Becoming

As I write this, it’s a beautiful autumn day outside. After a week of extreme heat, today is a desperately-needed refreshment. It rained lightly last night and the smell of rain is still hanging in the air. The sky is cloudy with some spots of blue daring to peep through from time to time. Some leaves on the trees are starting to change colour, but I think this is more due to the recent heatwave than to the new season, which is not even a week old.

AshWedesdayCrossIt’s also Ash Wednesday.

Traditionally this is the day the liturgical church declares the depravity and mortality of humankind.

As a cross of ash is made on our foreheads, we are reminded of our transient state:

“Remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Or, instead, we may be challenged:

“Repent and believe the good news”

Or, in different words:

“Turn from your sins and follow the Saviour.”

Ash Wednesday contains in its essence both a reminder of who we are and also a challenge to become who we are meant to be.

While our own mortality is something we all must learn to deal with (death happens to all, no exceptions), turning from a life of self-fulfilment and self-pleasure to walk in the way of Jesus is counter-intuitive at its best. Giving up what we want? Letting go of what we have? Forsaking the identity we’ve forged for ourselves and lived out all of our life?

In the words of Coldplay:

Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
Oh take me back to the start

(The Scientist)

It’s always difficult when we are called to give up, let go and forsake. We must come first to the place of recognition that there is a better way. We must then go through the process of casting off the old and exposing ourselves–being vulnerable–in acknowledging the part we have played in who we are at the present.

But then . . . but then! We are privileged to be able to start again. No matter what we have done. Regardless of where we have been. Despite all our past.

In this moment we are made new. The slate is wiped clean. We begin again.

We start on a journey as we, through humility and courage, move forward in the way of Love, becoming who we were created to me.

I’m not a big fan of the institutional Church nor of what Christianity has become. There is no argument that organised religion has a lot for which to answer, both in the past and in our world today.

Yet, the symbolism attracts me and speaks to me in ways no catechism, no systematic theology, no rules or standards ever could. And in accepting the symbol of ash in a sign of the cross on my head, I am accepting that I have not yet arrived at where I need to be, but, every day I am changing, growing, learning, loving . . . becoming.

This is where I need to be today.

And, on Ash Wednesday, this is my hope and prayer for you:

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.

. . . But we were too busy being Christians

I sat down to watch the (now classic) movie Back to the Future with my mate David. Despite there being 9 years difference in our ages, we both loved the same music and enjoyed the same TV shows (even though he did have an unshared weird fascination with the animated Dragon Ball series). We had dropped by the local Blockbuster and picked up the aforementioned movie on VHS tape and, for 116 minutes precisely, lived life through the eyes of one Marty McFly.

Dave’s mum was in and out of the family room, and at one point sat down at the desk behind us and, like us, got caught up in McFly’s adventures (or maybe she was just keeping tabs on how I was corrupting her son?). I remember turning to her at one point in the movie where Marty’s future mum and dad were slow dancing at the ‘Under the Sea Ball’ and I made an off-handed remark that she must have enjoyed her Senior Prom (seeing as she was, like the McFly elders, coming of age in the rock-n-roll era.)

Her response floored me with its almost-venomous indignation: “We didn’t do things like THAT. We were Christians!”

I tell that story to tell this one:

I enjoyed a long lunch recently with some friends and, as we sat around the table, talk shifted to our shared past in the Church. None of us at that table attend church with anywhere near the regularity we once did, having found so many new and more practical expressions of our faith. Musing on how many good deeds we could have done and how much life we could have shared with others outside our own churches back then, one of the group summed it all up in a truism that echoed in my head for days to come: ‘We were too busy being Christians.’

