The last week or so I’ve been traveling for both work and pleasure. Somewhere between the good conversation and good (okay, incredible) food, I managed a few quick looks at email and social media. Somewhere in the latter I remembered a quip that I cannot find again… but it has continued to wake me up in the middle of the night.
I can’t attribute it. I can’t quote it exactly, but somehow that doesn’t lessen its power to get under my skin and to agitate my thoughts. I know it resonates with a quote by Antonio Gramsci (Marxist philosopher) but within the context of the church*.
It’s the sort of statement that makes me think of all the energy we put into established programs, and to mourn our fear to invest in that which is risky. It makes me wonder if our fear of grief (saying goodbye to what is known and uncomfortable) might somehow be transformed into joy for what is awkward and new? I ponder what would happen if the death of time-honored traditions occurred not because we lacked the energy to continue but out of a conscious choice to create space for whatever is next?
It’s the sort of statement that makes me take a hard look at the metrics I use within my own life. Is survival the same as success? Should my life be measured in how many widgets I own, or how many followers I’ve scored? Do we know we are doing it “right” because we have big buildings, budgets, and butts in the pews? Do my metrics stem from my faith or my worry of being measured by the world?
It’s a statement that makes me question the underlying values of the PCUSA, the Presbytery, and our local congregations when we start to talk about how much time we have left. I heard a colleague of another PCUSA governing body speak with concern about an endowment that might only buy them another 13 years at their current draw-down rate. I immediately thought of churches that are measuring their own lives in a fraction of those numbers.
Neither scenario feels in sync with the One we claim to follow. The One who gave up everything, including his own life.
The Gramsci-ish quip went something like this: The tragedy is not that the church is dying, but that the church isn’t allowed to be born.
If this statement keeps you up at night…. know you have a friend willing to talk about it with you.
*Discovered Gramsci not during my philosophy days at Buffalo State but in the book “White Too Long” by Robert Jones. I did find a reference to Gramsci’s quote in a Presbytery Facebook post and believe it triggered my remembrance of the troubling statement above. (Also happy to talk about this book with anyone interested!)