I Doubt That a Secularized Cell Would Help.

Jewish people, at different levels of intensity, are in the middle of the High Holy Days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. So reporters are scouring the countryside looking for interesting articles to post about interesting Jews. Such people are not hard to find. The Inquirer discovered a group in South Jersey who are consciously working out what I think a lot of Christians are unconsciously working out. So they caught my attention too.

During the High Holy Days, Jews are religious. They can celebrate Passover, Hanukah and other feast days without being religious because those days are rooted in historical events (they are like the Fourth of July). But the High Holy Days are about repentance and God. So Arnold Barnett’s wife often went to the religious observances alone because Arnold wasn’t into God, even though he was into Judaism. Now they celebrate with members of the South Jersey Secular Jews – “a group of people who may or may not believe in God, but do believe in caring about the world and one another, respecting and understanding Jewish history, and celebrating a culture that has meaning and emotional pull.” (Inquirer, 9-6-10) People estimate that 40,000 of the 6 million Jews in the U.S. are “out” as secular (as compared to 44% in Israel – a figure some people say is, for most practical purposes, much higher).  One might even expect the number to be even more, since traditional religions have been experiencing secularization since the Renaissance — once God got removed from the government, people went with secular norms instead of religious ones. Speaking for Jews who have secularized their religion, Cary Hillebrand, of Cherry Hill, says, “We are not in any way antireligious. We hold the belief that we are responsible for what happens to ourselves and to the world. And to us, that’s the essence of what religion is, and should be.”

I would not want to argue with Cary, since she was probably misinterpreted by the reporter, anyway. But I am reacting to Cary-like people almost every day. They are often listening to my speeches and quietly reading my blog, translating what I say into their God-less philosophical framework – and being very tolerant of me as they do. I was walking with the grandchildren the other day and a friend who used to be in covenant with me as Circle of Hope stopped the car (and held up the one behind him) to smile out the window and make a pleasant comment. As he sped off I wondered what to do about the loss I felt. I know, in his world view, I had no right to my loss, since he was just being responsible for what happens to himself. But I still felt it.

I have an increasing roster of friends (maybe because I keep collecting them on Facebook, that great illusion of community) who love me, who love the Circle of Hope community, who love that we are trying to be socially responsible but who don’t love Jesus. They don’t really even want to hear about Jesus because it makes them feel guilty and they are done with guilty. They don’t want to hear about meetings and why they should have attended because they are done with those obligations. They tried commitment to something but their own path and it didn’t work for them – and they don’t want any more convincing. But they still want the love and they still want the parts of the morality they like; they even want the holidays. They just don’t want to be subject to God.

It makes for awkward relationships. I still feel obligated to be nice while my supposed friends gut my faith. I get the cold shoulder when I talk about my soul, while they want the freedom to talk about their “freedom” as if it were not a submission to another god —  since we aren’t allowed to talk about God, not a real one, anyway. They show up at parties, want to be included in the family, want to be included in the cause, but they don’t want to feel responsible for undermining the foundation of it all. Maybe I shouldn’t have called the relationships awkward and then immediately sounded kind of bitter. It is more than awkward. Being secularized by your loved one is a bitter pill to keep swallowing. I’ve been working at covenantal, selfless love. Being reduced down to “nice” is painful. And I usually don’t think my newly-merely-nice friends are really that nice, anyway. I miss the need for forgiveness.

What to do? Maybe we should advocate that former Circle of Hopers who have adopted unbelief should have some secular cells for themselves like the Jews in New Jersey. There are so many pre-believing  people going the opposite direction of them who are in our cells and who are being welcomed into our community every day, it might be better if the pre-believers could identify people going the other way before they run into them at the bridal shower.

I almost hate to bring this up when Tea Party people are rallying on government steps all over the country, drawing lines, trying to “take the nation back for God” (and white people).  But Jesus says, “[The one] who is not with me is against me, and [the one] who does not gather with me scatters (Matt 12:30).  In the Message paraphrase, Petersen puts the contest for loyalty like this: “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.” I’m not trying to draw lines. But the fact is a lot of pre-believing people are actually helping Jesus. A lot of people who have lost the faith that did not save them are not. I am at least going to say that.