Yes. We were.*

The world around us was crashing and people were finding themselves jobless, without a home. Interest rates were at an all-time high and unemployment was off the charts. The AIDS epidemic was at its highest. There was famine in places we never heard of. Evil was rampant. In short, the world was going to hell in a hand-basket. But we were too busy meeting in our Church buildings, praising God, praying, and eating shared ‘fellowship’ lunches; meeting to plan our praising, praying and eating times. We were spending our time handing out gospel tracts, going door-to-door in an Evangelism Explosion™, preaching on the street corners, writing letters to politicians to express our anger over any number of anti-morality laws, and pasting up posters advertising the latest evangelistic rally or youth event.

churchfamilyThe next-door neighbour lived with his girlfriend and we all knew that was against God’s law. The folks behind us played KISS (and we all knew what that meant!) The across-the-street family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just down the road, Mrs H was an anxious wreck and spent most of her days in the local psychiatric facility. Around the corner was another family whose son was born with a rare genetic condition and spent most of his life so far recovering from numerous surgeries and extended hospital stays. The man just behind them beat his wife and, she ended up on medication that turned her into a shadow of what she should have been.

But we had to be at church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and at youth group Friday night. Church visitation was on Monday night. We said we cared. We prayed for these poor folks who weren’t one of us. . . . but, as we well know, thoughts and prayers really are a poor substitute for action. (As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wisely notes: We are the answer to our prayers.)

How dare the people on our street hold drunken parties New Year’s Eve and interrupt our ‘Watchnight’ services! The homeless man who slept rough near the church would never have dreamed of asking us for help because, in our minds, he had no excuse for not getting a job or at least taking a shower once in a while. And any money we gave him, he would spend on drink anyway…

And so we kept ourselves busy.

Church Sunday morning. Fellowship Lunch Sunday afternoon. Church Sunday night. Visitation Monday night. Kid’s Club Tuesday afternoon. Bible Study Wednesday night. Church Board Meeting/Worship practice Thursday night. Youth Group Friday night. Saturday (no sports) usually was spent around the house or with some Church folks doing some Safe-for-Christians™ stuff.

The Church always had a roster, a programme, a working bee, a ‘ministry’ that needed volunteers, and we were urged to ‘give our time to God’ to be used for “His glory’. And we all knew the only way God would accept our time-sacrifice, like our money-sacrifice, was if we gave it to the Church.

And when we did have free time, we were encouraged to spend it reading our Bible, praying or listening to Godly Music®. And if we still had time, we could go around the neighbourhood leaving gospel tracts in people’s front doors or letterboxes or sing Christian songs at the mall. (I think the goal was to keep us so busy that we wouldn’t even have time to contemplate drinking, smoking, going to the movies, cruising around town or–God forbid!–sex. After all, we knew well the unwritten Bible verse: ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’)

Yes, we could have mowed the neighbours’ lawn. We could have made Mrs H a nice cake and gone down to her house for a cuppa. We could babysit a little boy so his parents could be with his brother in hospital. We could have just spent time listening to our friend whose life story read more like a tragic, abuse-ridden soap opera.

We could have done ever so much to show that following Jesus meant a great deal to us, so much that we would love our neighbours to the moon and back, even if they never joined our Church.

We could have.

But we were too busy being Christians.

___________________

* Like many posts I write, I have used the literary technique known as ‘Gleaning from many sources [books, talks and personally-related stories, as well as from my personal experience] and condensing it into one short post to make a point.’ While some of these things actually happened to me at some point in my life, some have been related to me by friends and acquaintances along the way. Sadly, I also inflicted many of these expectations on others, for which and to whom I offer my heartfelt and honest apology. I was too busy being a Christian.

Shhh…

(Warning: Trigger alert for those who have experienced abuse or emotional trauma in a church setting.)

______

Shhh. You can’t say that!

What? Why not?*

It’s not positive. It doesn’t look good. People will think . . . Well, you just can’t put that stuff out there. At least not on Facebook.

But this is how I feel right now.

Yeah, I know. But it’s still not appropriate to spread that stuff around. People will think… Well, it just doesn’t seem right for a Christian to use that language.

What language? Words like ‘sad,’ ‘angry,’ ‘frustrated,’ and ‘disappointed’ are me right now.

Yeah. But maybe you could lift the tone a little . . .

You mean pretend?

Hmmm . . . No, well not . . . not rrreally. it’s just a little “attitude shift.” Be a little more upbeat, positive, happy.

Sounds like pretending to me.

No, it’s not . . . Well, maybe just a little. But it’s for a good cause. I mean, you don’t want everyone to catch your negativity. It is contagious, you know. People need to see that you’re victorious over your negative feelings. You need to be an example, a shining light of God’s joy, love and peace in difficult circumstances.

