Thursday, December 29, 2005

An Old Sweater

I'm trying to throw away an old sweater.

It's turning into a problem of theological proportions.

My apartment is small. Much smaller than the townhouse I once lived in, which was much smaller than the house I once owned. So throwing things away has been a serious part of my life the last five years.

Basically, I have this pile of sweaters. And the shelf space I have is so limited I've got to throw some of them out in order for them to fit. This particular sweater is the oldest, most hole-y one I own. It's a big, heavy cable-knit, too, so it takes up a lot of space. Unfortunately, its also the most holy sweater I own.

I think I'd better explain that.

I've discovered that there is a sacramental significance to some of the objects in my life. This sweater was a gift, from my former mother-in-law. For some that might not add up to anything sacramental, but it does for me. My mom-in-law is the only person on earth who has ever succeeded in buying clothes that I didn't pick but would actually wear. In fact, she not only could buy clothes I would wear, I actually (really, really) loved the clothes she picked out. Year after year, for birthdays and Christmas, she went off, with no coaching whatsoever, and found something. There was one year, where I thought she might have blown her perfect record. A shirt she bought didn't quite sit right. I just wasn't so sure about it. But after a few weeks of sitting in my closet, it came off the hanger, and I put it on and looked in the mirror. Wonder of wonders, it looked good on. I still wear it, despite a little snag on one side and the fact that the left breast pocket stitching is starting to unravel.

This sweater was her grand coup, for which there is some history.

When we first met, we didn't quite hit it off. Back in 1976 or 7 somewhere, I went with my then wife-to-be to visit her parents at their home in Kansas. The first night, after dinner, we got into a discussion about Broadway musicals and "The Sound of Music" came up. I had never seen Mary Martin's Broadway version live, of course, but I had seen a film clip of it some of it, after I had viewed the wide-screen technicolor film version with Julie Andrews. So I declared, foot jammed halfway down my throat and oblivious to the look of shock on my fiance's face, that I thought Julie Andrews was, hands down, the best singer of the two. To her eternal credit, my soon to be mom-in-law bit her lip, but I remember the look on her face to this day. If I remember right, my fiance hastily suggested that we take care of some unpacking shores or something. Turns out my future mom-in-law was a big fan of Mary Martin, she explained, a way big fan. Too late to avoid the gaffe, I learned that the name of Mary Martin was revered here, and what I had done was Not the Done Thing.

Somehow I survived the trip. Wish I could say that I quickly got with the program and endeared myself to all, but alas, I was a mouthy, unthinking cuss, and managed to gaffe it up something fierce. Her mom bit her tongue more than a few times in the next months. In spite of that, the wedding took place, and life in our extended family began.

I don't remember which Christmas it was, but somehow she remembered that I had said I loved big, bulky cable-knit sweaters, but I'd never been able to wear them comfortably because they were either wool or acrylic, both of which made me itch. Somehow, she found an all-cotton cable knit, which at that time, were not only outrageously expensive, but very rare. When I put it on, it was soft, big, bulky, warm, exactly the right size, a rich deep almost navy blue and entirely itch free. It was perfect.

I was ecstatic. And the significance of the risk she had taken was not lost on me. Buying clothes for someone else is high risk even when there's no negative history. She ... loved me. As her string of scary accurate clothing picks lengthened throughout he years, I recognized her as the kindred spirit she really was. My ex-wife remarked more than once that we were really a lot alike. So I took a risk and entered into her life, and we became fast friends. I remember during our many conversations that we often had a great deal in common. Our talks were often punctuated by one of us exclaiming, "That's right!" after the other had made some pronouncement. One year, I found out she really didn't like cleaning up the kitchen after a family meal, so I got into the habit thereafter of chasing her out of her own kitchen and doing the dishes for her. It was my gift of love.

After the divorce, she still treated me no differently, and she certainly could have rightly done otherwise. I always enjoyed speaking with her, even when visits declined to just an occasional stop in to pick up my boys when my ex left them there.

Recently, I attended the wedding of my ex-wife and a really great guy. My now ex-mom-in-law cried when she saw me come in and hugged me and said, "I'm so glad you came." I'm so glad I didn't miss that moment. I have it for eternity.

I don't know if having "sacramental" thoughts about an old sweater is "right" or not. But I do confess to having them. It occurs to me that It could, in some way demean the Sacraments that I have celebrated in a number of ways through the years in different expressions of Christian worship. The protestant tradition from which I sprung had stripped the Catholic seven down to two, in hopes of not detracting from the importance of The Lord's Supper and Baptism.

In the process, though, they also tended (my opinion) to strip them of their sacramental quality and their power in the process. I don't think they meant to do that. But in the Presbyterian Church I grew up in, we had Communion once a quarter. I was told that the reasoning behind that was to prevent it becoming commonplace from repetition. Protestants sometimes eschew liturgy (Anglicans and Episcopalians are notable exceptions), in part, for that reason. But I found that the Lord's Supper in the Episcopal church had more meaning for me. (After getting over the discomfort of how different it was, anyway. For instance, it was a bit of a shock to taste actual wine rather than grape juice.) We also, at least in the Episcopal churches I attended, did so at almost every service. Since there were several services each week and two on Sunday, one could potentially have eaten the Lord's Supper four or five times a week. When I questioned one rector about that, he responded that, while he wasn't a transubstantiationist, he wasn't a Memorialist either. Something Happened when you ate the Lord's Supper. He didn't know what that was exactly, so he couldn't explain the mechanism to me, but he believed something did. Something Good. Behind the symbolic activity was a Reality. Since a sacrament was an "outward and physical sign of an inward and spiritual reality" (even the Memorialists I knew would agree with that on some level) he asked, why would we want to avoid doing it? Seemed to him you'd want to eat it as much as you could. So he was all for people taking the bread and wine as often as they cared to.

I wonder if having such a great divide between the sacred and the profane (that is, the ordinary things of life) has been part of the problem with our modern American view of life?

Paul says in Romans that the creation itself declares God's majesty, so the world is without excuse if it does not see God there and respond. For Paul, the whole creation spoke to him about its Creator. I often puzzled about that as a child. I was such a literalist, and I didn't hear anything declaring any such thing. If you wanted God, you had to go to Church. Just like if you wanted an ice cream cone, you had to go what was then called a creamery. It occurs to me I had commoditized God at an early age.

