Ouch. I got tagged with the title “cult” by an indirect shot from one of my relatives. I also heard that quite a few people in the church think other people think our church is a cult! That hurts – at least when I say cult, I don’t mean it in a good way.
Sometimes the label “cult” is just a metaphor, like when you are talking about veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. Like “the cult of Elvis.” But that kind of odd devotion can turn religious too. For instance, my dear St. Francis is credited for starting eucharistic adoration in Italy which is veneration for an object: the “host” for the presence of Jesus. I suspect people thought he was a cult leader.
Most times “cult” is used to label a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister – like “a network of Satan-worshiping cults.” I suppose the relatively small Brethren in Christ, as a whole, is considered strange or sinister by somebody. There are quite a few members of Circle of Hope who would be disappointed if we were not considered strange, but I don’t think they would like to be seen as sinister. In the Roman Empire, Christians in general were sometimes considered a cult because they worshiped Jesus rather than the Roman gods. In South Philly there are a lot of Catholics who think Protestants in general are part of a cult and vice versa.
The term “cult” is often used to describe any organization but particularly religious ones in which people (often young people) have a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing. People say, “There is a cult of personality surrounding the leader,” or people are “drinking the Kool-aid.” The label “cult” can hurt people who get tagged by it, for whatever reason, because the term carries so much negative meaning. A woman reported that her sister was accused of being in a cult just because she preferred hanging out with Christian friends rather than going out drinking with other friends. She might have been in with a group of people that was unlike the norm (because they devotedly followed Christ), but she certainly wasn’t following a harmful faith.
Mimi and Eunice on the matter
A commonly used summary lists the traits of a religious group that could be called a cult:
Taylor Swift was in town this past weekend. Thus caps off my ten-day meditation on Bad Blood. Now, of course, I love Taylor Swift like everyone else. But that does not mean I don’t want to speak some truth as part of my love.
I wrote in my Facebook page: “I think I am spending a week with this Taylor Swift vid — Mad Max meets Project Runway meets 50 Shades? What do YOU think this mashup means?” Some people taught me some stuff.
On the face of things, Bad Blood is just a very thin “I’m really mad at you” break up song: “Did you have to do this? I was thinking that you could be trusted. Did you have to ruin what was shiny? Now it’s all rusted.” But it quickly moves to: “Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes.”
It is OK to tell me I am over-reacting. But can I just point out how anti-Christ it is to deal with a broken relationship by renaming yourself “Catastrophe” and imagining getting together with your superhero friends for a fight to the death? Have we all become Lindsay Graham? Is this mentality running Jesus over?
Our mission in Christ is like a long, endurance race (Hebrews 12:1). If you watch the Olympics, you have seen long distance runners race in a pack, gauging the capacity of the other runners until it is time to give it their all on the last leg. Living in the resurrection is like that. If you feel tired, if you resist the demand to race, or if you hate being part of the pack, this post is especially for you.
This past week several of us were talking about how hard it is for the present generation to hear something like “faith is like running a long race.” For one thing, they expect to make the demands, not meet them. Chris uncovered an interesting article by a college professor about how consumerism and identity politics make it impossible for him to teach people who never expect to run hard, stumble, or need to be in a race with others at all — unless that is what they choose to do, of course. He was too demanding. On a similar track, the pastors were talking about the surprising discovery at the last Imaginarium that some people feel a persistent resistance to an irritating “demand” from God and the church.
Do you think a lot of us have become unable to hear the Bible at all? Is it too demanding? Are more and more of us unable to listen to anyone correcting us or calling us to something beyond ourselves? — does that even seem illegal? Did the world effectively do away with sin by making nothing wrong, by making everything one feels their “right?” Maybe. At least I have not heard anyone quoting Hebrews 12 lately. The writer says:
Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12-13)
I can hear “Ugh. More demands!” And “Who are you to say what a straight path is — and why should I be on a straight path anyway?” And “Don’t label me ‘lame.’ Who gives you the right to tell me I need to be ‘healed’ instead of accepted as ‘out of joint’?” The generation excels at deconstruction, not at moving toward a preferable end. Is hope too demanding?
Let’s consider how God might move us through a dream. Last night I talked a lot about dreaming in honor of Peter’s great outburst of enthusiasm as he quoted the prophet Joel to explain what the Holy Spirit of God had done in the gathered disciples on Pentecost.
No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.’ Acts 2:16-17 (from Joel 2:28)
Prophecy, visions and dreams are being poured out “upon all flesh” as God calls us back into the spiritual intimacy we were created to enjoy.
This reality is a bit off the grid for many of us. We have been trained to think our dreams, in particular, are a matter of predictable, physical processes we can measure — and it is true, researchers have been watching our dreams for a long time. The invention of the electroencephalograph allowed scientists to study sleep in ways that were not previously
possible. During the 1950s, a graduate student named Eugene Aserinsky (along with others, but long live graduate students!) used this tool to discover what is known today as REM sleep. Further studies demonstrated how sleep progresses through a series of stages in which different brain wave patterns are displayed. We mainly dream during stage four when we experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep (also known as active sleep or paradoxical sleep).