But I’m not happy right now. I’m churning up inside. I don’t have anything I feel that I can give right now.

Looking at the big picture, that’s not really important. Give your doubts to God. What people need to see is that you’re trusting God, that you believe God is in control.

church-lonelinessBut I don’t feel like anyone’s in control right now. I’m aching inside and I’m so mad at those stupid people. I warned them! When they stood up and said ‘We must do this,’ and ‘It’s part of God’s grand plan,’ I said, ‘How can God have such a nutty plan that requires us to check our brains at the door and blindly say ‘Yes’ to what one group of men has told us we should do?’

I know it looks complicated right now, but you’ll see one day as you look back on this time of testing that it was all for the best.

Really? The best for who? People are . . . hurting. I’m hurting. I’m afraid. I don’t feel like I have it in me to go back there.** My Facebook friends may be feeling the same way I am and they might need my understanding. They need to know they’re not the only ones who feel like this. But the truth is . . . The truth is we’re all grieving what could have been. We’re grieving what we could have accomplished, given the chance. We thought we would be heard and understood. . . . but it seems like we’ve been wasting our time. And now all we have is an empty feeling. Loss. Hurt. Grief. I’d like to think honesty would go a long way right now towards our collective healing and recovery. I just need to be real right now.

But people will think . . .

Think what? That I’m like them? That I’m human and have emotions? Flaws? Fears?

People will think you’re not a good example of a Christian.

That’s so shallow! Seriously? They can <insert your choice of expletive-laden phrase here> Let them think whatever they want to.

(And, just like that I had one less Facebook friend.)

_____

*Based on actual conversations. **Image from the pen of the talented David Hayward a.k.a. Naked Pastor www.nakedpastor.com. If you are suffering from or have experienced spiritual abuse, there is a community that can support and encourage you in your path towards healing at www.thelastingsupper.com

What Your Church (Probably) Doesn’t Want You to Know about Giving

It’s the giving season.giving

If you haven’t noticed, you soon will. As Christmas approaches, we will soon be bombarded from all sides by messages urging us to buy expensive gifts for our family and friends. Charities will use this time to raise money for their programs. If you live in the northern hemisphere, Autumn is upon you and many churches and organisations use this season to run pledge drives to underwrite their budgets for the following year (This works so well with back-to-school ‘Homecoming’ or seasonal ‘Thanksgiving’ themes).

Churches rely on gifts from their membership to sustain the many programs they run and to employ staff. Today it seems we must have some sort of structure and this requires finances to maintain.

I am in no way against supporting my local church. If I align myself to a congregation in my community and receive nurturing in that context, it’s only right for me to give to keep the church doors open and support-providing programs running.

What I cannot support, however, is the growing number of pastors, evangelists, and Christian churches and ministries who keep the subject of giving in front of their congregation, constantly reminding and reprimanding them with commands from the Old Testament in order to keep giving to the church/ministry, and promising them God’s blessing if they do so.

Following are four observations I have made about this from my own experience.

Giving to your Church is not the same as giving to your community.

In most cases, over 95% of your community does not have anything to do with your church. While the argument is often made that the church facilitates ‘the work of God’ in the community, statistics fail to support this.

Then there’s the question of what actually is ‘the work of God’? Is it running programs on Sunday to benefit the children of those who attend the church? Is it facilitating a seniors’ ministry on a weekday morning for the elderly church members and their friends? Is it putting on special events to draw in the community in an effort to ‘share the gospel’ with them in exchange for entertainment, food and/or fireworks?

Or is ‘the work of God’ that which Jesus time and time again exemplified in stories such as the Good Samaritan and the Lost Sheep and in such sayings such as found in Matthew 25:35-36–

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

It has been my experience that, whenever churches in the Evangelical tradition speak about ‘Giving,’ they are referring to giving your money to The Church to enable it to run its programs and pay its staff, or giving your time to be on any number of church ministry rosters—from music to making coffee; from cleaning the church to teaching Sunday School.

And, while this is often called ‘giving to the community,’ is more likely has absolutely  nothing to do with the wider community and everything to do with meeting budget and providing programs for the initiated ones.