As I've journeyed on, however, I've found God in some pretty surprising places, by no means all connected with the institutional church.

I found God in that sweater, the outward and physical sign of my mom-in-law's relentless inward and, if I may say, spiritual love of a son-in-law who did not make a good impression. Given the plethora of mother-in-law jokes, surely God had something to do with it.

So back to my shelf problem. Fact is, I dumped that sweater in the trash the other day, trying to be practical. It's not just snagged and worn. It's unraveling. I'm not sure it'll stand another washing. And it's been in the wastebasket for three days now.

I keep looking at it.

And when I get done posting this blog. I'm going to take it out, and find a place for it, even if I have to toss something new.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Feminine Heart of God

Last night, a group of people I have met with off and on for about five years now, had an interesting discussion about wisdom. We looked at the many Bible passages on the subject, including those in the book of Proverbs, where wisdom is personified as a woman.

During the discussion, a sentence just popped into my head that went something like this: "Wisdom is the feminine heart of God." For a while, I was sort of stunned. That's not a thought I'd come up with naturally. I wondered whether to mention it or just stew over it privately. But there came point in the discussion where I just felt I had to come out with it. I'm not sure what people made of it -- I don't recall that it particularly "wowed" anyone -- but I remember my friend Phyllis (of phyllisophie saying "I like that."

I've pondered it, since, and decided I like it, too. And its "wowing" me.

The longer I'm a Christian, the more convinced I become that the abundant life Jesus talked about is less about the classically masculine approach to life -- doing, exploring, conquering, winning, leading, figuring things out, mastery, and all that -- and more about relationship.

I read John Eldredge's very popular book, Wild at Heart, twice or three times. Although he's couched his thesis in masculine romanticism " ... every little boy ... dreams of being the hero, of beating the bad guys, of doing daring feats and rescuing the damsel in distress ...," I believe he's actually trying to make the point that healthy relationship, first with God and then with others, is The Thing. (Personally, I had a hard time getting around all the "guy stuff" to hear that message. I haven't met any healthy women lately who I thought needed a rescue. Have you?).

I see both masculine and feminine expression in the blogosphere, and while I appreciate both, right now, I'm kind of a fan of the latter.

Many (but not all) of the men and a few of the women, too, tend toward the former. Just to be clear, I don't mean by masculine to imply "bad" or "insensitive." Most are polite, intelligent and rational. But often they're also out to prove a point, be profound, teach, preach, prophecy, be right and, on occasion, beat the bad guy. (And, confession time, that fits me, all too well). He (and sometimes she) martials logical arguments, quotes authorities, makes truth claims, and thinks he/she has Done It. But what has been done, I wonder? One such blogger received a comment recently asking if he was aware that his most recent polemic, which had a sort of rant-ish quality to it, was unlikely to change anyone's mind. He apparently missed the gentle rebuke in the comment and replied that it didn't matter, a stand had to be taken. (I wince when I think how many times in the past I've said something just like that.)

On the other hand, I find that a lot of women (and a few men) tend toward storytelling. They repeat dialogs from their marriages and friendships. Describe an encounter with a mischievous cat. Post a list of wishes on Christmas Eve. Talk about how things make them think, hurt, long for, wonder, weep and soar. Yes, an opinion slips in once in a while, but it's often not the point. They tend (again, generally) to share what they believe God's taught them, rather than attempting to speak for God and instruct me, convince me, over power me. Tend to be funnier, too, and generally, more winning, precisely because they are not trying so much to win as to make a connection.

I find myself inclined to frequent the blogs written by these folks. They tend to be inviting places to go, and my visits there are often satisfying encounters. That has, by the way, not a whole lot to do with whether I agree with them or not. In fact, at several places I enjoy going, I'm pretty sure I'm not on the same page with them about some things that I think Really Matter. But I often think I can glimpse the authentic souls behind the blogs. That enriches me. So I keep coming back.

I come back because I find they help me complete my picture of the God I worship. God did not write a blog, but a bunch of people who knew him did something similar. What is the book we call The Book, other than a collection of stories, law books, song lyrics, liturgies, proverbs, rational discourses, impassioned pleas, dire warnings, appeals to authority, and even some rants? Inspired, yes, but not by the dispassionate, logical "Brain in the Sky" that some like to make him out to be ('immutability," I think, is the term some theologians use). Both the content and the literary forms themselves speak to us of a God who decided somewhere along the line that intimate friendship was just as important as appeals to authority and exclusively rational discourse. Maybe more. He wants, above all, to be Known. To make a Connection.

Unfortunately, I've focused (by training and inclination) on the masculine expressions of God, and missed much of the feminine, the relational. That imbalance can lead to all manner of error. Case in point: One recent blog I read took off on people who talk on their cell phones in bookstores. It was quite a diatribe. Not that he was wrong. I can imagine that it was a disruption to those who went there expecting quiet. But it was the venom with which the charge was made. You'd think the person had picked his nose in public or reamed some earwax out of their ear with a fingernail! Yeah, it was up there with that stuff! Darn near criminal. And he went on and on about it. The comments were equally hostile. Several heaped derision and one or two gleefully proposed withering, convicting "shoulda saids."

Time was, I might have joined in. Or smiled in agreement, anyway. (In fact, twice this week, alone, I was saved by God --once is coincidence, twice is Providence -- from posting rational but rash comments, when Something I Still Don't Understand About Blogs caused me to lose my almost finished diatribe, and I had the good sense to let well enough alone.)

This time, I had a different reaction: I couldn't imagine Jesus writing the cell phone/bookstore blog. Can you? He might have smiled. Maybe rolled his eyes. But I wondered if he might instead have simply waited for the person to get off the phone and ... well, struck up a conversation. Probably not about the cell phone, either. Maybe he'd tell a story. Ask questions. Make a connection. If he mentioned the cell phone incident, I bet he'd be done in such a way as to bring healing, and have him/her calling everyone they know to sing His praises. (Woman at the well?)

One thing I'm learning is that it's not enough to be Right. The thing about conversations is

They often end
when we offend

That's okay if all you want to do is butt heads.

But hearts reach hearts. Wise ones know that and seek to keep the conversation going.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Born of Woman

I was blog-hopping this morning when I ran across a very thought-provoking post from Christy at Dry Bones Dance about Mary, the mother of Jesus. The first thought it provoked was to recommend it. So I do.

