By George Elerick
Death isn’t fun. I have yet to meet someone who is excited about death. The commercials that sneak across our screen whispering that we can fight what’s inevitable gives this false hope that we might not die. Statistics say that one out of one people will die. And statistics don’t lie. Death becomes all of us. But what about ideas? What about truth? What about theology and maybe even, dare I say, church?
In ancient mythology, death was necessary to bring in new life. That without death there would only be stagnant silhouettes of what could have been resting in the pages of hymnals and 3-point sermons. In ancient Persia, there was this belief in a bird who could die by fire and rise out of its own ashes. Resurrection. Hope. Rebirth.
But they could only happen through death. If you step into a typical church service worldwide people are singing, clapping, dancing, and paying their way into heaven. Church has become something we experience. Something that is here for us. Something that fulfills our needs. The gatherings have become nothing more than free counseling. We step into our once-a-week rituals with hope that God might speak, as if to assume that God is somewhere “out there.” We ask for prayer and leave our problems at the altar and then go about our week until we accumulate more to leave at the altar. In other words, church has become about us.
This kind of church needs to die.
If we get these ideas about church from our interpretations of truth or theology, then they too must be buried six feet deep. There were these ancient 15th-Century monks who nicknamed God “The Abyss”. This was a heretical term for this point in history. God couldn’t be called this endless black hole. That’s just disrespectful! But they did. And it was a commentary on the church at that time.
The idea was this: you could spend all of our time outside the circle and study it, peer into it, touch it but never experience it. They thought the only way you could really experience the divine was to jump in. Leave everything else behind. Leave your theology, your truth, your church models and just let go.
But to jump means that you have to make a choice about everything you know. And that is a hard thing to do. We might need to come to a place where we adopt a sort of theological non-cognitivism that some atheists hold to. That words are useless. That words like theology, truth, church, Bible, experience and God don’t begin to touch, well, God.
Maybe if we can learn anything from the atheist community, it is that our words, all of them, can only begin to touch the vastness of the being we call God. That our words aren’t limitless. This only leaves us to be in awe. Be in awe of a sunrise. Of a smile. Of a tear and a laugh. Of the homeless bag lady down the road. Of the world that turns in motion. We can only be silent, and in that silence hope to touch the divine. But this can only come if we are able to accept that we might need a lot of things to die. Its scary I know.
Psychologist Ernest Becker says this about humanity and death: “Human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality, which in turn acts as the emotional and intellectual response to our basic survival mechanism. Becker argues that a basic duality in human life exists between the physical world of objects and a symbolic world of human meaning. Thus, since man has a dualistic nature consisting of a physical self and a symbolic self, man is able to transcend the dilemma of mortality through heroism, a concept involving his symbolic half.”
This heroism like any heroic story includes some sort of wound that we need to impart or will be imparted upon us. The heroism for the state of the church is that we must come to a place of reinvention and rebirth and new life, much like the Phoenix. We can no longer accept that what we have is what was meant to be. We need something more. Top-down church models only encourage colonialism. Worship only feeds our egos. The once-a-week meetings make it convenient to have community with the commitment. This isn’t to say that those approaches are bad, they do add value. But, most could agree that those approaches are becoming old hat in light of the apparent cultural shifts that are present within our current society. Maybe we need to be a movement.
A relentless cause fueled by the fires of hope.
A group of revolutionaries who rewrite history not with car-was fundraisers but as compassionate visionaries who are driven by the divine ethos within. A people who are fiercely committed to global transformation, culture bending, love, hope, shalom, and many other things the world needs. But to get to this point, we might just have to accept that the roses are already on the casket. I will see you on the other side of the ashes!
George loves the outdoors, singing in the shower and doing underwater, synchronized pilates. He is currently working on a book entitled Jesus Bootlegged: Recapturing the Stolen Message of Jesus for The World. You can read more about him at his blog.