Giving to your church is not a Biblical requirement.

I had a friend who visited a growing evangelical church in our area a few years ago and I asked him what he thought of it (he is Catholic). He said the service was uplifting, the people were friendly and the sermon was very helpful and practical. Then he shared how, as he entered the door, he saw tables set up and people sitting at either side of them filling in forms and exchanging money. When he asked about this, he was told it was for the purpose of tithing. On one side of the table sat the church elders who were questioning the church’s members about their income the previous week and then taking 10% as a tithe for the work of the church.

Like me, he found that very strange a practice.

But it is common—maybe not so blatantly, but still a popular notion in Christian circles that members are asked (required?) to give at least 10% (the ‘tithe’ is stated as 10% and ‘offerings’ are anything above that).

Others have written extensively about this practice on both sides of the debate. One of the most thorough treatments I have seen has been this one by L. Ray Smith.

In summary, the tithe is an Old Testament ‘tax’ on God’s people to pay for the upkeep of the temple and its priesthood. There are other tithes in Scripture as well—of produce, of stock, and a ‘poor tax.’ Some have estimated that, if we are to be ‘Biblical’ about tithing, we would be giving around 20% of our income, not just one-tenth.

That said, St Paul writes about those who ‘labour in the gospel’ (which we would understand to be those whose only job is full-time service in the Church) to be deserving of payment for their labour (1 Corinthians 9:14), yet he himself didn’t do this just in case people thought he was profiting from his preaching. How unlike many of today’s money-grabbing televangelists.

Giving to your Church is not a measure of faithfulness to Christ.

I am convinced that, many times, church ministries become the conscience-salve we use when we want to stay in a safe, protected environment. It’s the love of the familiar, for those who were raised within its doors. It’s easy because all you need to do is sign up and show up. We won’t be subject to constant swearing, the mentally ill, addicts and we won’t have to give our time to those who we may deem to be ‘unworthy.’ Apart from one morning a week and the occasional evening, we’re not really put out that much at all. And the added benefit is that we will been seen by all our fellow churchgoers to be faithful to Christ. (Should we choose not to be involved, we can still give our money and that will be enough to keep the pastor from calling us, maybe…)

I remember a funeral I attended once where a rather ordinary man in his 60s was being farewelled after a brief battle with cancer.* He wasn’t actively involved in his church, though he was respected by all who knew him. The funeral was simple—a few hymns, a eulogy from his eldest child, and a slide show. Then . . . then the testimonies started. “He regularly volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those in need.” “He showed up every Thursday at the homeless shelter to serve lunch.” “He visited the local school and helped kids with their reading.” “His neighbours could depend on him any time to help them out.” “His work colleagues were amazed by his positive attitude and caring words.” “He was a blood donor.” “He sponsored three children in Kenya.” “He volunteered with the State Emergency Service.”

What an inspiration! He followed the example of Jesus in giving over and over again and, in his giving, influenced more people than those who sacrificed every cent and every moment of their life to church ministries. His faithfulness to the calling of God in his life was evident inside and outside of the confines of his church circles.

Giving is a lifestyle choice.

Generosity is a choice we make every day when we plan our time, our spending and our priorities. We decide to be generous when we decide to smile and give our co-workers encouragement. We follow the example of Christ when we give to those in need without being asked, begged, or solicited by a door-knocker. We contribute to our community in meaningful ways—not simply as an armchair activist or opinionist. We know the truth of the saying attributed to Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ and so we cheerfully dig deep, bring a plate, buy the next round, open our home, give our time and talents to our larger community, not just to those who think the same way we do.

In doing this, we truly show ourselves not only to be people of integrity and purpose, but people who love, following in the generous path of the One who loved humanity and showed it in the generous grace of giving.

_______

*Details have been altered so as not to identify the man or his family.

Silly Songs in the back of a Holden EH Station Wagon

“In – de – pen – dent Bi – ble Church . . .”

The staccato notes see-sawed as the girls in the far back of the family station wagon sang them in full 11-year-old voice.EHF

“Is the best church a – ny – where.”