The second thought it provoked in me was how much I still am stuck in my gender.

A couple of posts back, I wrote about the First Christmas and the strangely muted part Joseph played in it all. I could do that because I've been a father and a husband, and I've watched life, in both of those roles, go so very far off the track I had supposed it would take. I had thought to write something about Mary, too. But ... what? I could suppose some things, but ... hey, what do I really know? I witnessed a birth -- I saw my second son come in the world -- but I have no idea, really, of what it was like to bear him and birth him. I can't speak to that. It's an experience I cannot have.

More importantly, it's an experience I cannot benefit from, except second hand. I cannot discover it on my own. I cannot imagine it or discern it. I cannot find it in my Bible. I must be taught the wisdom that only comes to mothers, in this particular case, and to women in the general sense, by women. I am utterly dependent on her for half of what God intended for me. While I suppose some of the wise things God has taught uniquely to women also may be found in the Bible, I can't find that wisdom there without the help of someone who has Her eyes.

If the church is guided by those with His eyes, but only rarely by those with Hers, how is it then that we will become the Bride, whom Christ awaits?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Thanks to Kenneth Bailey

Though I have sometimes spoken and written about the liabilities of having a conservative evangelical background, I don’t regret the fact that I was brought up with both a knowledge of the Scriptures and an appreciation for their “authority in matters of faith and practice” as the statements of faith always put it.

I say that even though that stance cost me no end of grief for many years over the issue of women in church leadership.

Just so you know at the outset, I not only think women belong in church leadership, but I also know a few who absolutely should be who aren’t yet and some who are but shouldn’t have had to wait so long to get there.

That said, for many years, I chose to believe that in fear and trembling, without the comfort of knowing for sure that the Scriptures were with me. My position was simply, honestly this: I didn't know what the Bible said about it. I wished I did, but I didn't. All I could do, ultimately, was come down on the side of grace, which is to say that I honestly couldn't see myself standing before Jesus at the judgment seat, defending actions that kept women out of leadership because it might be the right thing to do. I could, however, see myself standing before Him apologetic for having done something out of love for half the human race because I wasn't sure it was wrong.

Yeah, I studied it. I read most everyone’s book. But everybody had an axe to grind and, unfortunately, most everyone’s argument often had less to do with biblical scholarship and objective consideration of the Scriptures than with church politics. Typically, those on either side of the issue passionately (if not convincingly) constructed elaborate (and often fanciful) schemes for reinterpreting the other folks’ verses in order to line them up properly with their own verses. They’d conclude their argument with “Clearly, … “ when it the only thing that was clear to me was that they were reaching. Besides, I've always been of the opinion that if you needed 250 pages to explain your position on a Biblical passage just a few verses in length, maybe its because you're on shaky ground. One of my favorite examples of infamous reaching was the “women can’t” reply to the Deborah argument. Deborah, in the book of Judges is, without question, in a position of leadership in Israel. In fact, it is about as official as you can get. She’s one of the judges, who in that time, were pretty much it except for the occasional prophet. Between the time Joshua’s generation died until Saul was anointed, the Israelites fell on bad times. The people of the land God had given them began to have success fighting back as the Israelites lost their zeal for the Lord. They began to suffer counterattacks. So it was that the “the Lord raised up judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.” Says it right there. God raised them up. Pretty ironclad, huh?

Well, the naysayers skipped that verse in Chapter 2 and waltzed over to Chapter 17, verse 5 & 6, where Micah had erected a shrine for some of his idols and installed his sons as priests. The Scripture notes at that point, “In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” From this one verse, they constructed an argument that having a woman judge was a consequence of this fallen state, and – I kid you not – it was probably the result of some man not answering the call. The up shot was that Israel had a woman in authority over them because not enough worthy men could be found. (Good grief!)

To be fair, I remember there were at one time two very outspoken proponents of women’s ordination who happened to be here in town and were associated with what is now Denver Seminary. I remember some wag asking one of them in an interview if she -- presented with incontrovertible proof that the Bible did, in fact, teach that women could not be in leadership over men in the church -- would she drop her cause and find a way to go along it. She said “No.” Again, I kid you not. And of course the other side jumped all over that one.

It was in this climate, as a matter of fact, that I, as a 27-year-young ordained elder in a conservative Presbyterian church, sat on a board that was discharged or voluntarily withdrew (depending on whose story you believed) from its liberal-leaning denomination, because we refused to appoint women to the board. This was back in the '70s, mind you, but that place (by way of confession) is where I began my long journey to where I stand now.

All that to say this: My journey would have been shorter and much less painful had I been exposed to a mercifully short article that theologian Kenneth Bailey published at the turn of this century, which, for me, has finally settled most of the questions that have long lingered in my mind about what the Scriptures say (and don’t say) about the subject of gender and church leadership. (Maybe you all have seen it, and I’m just coming way late to the party, but if not, you can download a PDF of the article at Sorry, couldn't get the darn link thingey to cooperate.)

Bailey is now Canon Theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pa., but he made his reputation as a scholar during the 40 years he lived and worked as a Presbyterian professor of New Testament in the Middle East (apparently, he gets to put both "Rev" and "Dr." in front of his name). He spent many of those years studying Middle Eastern cultures, looking for clues to how those cultures may have looked in the 1st Century. While in Pittsburgh, I happened to read his book Poet and Peasant, an exposition of 10 parables of Jesus, in which he applied what he had learned. His thesis is that you cannot fully understand the New Testament without understanding the cultural milieu, assumptions and, especially, the literary forms used by the people who wrote it. I believe that he has found some solid 1st Century ground on which to stand. That book still stands as one of the best books I’ve ever read, fiction or nonfiction.

I was not aware, at the time, of his work on the issue of church leadership. In fact, I was introduced to his little essay, ironically, by my ex-wife, who is now an ordained but currently unemployed Episcopal priest. For obvious reasons, she's studied the subject almost unceasingly for more than 25 years. But this little gem had escaped her notice, too. She tells me its the best thing she's ever read on the subject, and I'm pretty sure she's read just about everything out there. So that's high praise.

If you haven't already, have a look.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Thank you, Susan Howatch

I spent time blog-hopping this afternoon and visited several I had not yet visited. One is written by a priest in the Church of England. She was writing about Advent, describing some of the meanings behind the use of certain symbols, colors, etc. and it took me back to my 12 uncomfortable years in the Episcopal Church here in the U.S.A.

