Thursday, December 20, 2007

To whom will you sacrifice your children?

I write this at perhaps the only time of year that our culture recognizes the worth of sacrifice—Remembrance Day. Images of battlefield horror may be the glorification of all things military or the uncensored documented proof that all things are broken. Love or hate the day, this individualistic, consumerist, me-first society can surely use the reminder of sacrifice for a cause bigger than itself.
Ironically, the most somber of silences at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is quickly followed by that most maniacal of marches towards the 25th day of the 12th month. How quickly we move from one form of child sacrifice to the next. In the former, we remember sacrifices made for the state; in the latter, we gorge on sacrifices for the self. In November, we were a people willing to lay down our lives; in December, we are gluttons for sales and easy credit.
Martin Luther once made the chilling statement, “Idolatry involves a question of what you would sacrifice your children for.” The state or the self: Which idol is receiving our children these days? Perhaps, and probably, it is both. The power of any idol is its diabolical clout that convinces us to give up our young in its name.
Now before we get uppity, snap our suspenders and declare ourselves free of such silliness, perhaps we need to be reminded of one limb of the church’s love affair with the political left and the other limb’s desperate dependency on the political right. The state still begs for—and consumes—our offspring. And then there is the surrendering of our kids to the selfish amusement and titillation of an age of decadence and excess with very few questions asked beyond, “Will that be cash or credit?”
As followers of Jesus we know the walk by faith is one of sacrifice—the self-sacrifice of Christ for sinners and the reciprocal sacrifice of the self marked by the taking up of our crosses in an about-face. You cannot be in Christ without accepting the sacrifice for you and making a sacrifice yourself. In contrast to the demands of the state, we are commanded to love even our enemies and name only one Lord. In contrast to the self, we are commanded to give up all that was once for our profit.
Yet even here, beneath a good God’s mothering wing, we do not escape the disturbing image of child sacrifice. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says, “No ethic is worthy that does not require potentially the suffering of those we love.”
The Trinity gives up the Son. And how many toddlers did Bethlehem lose to the Father’s decision to shine on David’s city? If you choose Jesus, those you love are forced to live with the ramifications of your decision. To choose Jesus under Nero meant the potential suffering of your offspring. Household conversions meant embracing an ethic your loved ones could die for.
Does this still happen? Living with such an individualistic society and spirituality, we forget that it is still the case that what adults choose is what the next generation is forced to deal with. Since, statistically at least, Canadians are abandoning Christian faith faster than the Maple Leafs, it makes you wonder what god and ethic we have sacrificed our children for. And for those who have named Jesus as Lord: Do you still believe this Christmas that he’s worth the sacrifice?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Temple Raising

In a TV interview historian Michael Wood reflects upon the world’s great historic civilizations and observes that their impressive building programs were implemented in the dying days of their influence. The places modern tourists visit were in fact the last gasps of inflated kingdoms suffering an incurable wound. I doubt the Aztecs designed their temples as the perfect image for twenty-first century tourist brochures. At the height of power they were unsuspectingly raising their own tombstones.
You have probably seen great European cathedrals like St.Paul’s in London or St. Vitius’ in Prague. Though awesome in grandeur the eerie lament of an abandoned faith echoes mournfully midst the ancient pillars. That same dirge is haunting rural and urban Canada where buildings once full sit empty, with the occasional well-intentioned few searching for ways to “save the church” – a thought rich with tragic irony. Our building-centeredness has served as blinder, blunder and burden.
And still the Canadian Church, never more in decline, has entered a new era of temple raising. Will we never learn? Why are we so determined to sink obscene amounts of God’s money into temples he does not inhabit? Why have we assumed this is the only God-inspired model we must follow into eternity? Is it not clear by now that this is a human religious enterprise and not necessarily the heartbeat of our Father? Who are we building these big box monuments for? And, will our children or grandchildren when they bear grey hair care two pence about keeping these new basilicas up to code in a new economic and environmental reality, amidst a culture that will be – actually already is – avowedly secular and indifferent to our steeples and welcoming foyers?
Our culture is headed away from Christian faith at breakneck speed so why do we think wads spent on ourselves will spark some great revival? It won’t. In fact, such decadence may in fact feed and speed the exodus. The issue, really, is not the buildings themselves – they had their use and may yet still, though I hope in a radically different way – but the entrenched Christendom idea of the church that yet binds us. Far too much “church-life” is spent trying to coax people into our hallowed halls. Church buildings have ceased being remotely meaningful to the life of most communities. This is no great loss, for the Church is the body of Christ and her people God’s building. If we wake up we may yet live justly, mercifully, and humbly the radical hopeful kingdom God’s people can build for a society both justifiably critical of our self-centeredness and aching to see what they subconsciously dream we’re capable of.
Can we honestly not read the signs of the times and deduce that our current blueprint is nothing more than the temple raising of a fading empire and that God’s Kingdom does not depend – indeed never has – on church buildings? Is it really a feather in our cap when a non-believer compliments us on our nice church? Isn’t this merely a sign that they have yet to encounter the Church at all? A new imagination is desperately needed that will risk thinking, listening, and conversing with the body of Christ international that has no choice but to live in true fellowship, plant seeds and engage their troubled contexts rather than raise temples. This is no longer a “build it and they will come” world – if it ever really was. If we don’t learn this soon we are primed to join others who built big just before becoming historical curiosities.