Every morning my dad made the school run from our house around the outer suburbs of
Adelaide then straight down Regency Road to Beverley where Faith Christian School—‘the first independent Christian School in Adelaide’—had recently opened its doors. To make the monotonous hour-and-a-bit drive slightly more bearable, Juline (my sister) and Linda (her best friend) had written songs about anything and everything we passed every day.

“If you go you’ll like it so . . .”

Oh, yes. Did I mention my dad was the Principal?

We had moved to Australia at the invitation of a family who wanted to start an independent, fundamentalist, dispensationalist Christian Church. Dad had been teaching theology in the Philippines and felt the call of the Lord to Australia. When this opportunity arose, it was like an answer to prayer, a dream come true.

“You will never want to go.”

The Church began holding meetings in the Enfield (now Broadview) Masonic Hall on Regency Road, about a 10-minute drive from the city centre. Apart from the family previously mentioned and our family of four, there was a handful of regulars who met every Sunday morning for Sunday School and Worship, then Sunday evening for a more informal service.

  • Mr L. He escaped the Communist regime in Latvia by jumping ship and swimming to Sweden.
  • Miss B. We laughed every time she stood on her tip-toes and raised her hands while she sang (something that my parents frowned upon, being a Pentecostal thing, yet tolerated).
  • Mrs P and Ann. Mr. P had died a few years prior to our arrival and left Nancy with a little down syndrome girl, Ann.
  • Miss P and Miss A. Two spinster ladies who were mainstays in the Child Evangelism Fellowship in Adelaide. They lived together and did everything together. Today they could well be the subject of runours.
  • Lee. A single man who lived nearby who, like Mr L and Miss B, spent a lot of his time in the Psychiatric Hospital at Glenside. He was a regular counsellor at the CEF camps and, like the two old ladies, would spark a fair amount of gossip in today’s society.

What a mix-up of people!

Mr L played the accordion and sang occasionally but, besides that, our family and the Elias family did everything else in the Church from playing the out-of-tune piano to cleaning up the beer and wine bottles from the Saturday night party in the hall we rented.

“Like it so” wasn’t exactly the phrase I would use, but my sister and her bestie sang it like they believed it. Perhaps they truly felt like this was a place people could come together and feel at home . . . or perhaps it just rhymed nicely.

Regardless of how they felt at the time, the morning of the Church’s 2nd Anniversary service, Mr Elias showed up alone, handed dad a letter, and left. In the letter dad found out that this family was increasingly concerned about our involvement with CEF and other “Christian” groups in the city and believed that, because of our “compromise,” they must do the biblical thing and separate from us.

Mum and Dad were crushed. In a strange country, this family had been our only real friends. They had helped us settle in, adjust to the Aussie culture and way of life, and provided so much emotional support as we made this transition.

That night we hardly felt like celebrating. It was just us and the ‘misfits’ left in our cosy little church. But the show must go on and, in front of the 60-or-so folks who attended that evening, dad put on a brave face. We sang our hearts out. Mrs P’s brother came and played a couple of hymns on his ‘saw’ (which we recorded and used years later as ghost music for a drama). We exceeded all expectations as we (hypocrites?) praised God for the great things he had done.

A year later, the church changed its name and relocated. Most of the original crew disappeared except for Mrs P and Ann. Oddly enough, Faith Christian School didn’t last the year. It closed its doors and, in its place, Maranatha Christian School was born (which is now a campus of Sunrise Christian School in Sturt).

What an interesting chapter of life that was! Childhood innocence crossing the realities of friends stepping out of our lives. Start-ups with hopes and dreams, changing, re-imagining themselves, and growing—and shrinking–in unpredicted ways.

And, yet, while so much changed for us in those few years, I don’t remember my parents ever losing their focus or their enthusiasm for what they believed was God’s calling. Whether or not the path they took was the best path or not, I am not in a position to make that judgement. And although I’m certain I have forgotten many if the details (and, hopefully, the nastiest ones), I still remember nearly every song those girls sang in that overcrowded, yellow Holden EH wagon.

 

Ponder Anew: Dear Church . . .

  Jonathan wrote the following piece–no, not me, but someone around 20 years my junior who is struggling with the same church- and Chrustianity-related issues as I am. As I read this, I heard myself self saying “Yes” and “Amen” so many times (much to the annoyance of the amazing partner-in-crime-and-matrimony sitting across from me at the moment.)