I actually liked many things about "The Middle Way." The "Church Year" was one of them. It is arranged in such a way as to tell the stories of our common faith during the year. I'm a story person. In the liturgies of the Prayer Book we can, if we choose, enact the stories. Each week, we would enact the sacrifice -- not because we might drink and eat the actual Body and Blood, but that we might, by re-enacting or rehearsing again that Last Supper, call to mind, remember, what our Lord has done for us and how he does feed us, daily, if we would but come to His Table. And it was, so our Rector once explained, not just a Remembrance. Something happened. He didn't know what, exactly. But Something did.

I miss that part of it. The services of Easter Week. The stripping of the altar and the darkening of the church on Maundy Thursday, after which we all filed out silently -- that one always got to me. The Great Vigil. The celebration -- all those bells on Easter Day.

I was a Lector. I miss that too. Lectors in the Episcopal church get to read the scriptures at services. So I sometimes got to read the stories, and I took it very seriously. I tried to read them in a way that people would "get" the story, that it would live for them.

All that put me in mind of some great stories of a related kind that have been my faithful companions for the last 10 years.
In my list of books I like (at right) are the Church of England series, by Susan Howatch. The series is now nine books. Howatch says she's not going to write another one, so the series is now complete. That's too bad, because when I read them, Something happened.

The first six books are a set, which looks at the Church of England from the inside, and tell stories of mostly church insiders. A collection of all-too-human abbots, monks, priests, their families and the complex world of Light and Shadow they inhabit. The three most recent novels look at the church from the point of view of three outsiders, those not yet "of the faith" but drawn to it, often unwillingly, by crises in their lives. They are not, I must warn you, pretty stories of faith and virtue. (Book nine, in fact, is about a male gay prostitute.) First time I read them, they often made me squirm. Along the way, Howatch examines very unflinchingly, the best and worst about the English church, its clergy, its governance, it traditions, its internal divisions, its failings and, despite the forgoing, its use by God in his plan of redemption. They are stories filled with all-too-human characters whose exploits make you flinch because you have the uncanny feeling you're looking in a mirror. (That's the squirmy part.) I have read the first six three times, and each time, I see more of me in the stories -- greet more of my Shadow -- and I see more of what God has done and wants yet to do in me to redeem what the locusts of my errors have eaten. When I read them for the third time around, earlier this year, I was delighted to be able to greet many of these fallen but redeemable characters as old friends. I still shake my head at them. But I love them, and know them to be parts of me.

They (the books) have been beacons of Light. I'm feeling the need to take them in turn, again, and let them drag more darkness out into the light where it, too, can be illumined. I recommend them to "story people" out there who want to look in the mirror (or are at least willing to look) and Embrace the Shadow.

Glowea Glows

Gloria, fellow bass player and worship leader over at the LVC, has been glowing with the Spirit even more than usual over at Glowea. She's got a couple of great posts on breathing in God and abiding in him. She's not only a good writer, but always has something to say. She's born to worship with her voice and instrument, but also has a worshipful pen (or should I say keyboard?). She's becoming one of my favorite places in the blogosphere to stop in ... like an oasis in the desert. Stop in.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The "Video Pastoring" Phenomenon

Sue, over at Heart Soul Mind Spirit posted a rant the other day about "satellite" churching. I knew that something like that was being done (I had heard about it, somewhere), but I get the impression now that its becoming a new "thing." A Trend. Maybe a Movement.

There are those who think its a great idea. Sure seems good on the surface. You got a guy (no gals, yet, apparently) who's "great up front," so you make the most of it. We have all this modern technology, so why not beam his (and someday, her?) image to other churches in town (or for that matter, anywhere) and let as many people as possible benefit from this presumably great teacher/preacher's insights?

The naysayers, of course, respond that its George Barna/Marketing 101 and therefore, intrinsically bad.

What's interesting is that this is not a new phenomenon. The so-called "televangelists" do this every day, and the congregation doesn't even have to leave the house. When you think about it, your Aunt Edna in Alaska,who tunes in to Billy Joe Bob's tele-ministry in Pensacola, Fla. is actually ahead of the curve, being one of the earliest "post-congregationalists." So the satellite church idea could be seen, actually, as a step backward. If you want to see this shining star in the Christian firmament, you've actually got to crawl out of bed Sunday morning, wash behind the kid's ears and haul them off to satellite church.

OK, I know I'm being kind of flip about it, but I'm taking that tack for a reason. Personally, satellite churching, as presently conceived, makes me very nervous (just so you know where I stand), and I'll get to my reasons why in a little bit, but first I want to say that I don't find the concept intrinsically bad or that it indicates that madness has finally overtaken us.

"Church," whatever we may imagine that to be these days, has survived televangelists and megachurches and will surely survive McChurch, including the satellite churching variety.

And I think we need to be careful here, when we pick up that stone. More than once, lately, I've heard a fellow blogger refer to a recent sermon, reprinted on a church Web site, that really did them a world of good. I see no fundamental difference between broadcasting a sermon in print on a Web site and broadcasting a live sermon via video on a big TV screen. Same for a columnist you can read on the Internet. Or a blog for that matter. What I'm doing right now is an attempt to reach a wider audience than I can reach when I get together with my friends, face to face, in our little post-congregational unofficial unHome Group unchurch church thingey.

Technologically, it's all in the same category. If there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a Blog, or the Internet (and there isn't), then there is nothing intrinsically wrong with satellite churching.

That said, any of these technologies can become a serious problem for the church if misused. It's all about what we do with it, and why, and what, ultimately, is likely to be the result. And that's where I'd like to weigh in.

Sue was so right to ask "What's the fruit?" That question is a "big picture" question. It's also hard to answer. Satellite churching -- and blogging, for that matter -- are new enough that its hard to gauge the real fruit of it all. But Jesus was clear that the fruit we were to bear was to be good fruit that would last. So I think that in any decision, particularly one of this magnitude, a church needs to consider whether the morally neutral technique of closed-circuit broadcasting will ultimately produce a lasting legacy: Specifically, communities of mature believers.

We're challenged by the "fruit" question to take our eyes off the immediate problem, look around, and try to imagine, down the road a bit, whether there may be unintended consequences awaiting us.

