Changes in Thinking.

An inside joke in the Brown house is going “Spatula City, Spatula City (fade out)…” anytime someone asks for the spatula.  If you know, you might already be chuckling, if not, I’ll ruin the joke by explaining it. It’s a line from the 1989 Weird Al movie UHF. And even the name of the movie has to be explained these days.  As I sit watching TV alone most nights, everyone else in their own private sphere doing their own thing, I remember what 1989 (my Junior year) was like. We did not have cable.  That meant that we got 4 channels on VHF (low numbers on the “top dial” – 2, 5, 8, and 13 for us representing CBS/NBC/ABC/PBS). You also occasionally, if the weather and the antenna were just right, got a couple on the UHF (high numbers on the “bottom dial”.) We got WGN on 53 on a repeater out of Chicago and something like 26 which was pure Weird Al UHF local. Full of game shows like “Wheel of Fish” sponsored by the local fish market and recasts of the area High School Football games captured by one stationary camera at the top of bleachers. And that might be what people agreed to watch at 9PM because you had to negotiate, unless Dad just said “I’m watching 8.” It’s a lost world that was occasionally very funny.  Something Weird Al captured perfectly and lovingly.  And it is completely lost on my kids although not the wife.

Sharing that memory is part narcissism, but not completely. In those days the topics of general discussion were set by that limited number of outlets along with the big city daily newspapers. There might be highbrow, midbrow and lowbrow takes, but the subject was the same. Whatever was on the front page of the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times would be the day’s subjects.  Time Magazine (or Newsweek or US News) would come along end of the week with the solid midbrow summary. And then there were fortnightly and monthly magazines that would do the highbrow thinking.  The idea that today you could get everyone in the country talking about the same thing is a dream.  Even the Superbowl only gets about 1/3rd of TVs, something that a normal episode of MASH used to pull. Today, everything is narrow cast. Just by the outlet you know who people are trying to talk to.

Which is why a couple of things have caught my eye recently.  Stories in places that would signal a change in thinking. The recent regrets of one of the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheist apocalypse, Richard Dawkins, kicked it off. He proclaimed himself a Cultural Christian. Looking at the direction of the civilization that is downstream of him, he somewhat realized himself in the cartoon posted nearby.  But it was an article in The Atlantic that nailed it.  The Atlantic is something aimed at aspiring-highbrow-money-to-spend-in-the-know-want-to-be-with-it people. And for The Atlantic to publish “The True Cost of the Churchgoing Bust” thinking must be changing. And some of that re-thinking is grounded in the reality that those who seem to be managing their way around a cell phone virtual world best, are those who have deep attachments to things like ritual, like liturgy and the Lord’s Supper. Things that make meaning in a world bereft of it.  That give solidity. That touch the real.  Having The Atlantic audience open to such thoughts is something new.

And that kicked off several chats of the form “How much do I have to believe to be a part of your church?”

And that answer comes in layers.  The doors are always open.  Always have been.  Anyone can attend a worship service.  Most things that take place in the church are open to participation. A specific question I got was “I maybe believe in God 30%, but I don’t believe in a divine Jesus.  Would I be welcome.”   My answer was “Yes.  Most of us don’t have Road to Damascus conversions.  But if you hear the Word of God consistently, are baptized, one of these days you’ll find yourself saying the 2nd article of the creed – because that is what churches do – and actually believing it.”  The word of God does not return empty, but accomplishes its purpose (Isaiah 55:11). My answer also included the question, “are your doubts private, or would you intend to demand the pulpit to spread them?” As I explained, private doubts are things people of faith wrestle with all the time.  Although as one matures in faith the wrestling is less about the creedal basics and more about the often unfathomable will of God. But public confrontation would require protection of the flock.  The church contains a multitude of sinners, but it proclaims one message. Jesus Christ is LORD and savior of sinners.

My answer also included the distinction between membership and participation. Membership ultimately includes the willingness to stand up and publicly confess what the church does. Does that mean the end of all doubts.  No. What it does mean is the good faith to struggle and maybe to occasionally accept that 2000 – 4000 years of people interacting with this revealed God know more than one 21st century man.   Finding yourself in that third square of the comic is often the start of repentance.  And Repentance is always the first step of faith.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.