I, like Jonathan, am tired of Jesusy entertainment, bait-and-switch tactics, church cafes, programs, gimmicks and the whole gamut of stuff we can find anywhere. 

I, like Jonathan, want church to be different, compelling, relational, contemplative, full of meaning and symbol, inclusive and embracing of all. As he writes in his blog’s bio, “I believe that as long as we operate the local church with a commercial, consumer, capitalist, seeker-sensitive mentality, it is doomed to be bloated, lukewarm, and largely irrelevant.” Preach it!

I thought of quoting bits from it but couldn’t decide which, so here it is in its entirety. Please do me and yourself a favour and check out the Ponder Anew blog (I LOVE that title, taken from the hymn Praise to the Lord the Almighty. The line says, “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do…” I believe that if we left what only God can do for God to do, we would see a acing things… but that’s another post for another time.)

So here is a snapshot of that post. You can read the post in its entirety here. (Highly recommended, and your doing so will help support and encourage a fellow blogger and traveller on the journey).

***********

A lot’s been made over the millennial generation and their religious life. Why they go to church. Why they don’t go to church. What they want. What they hate.

I’m going to do something different here. I’m not going to cite Barna. I’m not going to quote Rachel Held Evans. I’m not going to link to any articles or blog posts.

I’m just going to tell you what’s true for me, and what I’ve seen to be true of others like me.

I am one of those rascally millennials, by the way. One of those enigmatic, paradoxical, media-dependent, coffee-drinking young people swept together under this millennial umbrella. Except coffee tears up my stomach, so I dropped that stuff.

I was born when a washed-up actor was in the White House. I was crushed the day slap bracelets were banned from my elementary school. I remember hiding in my room with my five-inch TV to watch Friends and Seinfeld and the Simpsons, and all the other shows I wasn’t allowed to see. I don’t remember what it’s like to not have a home computer. I can barely recall a time before cell phones. I’ve never left home without one.

I’ve always been in church. I’ve never left, though I’ve come close several times. I would have left in high school if I’d had the option, but in my house, attendance at my cool, hip, contemporary-worshiping, youth-group-glorifying, moralism-preaching, theology-eschewing McCongregation was a non-negotiable.

So I went. Through every repetition of “Shout to the Lord,” every True Love Waits commitment ceremony, every rapture-ready dispensationalist Bible study, every sermon series on how to make myself into a good, moral, well-behaved person so that I wouldn’t tick off God and bring condemnation to America.

But I was always a misfit. Always a skeptic. Always a doubter. Always an outsider.

Today, you’re my livelihood, and putting food on my table overcomes the gravitational pull of my mattress on a cold, rainy Sunday morning. Or a hot, dry one. Or any other one. But that pull is still there. It’s always been there. It’s never left.

The truth is, my relationship with you is still love-hate.

I love the theology, but I hate the expectations of pseudo piety.

Love the gospel, hate the patriotic moralism.

Love the Bible, hate the way it’s used.

Love Jesus, but hate what we’ve done with him.

Love worship, but hate Jesusy entertainment.

And those other kids I went to church with, I’ve come to find that many of them were misfits, skeptics, and doubters, too. Some of them still go, but more of them have left.

Some of them left because they had no desire to conform to an outdated cultural norm that demanded we keep up appearances by parking our butts in our regular Sunday pew.

They didn’t believe, and didn’t believe they needed to pretend that they did.

Others have left because they grew keen to the bait-and-switch tactics. They’ve left because they didn’t fit in, and couldn’t pretend anymore. They left because the Jesus preached from the pulpit didn’t look much like the Jesus of Nazareth. They left because all the bells and whistles and hooks and marketing rang hollow.

They left because they had been constantly catered to, constantly kept busy, but had never been taught how to be a part of the church.

The programs won’t bring them back.

The coffee won’t bring them back.

The show – the lights, fog machine, the contemporary worship that we think is essential –  nope, that won’t do it, either.

But here are a few things that might just work with some of us. They may seem crazy. They may contradict everything you’ve heard. But, as one of these millennials, this is what would work for me, and for a lot of the people I know who have left.