So, for what its worth, I think the problem with satellite churching is that it lives or dies on the talents (formidable as they may be) of a single individual. Critics of the megachurch have made this argument, and satellite churching as currently conceived is simply megachurch to a higher power (no pun intended).

The "big picture" question is this: What happens when that charismatic teacher/preacher/leader dies? And we can't assume that'll be when he's 80. Or just quits? Or has an affair? It could be next week. Not one but many churches will be without the primary motivation for their gathering. If we resort to satellite churching, we haven't solved the problems of the megachurch, we've exacerbated them.

The intrinsic double wrong here is for the church to put any leader in the position of carrying that much weight, and for any leader to desire to be in it. Sue linked her blog to an article about a Disney Co. exec who has begun a foundation to promote training of doctrinally conservative men (not women) who will go out and be the sort of charismatic "people magnets" that build megachurches. One of his stated goals is to counteract the effect of the "2,500 church deaths that occur each year" in the U.S. That's an interesting statistic, and I believe it's probably accurate. But I also know, from my long involvement with people in the so-called "church growth" movement, that most of those churches fail because the "dynamic" guys or gals who had the up-front job either weren't very dynamic or left for better pastures, where their dynamism would be better seen and compensated ... or worse, they crack up, have affairs lose their faith or kill themselves.

The first reason I don't like the idea is that we already live in a culture defined by the cult of the personality. It's everywhere. Are you a Leno fan or a Letterman devotee? Such things can provoke heated arguments between what otherwise appear to be sane, well-meaning people. Why buy into that, when we already know how dangerous it is? Paul saw this in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 3). Apollos, in Paul's own words, is an eloquent preacher. A great up-fronter. Paul admits he can't hold a candle to him. But he insists that those who "follow Paul" or those who "follow Apollos" are worldly. "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul?" he asks. "Only servants ..." he says. But please note that he heaps no blame on the Apollonian superstar who has created such a stir. Paul himself is, after all, one of the all-time most successful "up-fronters." His admonition is for the church, which has, since its inception, been sorely tempted to focus its attention on things that can be seen rather than keeping its spiritual eyes on the "things not seen."

Paul was categorically against the idea of singular leadership, and I think he was for that very reason. He would not have been willing to be Pope. (Sorry, Catholic friends out there. Let me add, however, that I believe John Paul II was an exceptionally great saint and a marvelous pastor in many ways, despite being an imperfect man in an imperfectly conceived system. But I use the word "exceptionally" because he was an exception. Because God can circumvent a flawed system to do his will does not validate the system.) The church, according to Paul, has one Head, which is Christ. In the letter to the Ephesians he calls for an earthly approach to leadership quite different -- a multiplicity of leaders (apostles -- plural -- teachers, prophets, evangelists and pastors) to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.

Paul always traveled with a team. He trained and sent others out to do the work precisely because he knew it was madness to try to do it all himself. Frankly, he had a lot of competition. He spent a lot of time defending his apostleship, in fact, to parts of the church that weren't so sure about him. (And there's a lesson in that for those of us who feel we've not yet been given our due opportunity to serve in the church in our called capacities. It was no easy road for Paul either.) Paul did not evangelize the Roman world by himself, and if we think that, we're just not reading what he wrote. Most important, when Paul was imprisoned and when he died, the church went on and, by all accounts, flourished. He made darn sure it would.

My question, then, is Will a satellite church system survive the loss of its video pastor? I'd say the odds are against it. If he goes, the thing collapses like a house of cards. What about this system will ensure the community's survival? As far as I can tell, the concept actually militates against formation of a mutually supportive and instructive community. Most of the people who come to the satellite churches do so primarily to experience a virtual relationship with a video image (just ask them). It's not just he message they're longing to experience. It's the package. And since they never actually meet the human being behind the package, there's only well rehearsed Light (we hope) but no Shadow. And that makes the relationship a lie.

The aspect of true Christian community is secondary if not entirely absent. The system actively encourages an unhealthy attachment to one person, and only part of a person, at that. And if that community cannot survive -- if, in fact, its formation and growth is set aside or derailed by our devotion to an image with little reality -- where is the fruit in that? What, exactly is there in it that might last?

On the other hand, Paul was all about attempting to reach as many people as he could. He traveled extensively and wrote letters. The New Testament is the "Blogs heard 'round the World." He made no apology for it. If he was alive today and had a chance to speak to many communities at the same time, via closed circuit TV, I think he'd jump at the chance. (No more shipwrecks. Awesome!)

But his message would be and always was, Don't look at me. And he wouldn't want to be the only image you saw. His would not be the only words you heard. He'd be all over it because then the eloquent Apollos and the plain-spoken Paul and the hesitant, young Timothy and "I'll die trying" Epaphras, and Silas and Peter and James and John and Philip and many others would be accessible. Not to replace the pastors who care for your souls in the community where you live, work and love. But to fix it so all those weary pastors wouldn't have to do it all alone every week. And what would be so bad about that?

Billy Graham used TV and large stadium events to evangelize millions. Would we take that back? The only thing wrong with it was that, for a long time, we've let Billy and a few others do it all alone. God, Jesus and Paul never intended for it to be that way. Jesus left the earth because, as a living breathing man, he could NOT DO IT ALONE. He said, "It is better for you that I go." His explanation was that if he went, the Spirit could come, and live in all of us, to do the work through us that no one person can accomplish (John 14).

Glorifying a single "up-fronter" is not only bad for the church, it's deadly for the glorified. Putting one person up front, week after week -- no matter how good he or she may be, whether it's a satelliting megachurch or just a dozen friends meeting in someone's living room -- is not only misguided, it's downright dereliction of duty. It discourages other voices that need to be heard. It puts a weight on one set of shoulders that was never intended to rest there. It almost guarantees the development of professionalism and the pursuit of paychecks, and it permits many of us to kick back and avoid the risk of opening our mouths and risking eating our feet. And that is the great wrong in the organized church today.

That brings me back to satellite churching and blogging. What will be the fruit of each? I've made a guess at the former. It don't think the prognosis is good. And I think I'm right. But who knows? Only God does, and time will tell. Same for the phenom of blogging. But I'd like to hazard a guess as to its eventual fruit, as well.