Some people saw “parenting” in the title of my post and never got further than the title. They are not a parent at all, or not a parent of young children, so they are skipping this post because it is “not about me.” At some level, that’s OK, since we don’t have to be universally responsible for everything. But children are not just a subject, they are not merely an activity, they are members of the body of Christ.
Children are not of age to make a covenant, so they are those kind of members of the body. But they are members by virtue, generally, of being present with their parents. As a result, they are the special charges we are all given to nurture into faith until they can make an adult decision to walk with Jesus with us. If you ignore them, or you don’t think they are watching you ignore them, you will not only miss your opportunity and shirk your responsibility to care, you may actually prove to be a detriment to their development. (Did you listen to Into the Woods last year?)
We are parenting as a community. One way or another, we will all be parenting when children are around in the church. This is how it should be. We are the family of God, after all. The church is either a great environment where everyone, children included, can be connected to God and form a secure attachment — or not. We want to be a church who…
- encourages everyone to care for our weakest people: the children,
- helps parents with their difficult and crucial ministry to their children,
- helps parenting households in an individualized society to develop practical ways to share their burdens
- opens doors for including new parents in the systems we come up with to share the load.
More and more people are just plain tired out from being a Christian. They feel a change in their world. They are uncomfortable about adapting. I think they are feeling a nostalgia for a time that may have never existed: “Christendom” — a time when the state and the church had some kind of joint rule of the society. (If it ever really worked like that, it was a LONG time ago). The privatization of the church accelerated after WW2 when science took over truth at government expense; now the day of the church being consulted about society is over. I am not sure I feel that nostalgia, since when I became a Christian I changed my allegiance to the Kingdom and didn’t worry about how I fit into the “public.” But a lot of people did not see their conversion like I did, so they are hurting. Here are some reasons they are tired — and why you might be tired of being a Christian, too.
Click pic for more
Leaders are fighting to fill the post-Christian vacuum
Regardless of how it happened, the church as an institution in society is not as important as it used to be. (Of course we have always thought that being a mere institution under the umbrella of “society” was wrong anyway!). I celebrate the end of the unholy alliance — it marginalized Jesus and distorted the Gospel. But the end of it does leave a cultural vacuum – and a lot of Christians spend a lot of time getting sucked into the debates over ideas, theology, and the relationship between faith and a changing culture. If they are Americans, they tend to think their culture is crucial and their ideas extremely important. So their leaders talk about what to do now all the time (like I am) and get them to fight for the soul of nation (like I hope not to do). Conflict makes people tired. Any time there is some kind of cultural vacuum being flooded with a mixture of new and old ideas, there will be conflict. We hate conflict. It makes us tired — tired enough to switch on the tube and binge again — or something.
Our church will be talking a lot about children for the next month or so. Not only do we love them, we know a lot of them. (They seem to be popping out all over like tulips). We want to stategize for raising them together.
Many people who have raised this generation of twentysomethings are second-guessing what they did. We can probably learn from them as we raise the next generation, since many of us are their children! A lot of Gen-Y/millennials (destructive labeling) seem a lot more helpless than expected, more than a few can’t work well enough or get along well enough to keep a job, and they expect a lot to be delivered into this moment they are living for. There may be reasons for this:
- They may have been told they are special – for no reason. They didn’t display excellent character or skill, but now they demand special treatment. The problem is that kids assumed they didn’t have to do anything special in order to be special.
- They may have been told to dream big – and now any small act seems insignificant.
- Their parents may have made their happiness a central goal. Now it’s difficult for them to generate happiness — the by-product of living a meaningful life.
- They may have been given every comfort – and now they can’t delay gratification. (Mickey Goodman)
Surprisingly enough, at our last Imaginarium, when we asked the question, “What is God saying to us?” we started talking about the same things. We are the “young” people who are learning new traits from God and one another that allow us to serve our cause. And yes, we think we are special and at the same time doubt anyone who says someone or something is more special than someone or anything else. We are often bumping up against the reality that we actually have to do something to live up to our ideals. A lot of what we talked about matches the quotes above. Here’s my summary of our rich dialogue:
The wisdom or rightness of whatever we are doing depends primarily upon our motivation or purpose for doing it. “Why?” and “what for?” make a difference. Jesus followers know why they are alive and what to live for.
The Apostle Paul masterfully helps us with our decision making about activities that could “go either way” in several of his letters — “Is this action wise or right?” For instance, in his day there was a debate about what to do with food that comes from the temple “store” after having been sacrificed to idols. He writes:
The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:3-9)
We may not have a similar circumstance in our own time (although some people think eating genetically modified foods might be something sacrificed to a corporation). But lately we have had the debate about ingesting drugs of various kinds; there is a parallel. This is the second half [previous post] of some thoughts we explored in our last “Doing Theology” time; Paul is a good guide to questions we have to keep asking.