Yesterday I logged on to WordPress on my way to the “Simplecountrypastor’s Blog.”  If you’ve never been there, the home page has a patchwork arrangement of some of the most popular blog sites on the server.  I often scan them, but being a church geek I don’t usually read them.  My own blogroll of other churchy types is hard enough to get through reading each one.   There was one, however, titled: “Raising a Churchless Child,” that piqued my interest.

Over there, Skinny Sushi describes a lifestyle that I am quite sure is predominant in our culture.

She speaks of being raised in the Mormon church, going off to higher education, marrying a Mormon, and adopting a lifestyle that is without commitment to a church.  She describes she and her husband as agnostic.   She raises the question that I’ve heard (directly or indirectly) thousands of times:  “…shouldn’t we be good people because it’s just the right thing to do, independent of judgment from on high?  And any God who might be out there… wouldn’t he/she/it be rather pleased I’ve lived a good life and been kind to others?”

I found it ironic that the question came down to  “There’s just something about the notion of an all powerful being who will punish me for not believing despite the quality of my life that seems a little… self serving?  Narcissistic?”

Still, I was touched by her narrative.  She is obviously someone who is concerned about justice, who is a loving parent, and whose morals and ethics might be indistinguishable from the most pious of citizens.  It is hard for me to complain about how her logic has lead her to this way of life.

And she points out that when the authority of the institutional church is wielded harshly it can result in injury, psychological and otherwise.  No wonder some folks swear off the ‘institutional church.’

Then, the family attends a ‘church festival.’  She notes a deep sense of community there.  She asks, ” So how do we foster the kind of social atmosphere that will help our daughter to understand the worth of friends and loved ones beyond the family?”  And this is the question everyone, in our time, should be asking.  Everyone, especially in the church, should be wondering about this.

There is plenty of conversation about the isolation present in our technologically saturated society.  This is mostly conducted by people who don’t understand that there is the possibility for connection and intimacy in the virtual world.  I experience it when some of my ‘tweeple’ recently gathered together IRL (in real life) for what they called #UNCO10 (Un-Conference, 2010) and I was jealous I couldn’t be there.  A colleague in Maine recently mentioned how glad she was to have our ‘friend’ from Washington D.C. come and stay at her house while this friend is the speaker at the Main Conference (UCC) Annual Meeting.

I know that when the participants of our Spring Mission trip returned they all commented about how great it was to go and serve others, but what really charged them up was the relationships that were built and the deep fellowship they experienced.  Back at home now they are striving to find ways to replicate or continue that intimacy.

I do not know what the spark Skinny Sushi noticed at the Greek Orthodox festival was.  She tries to describe it.   What I do know is that at its worst, the church is nothing more than a gathering of ‘members’ who dutifully come to worship together (sometimes only at Christmas and Easter).  At its best, the church is a place where we take seriously our baptismal promises that forge a commitment to each other.

Years ago, H.R. Niebuhr, in his book “The Purpose of the Church and its Ministry,” summarized by saying that the church exists to ‘increase our love of God and one another.’   I don’t think you get this from play groups or other civic organizations.

And on the moral and ethics side, I, too, am resistant to motivation through punishment.  I see our allegiances to God’s movement in the world toward restoration of this good creation as growing out of our love of God and God’s love for us.    It is this, beyond my psycho-social theories about society or the ‘common-good,’ that makes the most sense to me.  I have a hard time being motivated by ‘the common good.’   I hope people are motivated to justice and love by that same God who generously give these blessings to us.  Our community of faith, if nothing else at all, should be a place where all the baptized can count on experiencing these same blessings by the hands of their ‘church family.’   Our lives are a response, not part of a sentence of parole.

I also think that reactions such as ‘theirs’ is in response to the church wielding doctrine like a club rather that a means of formation.  Even though I have some deep commitments to certain traditions, and doctrines, I think we sometimes present these things in a way that fosters judgment rather than grace; too often they become a rod instead of a gentle shepherds crook.  The reason I have such a deep commitment to them is that, for me at least, they have been a dependable path in my own growth; and the companions I have along this path have been priceless.

Skinny Sushi’s comments concerned me most because of the implications for Evangelism.  Those of us who believe that our more orthodox way of worship and life together are life-giving and produce joy, better be sure that they are experienced that way.