For the most part, even when the secularizing folks want to divide off and divide up, I am going to let it all play out and trust God to do his work however he can – even using me to help. When frustrated people have spoken to me about the dilemma of the formerly-committed continuing to dwell in the community, I have to offer something else Jesus says:

      “Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
      “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
      “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
      “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
      “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
(Matthew 13:24-30)

I apologize to anyone who feels insulted by possibly being alluded to as a “tare.” But your lack of helping is making things worse – for me, anyway. I’ll be OK, since I am NOT, ultimately, responsible for what happens to myself and the world, God is – and I’m good with God. If I’m conscious enough when we meet, you won’t get burned by me, even if feel a bit singed myself.

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About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope. Graduate of Fuller Seminary, PhD in MFT from Eastern University.
This entry was posted in 2 Life as the Church and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to I Doubt That a Secularized Cell Would Help.

  1. Daniel Pilger says:

    Rod, it’s always good to read a post that I directly relate to (granted that is most of them), but this has been quite a difficult topic for me over the past 3-4 years. I know this isn’t exactly what you are saying, but what consistently frustrates me is, what seems to be, the misinterpreting of love as ‘friendship’. In this way, many people have their subjective idea of what makes for a ‘good friend’ (i.e.- one would say that a good friend is someone who never has to ask how another is doing because they already know, another person would say that a good friend asks SO that they know, and yet another would say that when someone asks a question beyond ‘how are you?’ they are probably intrusive and prying and not letting the relationship happen ‘organically’), and are working mainly with trying to find and maintain the people they believe to be good friends to them instead of allowing the love of God to fill them and to overflow into the world.
    At the end of the day, I suppose that what is so hard for me is that I do not know how to explain/articulate to people that their desires towards having ‘good friends’ will be met and exceeded (and eventually fall away) if loving relationships (with a center, specifically Christ) are what they are seeking to build.

  2. contentedlysearching says:

    i am someone who had lost faith (completely) and i still have many secular leanings that flow from that experience. i started coming to cell (and slowly to circle) because i think i see a more sincere form of Christianity here than what I grew up with. where does that leave a person like me?

    –Josie

  3. Matt says:

    I think that especially with Circle you are going to experience this more often just for the fact that you are “A safe place to explore and express GOD’S love.” People come seeking because they aren’t getting beat over the head and sometimes they find that love and stay and become part of the community. Other times they don’t find God and decide to leave. Other times they find God and he leads somewhere else. I’m sure there are many more scenarios, but I think Jonny has is on the right track where we should just trust in GOD. He has a plan and maybe Circle planted the seed that in 10 years may blossom into a healthy tree that bear much fruit.

  4. sarah says:

    What do you mean by “pre-believer”?

    • Rod White says:

      Hi Sarah. I like to use that term to describe a person who has not claimed their birthright as a Jesus follower.

      • Sarah says:

        Gotcha. I have to admit I’m not sure what to make of this entry. I am attracted to the “secular” aspects of CoH, it’s true, and I do take your point about casual consumption trivializing the deeply held faith of others. I hadn’t really considered that. But at the same time I hadn’t intended to attend more than once or twice, but the love and community I’ve felt there have kept me coming back even though I haven’t been a Christian since I was 16.

        It’s not my intention to secularize things by my presence. But I’m not sure people like me are who you’re really addressing here– I am a former believer (and I don’t know whether you’d consider me a ‘pre-believer’ though I couldn’t tell you in which direction I’m going). It sounds more like you’re addressing folks within CoH. Perhaps this was meant more for an internal audience? But regardless, it’s a good point and deeply felt and it gives me pause– if I’m not a Christian what am I doing attending church? Does that cheapen it for others?

        • Rod White says:

          You are not secularizing anything by your presence. Much the opposite, probably. I must have made my thoughts sound a little too either/or — being kind of emotional. The love of Christ is bigger than my definitions or my feelings. You’ve been welcomed into the hearts of the people — they can make their own responses to that. I know they’ll be fine. If they thought you shouldn’t be around, I suspect you’d have figured that out by now. The opposite appears to be true. I’m glad the community is attractive to you.

  5. Jonny Rashid says:

    I feel similar feelings and have difficult expressing them. Often I feel like I’m being judgmental or mean when I articulate how I feel when someone “leaves” the community. I still don’t know what to do, in a society where I’m supposed to respect everyone’s individual rights, if I disagree with their actions or experience a painful loss as a result of them. Continuing to trust in God is the best thing for so far.

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