Both are bully pulpits of course. But the satellite church is only a bully pulpit for one. The blog, on the other hand, is a pulpit anyone can occupy. There are no schools to go to. No tuition loans to repay. No Pastor Search Committee to win over. NO paycheck ... but hey, I'm saying that's a good thing. More important -- and because no paychecks are riding on it -- those who care to can be themselves, Light and Shadow. It's permissible rant, whine, pray or even teach, preach, prophesy and praise the Lord. (Paul, the apostle, could rant with the best of them. I offer the letter to the Galatians as only the most notable example. And David's psalms would have made great posts and probably gotten lots of comments.) Even better, blogs are not endorsed, officially recognized, supported or otherwise deemed sacred, inspired, authoritative or required reading by any Christian organization, denomination or local church board. Things said from this bully pulpit then, can be be ignored with impunity if we, attempting to exercise the gift of discernment (which is available to us all, if we but ask for it and them exercise it), chose not to receive the contents of posts. So its a safer medium as well.

Best of all, those who preach from the blog pulpit have only the power that they earn (just like Paul) -- only what you and I give them. No more and no less. Power can never be possessed, unless it is first given. That's the way God intended it to be. That's why he does not impose his will on us. That's why we are responsible. Actually, the folks that occupy megachurch pulpits and other positions of professional church leadership also have only the power we grant them. If we, in ignorance of that truth or out of fear of reprisal or even through sheer laziness, grant them more than their due, that's still our problem. We can blame it on the "church," if we want, but we is it, so it's still something we must remedy from our end. And we can.

For that reason, I think the blog has a bright future as a fruitful medium. It's no substitute for face-to-face church, mind you. But it's a technology that can help build the church -- a community of believers who, because they have access to many voices, can better hear the One. There is the danger, of course, that it will become BlogChurch, when a few brilliant bloggers begin to attract all the attention and we, like sheep, let them. But it doesn't have to be that way. In the meantime (my humble opinion), blogchurch, imperfect though it is, is a better option than satellite church.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Charlie Brown Christmas

I wish I was looking forward to Christmas, but I guess I have to admit, I'm not.

It would be acceptable, somehow, to be able to say that I'm not because there is so much suffering in the world, or that I feel bad for the families that have servicemen and women in Iraq, or that I'm upset about how commercial its become. Or even because I'm divorced and one of my boys probably won't be home for Christmas this year. All that is true, and it's unsettling, but ...

Truth is, I'm not looking forward to Christmas because its not about me anymore.

When I was a kid, of course, it was all about me. I was the oldest and so for five years (count 'em, five) my Dad went out on Christmas Eve and got that tree and Mom and Dad stayed up half the night to put it up and decorate it, just to watch my face in the morning when I came out to see it. My Dad told the story of my first Christmas, with tears in his eyes, every Christmas.

When my brother and sister came along, I was still the oldest -- and when I was a little older my mom and dad would let me stay up later, with them (!) and help wrap. I was in on it!

When I became a father, I was promoted to Santa! I was looked to for the magic. I was the Source of all good things.

Now I've got one grown son, Tony, and a 14 year old son Mark. Mark still helps me put up my very Charlie Brown tree (yes, it's fake. I don't have room in my apartment, nor the cash, to put up a real one). He does the lights now, because he's the aspiring engineer, but ... well, he's more interested in his friends at school right now. He's growing up. Dad's still Dad, but he knows I can't do magic.

I'm not out to pasture yet, but I'm seeing the pasture gate up ahead. And I can see the time coming where, assuming I have grandchildren, I'll be relegated to the position of spectator at what was once my own show.

It's been very instructive to admit this to myself, and I think it'll be useful to me to confess it as well. I need to realize that, whether I like it or not, this life its still way too much about me. Christmas was my favorite holiday primarily because it was my big chance to be in the spotlight, or at least somewhere very near.

Last couple of years, the spotlight has dimmed. And that's a good thing. One result of being out of its glare is that I see more clearly things I've never noticed.

One is the Incarnation. Phyllis over at phyllisophie was talking about the Incarnation at our most recent unHome Group unchurch church thingey, and I had this picture of the Lord of the Universe standing up from His Rightful Throne, stepping down and basically diving into ... a manger. Into the middle of our mess. I find that extraordinary.

And it got me thinking about the First Christmas. (And that took my mind off of me, briefly, so that was good.)

In the scriptures, the stars of the show are Mary and the Holy Child, of course. The story as told in Luke's gospel, zooms in on Mary, a young woman from the town of Nazareth. Of all people, we see that God choses a young woman to be His Bearer, and not a woman of one of the Levitical families or a daughter of the reigning royal family, but a woman from Nazareth, a sleepy little village far away from the real action in the Holy City. She gets a spectacular visit from an angel and speaks one of the most quoted lines in history: "I am the Lord's servant. Be it unto me as you have said." Mary gets good tidings about Elizabeth, her cousin and hurries off to visit her for a few months, and they have a great time. A lot to celebrate. God has favored them. Babies leap in wombs. Elizabeth shout of praise is recorded. So is Mary's Song.

A good supporting role goes to Zechariah. Luke's account actually begins with him as he serves in the Temple. Luke records a number of biographical details about him and his wife. Zechariah's visitation is from no less than the angel Gabriel. What follows is the rather extensive record of their conversation. This guy has the temerity to talk back, and gets struck dumb, but nevertheless rallies in the climactic scene as Elizabeth gives birth to the Forerunner. Everyone's clamoring to find out what they'll name him. Which eminent older man of the clan will pass on his name to the future Prophet? Since Zech can't talk, the honor of naming the boy falls to Liz, who names him John. The relatives have a bit of a cow, it seems, since that name isn't in the family tree, but Zech seals the deal by writing his name on a tablet. And then dramatically receives his voice back and waxes eloquent in his own song of praise.

Luke then tells us of the Shepherd's visitation: They get a visit not only from an angel, but an angel of the Lord, with the glory of the Lord shining around them, no less. This is significant. It's what the theologians call an epiphany. Some kind of appearance, in some form, of the Lord himself. Indeed, when they receive their instructions about where to find the birthplace, they talk among themselves, saying "Let's go ... to see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." Not only that, but they get front-row seats for the Heavenly Host, a "great company" who proceed to praise God. These ragtag sheep herders are, as far as we know, the only folks ever to hear a live performance of the choirs of Heaven. (John's account of heavenly praise recorded in his Revelation doesn't count, 'cause it's a vision. He got the heavenly CD.) You can make a case for them as the first group to visit the Son after His birth, too. (The angels says "Today, in the town of Bethlehem is born to you a savior ...." The Magi visit later, sometime after the birth.) We also hear that they afterward spread the word (the first evangelists!)

