learned that we had bought an illusion. We had followed a lie.

The culture learned that the Pastor was just another guy, and a hypocrite to boot. Instead of getting free meals in local restaurants, the Pastor began to get suspicious looks. Denominations scrambled to write “Sexual Misconduct Policies”. Christians either hung their heads or buried them in the sand.

Today, if you watch television and movies, the Pastor is either a wimpy guy who Really Loves Everybody, a thug who beats up the bad guys in order to defeat Satan, or a wild-eyed zealot whose belief is just doubt in extremist clothing.

Things have changed.

Like the Israelite slaves in Egypt, at times we look around wondering “What happened?” Why don’t young people come to church anymore? Why don’t the younger women attend Ladies Aid? Why do people bring store-bought fried chicken to a potluck?”

In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, many of our churches are still trying to make a go of it in Egypt. We are trying to recapture that status we used to have, trying to do things the way we used to. If someone challenges our practices, we are quick to get defensive. There’s an old joke about my denomination:

Question: How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Change? What do you mean, “Change”? You know, the last guy who thought we needed to change things around here, he goes to church across town. You might want to think about that before you start talking about “Change,” mister.

Humor is usually the truth that is too painful for us to take seriously.

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