(Read the rest of the post here.)

 

A Meeting of Shareholders

sharesSo I had this dream.

Normally I don’t remember much of what I dream but, for some reason, this one I remember as if it were a technicolour movie.

In this dream, I walk with my family into what appears to be an arena of sorts—not a sports arena, but a small, but open space that looks similar to art I’ve seen depicting the Roman Senate at the time of Julius Caesar. Around the square floor of this arena rose wide limestone steps, like those of an amphitheatre. The steps were wide enough so that tables and chairs could be set on them. The levels were about 2 feet high and there were five or six of them between the arena floor and the back walls.

At the tables sat men and women who were listening intently to someone whom, I assumed, was in a position of authority, speaking from a small stage under a gazebo built in the middle of the arena. As he was speaking, I heard murmurs of approval or disapproval from the audience, and several of them were writing things down on papers (which I later found out to be a type of ballot).

The man in the arena was addressing the audience as ‘shareholders’ and it seemed like he was urging them to make decisions on some aspect of the yet-unknown company’s operations.

As my family and I walked around the edge of the arena floor, just under the first level of tables, I also saw children and youth milling about. Some sat on the floor by some of the tables, but most took the opportunity to play around the roof-supporting columns of the upper levels of the stands.

Returning my attention to the floor of the arena, I saw, surrounding the leader, men and women. Some were carrying books, some had instruments (It appears there had been some sort of performance prior to the speaking.) In front of the stage were tables with rows of old, leather-bound books, not unlike the records of proceedings which decorate the centre tables in the chambers of Parliament. I remember assuming, as I dreamed, that this was no ordinary shareholder’s meeting since it appeared to meet on a fairly regular and consistent basis in this space.

As the meeting in my dream progressed, I made my way towards the stage and ended up standing next to this leader. Seeing the stands from this vantage point, I began to notice a flow of people in and out of the arena. It appeared that, at different points in the meeting, some who disagreed would pack up their papers and books and leave and others would come in and take their place. On their way out, they would hand over some paperwork to a person who stood behind a bench and they would return to them something that looked like cash. These were obviously the shareholders who had decided that they no longer wished to be investors in the company, cashing in their stock and leaving.

It’s then that I began to see, as if my eyes had been out of focus but had somehow regained 20/20 vision. I recognised some of the ‘shareholders.’ They were fellow members of my church. The men and women standing around the stage seemed to morph into elders and members of the church board. The people holding instruments, the worship team. The CEO addressing the crowd, our pastor.

Whether or not this vision was influenced by recent church meetings, I have no idea. Votes were being made, people were leaving on the basis of those votes. The pastor, try as he might to persuade folks to vote in a certain way, couldn’t seem to make any progress, and the meeting dragged on as my family and I walked out the door which we had entered earlier.

I don’t know if this dream has any significance beyond the fact that I really don’t like church meetings. Yet, somehow, I can see in this a snapshot of how our contemporary version of Church has bought into the consumer culture where we can ‘shop around’ for a better church that ticks all of our personal wish list boxes. If things aren’t going well, we can either exercise our shareholder’s prerogative and attempt to change the direction of the company through lobbying, voting or investing more, or we can ‘sell our shares’ and move on.

In many ways, the clergy (with the support of the elders, board, council or other church body of authority) is doing much like the CEO of any corporation—selling the vision, encouraging people to buy into that vision and then invest their time, money and talents for the prosperity of the company. As more invest, the share price goes up, the public reputation on the ‘Church Exchange’ rises, and the church grows.

I don’t believe this is the community that shares the vision of Christ.

If we are seeking our own comfort and to perpetuate that sense of ease in our congregations, if we are seeing the ballot as the only catalyst of change, if all we are concerned about is getting our own voice heard or our idea approved, we are not following in the steps of the one whose name we claim.

The Church was never meant to be a meeting of shareholders. It was not established to be ruled by the principles of free enterprise. It is, and always ought to be, a place that exists for the betterment and success of those outside its walls.

And if it fails to live up to that modus operandi established by its founder and Saviour, then I believe we all need to cash in our shares and walk out that door.

And once outside, we may see that this is where God has been working all the while.