But what of Joseph? Husband? Father? Working stiff?

In Luke, we're told he's Mary's fiance. A little later, we're told he has to go to Bethlehem to register for the census, so he takes Mary with him. We find out he's in David's line. And he's there when they take Jesus to the Temple on the eighth day to be circumcised, where both Simeon and Anna play their supporting roles. But unlike Zech, Joseph takes a back seat here.

Joseph fares better in Matthew's account, which is told from his point of view. The Matthean Gospel begins with a recitation of Joseph's lineage. He is, indeed, in the Davidic line, along with a "who's who" of biblical heavyweights. Good beginning. But even here, he's upstaged. The Magi have key roles in Matthew's account, complete with a very cool name. The wise ones from the East, follow the star on the quest of the Ages, to see the King they have awaited. They bear costly gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. They go to King Herod to ask directions (See that? Guys do ask for directions. It's right there in Scripture.) They find the stable and bowing down with grat ceremony, bestow their gifts. And even King Herod gets his 15 minutes of infamy -- he gets to play the villain of the piece. He makes a deal with the Magi to come back and reveal the location of the Savior, feigning a desire to worship Him as well. When his plan is foiled, he gives his chilling order.

We do, however, get some insight into Joseph's character. He's worried. The young woman he loves has revealed that she is pregnant. Worse, the story she tells leaves him feeling that there has been a crack in the planet, and he's fallen in. Why? In Palestine, 2,000 years ago, an engagement was a contract -- as good as married, legally, and for the devout Jew, an unconsummated contract until the agreed wedding day. He's stuck. No way to say, "Well, maybe this just isn't working out." The Law was clear ... and in the case of fornication, harsh. A man could simply give his wife a writ or decree of divorce, apparently for any reason wahtsoever, and simply send her packing. To save face, he could denounce her, and no one would blame him. But Joseph, we hear, is a righteous man. He is not inclined to publicly disgrace Mary. We understand that he was of a mind to "put her away quietly." Joseph was looking for a way to save face. Not his face, but hers. He would give her the writ, but do so discreetly, then send her away. Probably pay for her keep, and explain her absence ... somehow.

But Joseph, like the dreamer in the Old Testament for whom he is named, does get something: four critically important dreams.

In the first, an angel comes to stay his hand frm divorce. Everyone else got advance notice, but Joseph? He gets the shocker first, then the visitation. In the dream he's told to go through with the marriage, that things are under control, and he's told what to do about a name. While it's reassuring after a fashion, and it is an angel of the Lord there's certainly no choir, no lights, no fanfare. Joseph sings no songs. When he wakes up, we are told simply that Joseph "did what the angel commanded him." He takes Mary as his wife -- oh what a tense, awkward wedding that may have been. (And, we hear, no wedding night, either. Not the way Joseph saw it playing out, I suspect.) What did the men of the town -- especially the top men in the synagogue -- think? Was there only whispering, or did he have to suffer public finger-pointing? Did it hurt his carpentry business?

When Mary goes to visit her cousin, I wonder if Joseph quietly encouraged it? It would get her out of the village, so she wouldn't have to suffer, as he would, the brunt of the local gossip. She would be well cared for and at such a distance, safe form prying eyes and ears, at least for while.

When she returns, things take another unwelcome turn. Caesar, with nothing better to do, has to count everyone. Undoubtedly the prelude to new taxes. Joseph must take his wife, now heavy with child and return to his family home to register (are we there yet?). So they fire up the family donkey (can't afford to rent a litter and four bearers) and head south. There is, of course, no room in the Bethlehem inn (what Dad hasn't been there?) The best he can do is a stable. While they are there, she comes full term. Jesus' first crib is a feed trough. Was Joseph passing around cigars? I suspect he was mortified. Having to hear his wife's birthing cries, knowing she was laying on a pile of straw, with a stranger for a midwife (if there was one) far from home and her mother's care. If he was human, and all the hubbies and dads I know are, he felt helpless, impotent and alone.

He has three other dreams, all of them brief warnings, with further instructions: The first is after the Magi visit. An angel warns that Herod is in a mood and he is enigneer an escape to Egypt.

Egypt! The land out of which his ancestors had once escaped. Talk about a reversal of fortune. But we hear only that he gets up, "takes up the child and his wife" and, in the middle of the night, obeys. Imagine: He leaves his home, business and extended family (his and hers) without even time to say goodbye, spending the Magi's treasured gifts (which could have made them comfortable back in Galilee) to buy a new identity and a new life in a very foreign land. With no grandmothers or grandfathers to watch the kids, Joseph quietly does what's necessary to keep his family fed, housed and safe. It's never the way you see it playing out in your head. How many dreams died a quick death that night? Anyone who's a husband and a father knows.

The second is an "all clear": Herod is dead and its safe to return home. When he arrives, however, it turns out that Archaleus, Herod's son, is on the throne in Judah, so Joseph fears returing to bBethlehem -- too close to the seat of power. Warned in a fourth and final dream, he turns aside to Nazareth, which is Mary's home town, to pick up the pieces of his old life.

In the entire First Christmas story, in both Gospel accounts, Joseph speaks not a single word. The next we hear of him, he's helping Mary search for Jesus after the Passover, when he's gone AWOL. When they find him in the Temple, it is Mary who reroves Him. Joseph is characteristically mum. And then he just disappears.

While it's tempting to think the whole thing unfair, I take great encouragement from this seemingly bleak account. The man chosen to be the earthly father of the Holy One was ... like me. Things didn't go like he thought they would. Not even close. For a while, in fact, his life was just one damn thing after another. Joseph found out pretty quick that it wasn't about him. And Luke records something very important: After all that happened, "the child grew and waxed strong and was filled with wisdom, and the Grace of God was upon him." He waxed strong. I love that KJV word! Filled with wisdom. Grace of God upon Him.

When you're a Dad, that's all the fanfare you really need. And all I want, this Christmas, is that someday, if someone cares to inquire into my obscure life, they'll be able to say the same about each of my sons.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Church is Where We Find It .. er, Us

Since my "Matrix" post, I've wondered if I made one very important distinction clear. It seems now, looking back, that I only hinted at it, but "it" was the whole point, so maybe it bears clarification.

It was Jesus who said, "On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." ("Gates" refers to city gates, which was where a town's leaders usually congregated to do their thing. So Jesus is saying that the powers and authorities of the evil one cannot prevail against the church.) So whatever the church is, it cannot be destroyed.

But When we say "church," what we often mean is that not-for-profit corporate entity that owns or rents a building, serves designer coffee on Sunday morning, holds worship services, hosts events and conferences, organizes mission trips, sponsors Youth Group, has a elementary and nursery age program that's perpetually in need of warm bodies, a mission statement, etc. Sometimes we mean a national or international outfit. Those are institutions. Instituted and maintained, to be sure, by Christians, but not The Church. The church -- as we were rightly taught by the radicals who deserted traditional church buildings in the '70s and '80s and took over abandoned Safeway stores, warehouses and other cast offs of the American Dream -- is people. Their actual argument, "The church is not the building, it's the people," just didn't go far enough. The church isn't the organization or institution either.

I don't think Jesus had a big problem with church institutions, per se. He began his ministry by standing and speaking at the local synagogue, the "local church" of that day. There was a place in the service where those men (but not women) who desired to comment on the scriptures could do so, in turn. Jesus took his turn. (The Lord of the Universe waited his turn. That still freaks me out a little.)

While Jesus took issue with the Pharisees on several occasions and wasn't too gentle with some Sadducees who posed a trick question about marriage in Heaven, the Jewish institution of weekly worship got nary a comment. (Not even about the fact thatonly men, not women, could comment).

Jesus did finally give up on the synagogue, because synagogue devotees tried to throw him off a cliff and their lack of faith (in his own home town, no less) apparently had some negative effect on his ability to do the signs and wonders thing (that still freaks me out, too). So he took to meeting with people (men and women, no screen) in the Desert. You could argue, successfully , I think, that Jesus was actually kicked out of the synagogue, but he was not, to my mind, an active "deconstructionist" as a result.

I don't see God too concerned about curing the ills that have plagued church institutions since, either. In fact, in the Old Testament, God saw how people worshipped their own power and abilities, and when they began to construct a tower that would "reach to Heaven" he frustrated their design by multiplying the languages so that they could not understand one another. I have often wondered if that might explain the troubled state of many Christian institutions.

Nor was he particularly interested in secular power structures. His followers were, though. They thought he was there to free them from Roman domination and wrest the throne of David from the Herodian line. (A Biblical mom was pretty concerned to make sure her sons would at his right and left hand when he did.) He did quite the opposite. Remember when the crowd tried to take him by force and make Him king? He fled. When they asked him about paying taxes, in one instance, he did a miracle to permit someone to pay his tax, and in the other he said the famous "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's" reply, which I can only take to mean, "Yeah, you need to pay your taxes, but what I care about is are you giving God what belongs to Him?" (Which is, of course, ourselves). The evangelical/charismatic crowd went through a "theocracy" phase there a few years in the heyday of the so-called "Religious Right, which (thankfully) didn't go anywhere. Though some still hold out hope that we can force the U.S. government to re-institute school prayer or mandate "creation science" as public school curricula, I see no concern great for such things in Jesus life and ministry.

Don't get me wrong. Jesus was labeled as a subversive. But he intended no such thing. He simply told the truth and lived the truth. One reason I don't much mind being identified as a "charismatic" is that those with such leanings have created a conversation that has forged a fragile unity that crosses institutional boundaries. They've done so not by complaining about the boundaries, but by simply ignoring them. They've certainly been seen as subversive! (And there have been times they've deserved the label.) But the point I'm trying to make is that they didn't just unplug. While there are still Baptist and Presbyterian church bodies, most of the Baptists and Presbyterians I know are where they are for reasons other than to uphold traditional denominational "distinctives." When was the last time you were asked, "What denomination are you?"

When I was in therapy -- on and off, for 10 years with a guy down in Colorado Springs -- I remember one session where I was struggling with the pain of something or other, and he said to me, "Don't take it so serious."

"But it's wrong," I complained.

Yeah, that's true," he allowed. "But ... just don't take it so serious." (I wish I could say I took his advice seriously (ha ha) but I didn't for a long time. He spent many sessions with me, often with his only goal that of getting me to laugh and get outside myself.)

Jesus doesn't seem to be as worried about church institutions as I am. He doesn't take them very seriously. And I think he's trying to teach me that I don't need to either. When he speaks of the church, he's inevitably thinking of His Bride. Us. The gifted ones. The holy priesthood. The ones who are empowered from within, by His Spirit, not from without, by a human institution or power structure.

While several people I know are "unplugging from the church," I really think they're unplugging from the current Christian institutions and power structures -- and from those who, seeing them slipping from their grasp, still cling to them.
I'm okay with that. I think we need to get unplugged from them. Certainly, we need to loose our white-knuckle grasp on the institutional jobs and paychecks and, most important, the sense of significance we hoped to derive from them. They can't satisfy. They're not the point. They're not even real ("There is no spoon.").

But we are still the church. And if we meet in an ancient cathedral, a stadium, a retreat center, a public school, a rented building, a Rescue Mission, someone's home, or at a Starbuck's -- just you and I, over coffee on a cold Saturday afternoon -- it's all one to Him. But wherever Jesus and His Kingdom is the subtext of our conversation, He promised to be there. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them." We are a holy temple, says Paul, made not by human hands.

If we, like Morpheus, Neo and Trinity, get free enough, we could maybe even plug back in regularly, guns blazing (metaphorically speaking), because so many people are still seriously plugged in. We can't stay unplugged from them, can we? They are church. We is them. (Church 'R' Us? -- God forbid. Yes, I've learned to laugh.)

Church is where we find us. Sometimes even in McChurch if we are willing to ignore the smell of spiritual French fries and sesame seed buns and serve up the Bread of Life. That will be labeled by some as subversive. Change always is. And maybe we'll all end up out in the metaphorical desert. Wouldn't be the first time.

Today, just the idea of it had me humming a paraphrase of one of my 14-year-old's favorite songs:

"It's the end of the church as we know it
It's the end of the church as we know it
It's the end of the church as we know it
And I feel fine."