Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sacred Cows

In India, one can't walk very far before running into a cow.  They're considered sacred - the Indians have their reasons, which I won't discuss right now.  But this is a country where a large percentage of the population is living in starvation ... with food walking around everywhere on the hoof and leaving, uh, excrement everywhere.  Yet - the Indian people never think of feeding themselves or their families with these moo-velous creatures. To them, it would be like killing a family member and eating his or her flesh.  Really.  

As ludicrous as that concept sounds to us in the West, and nowhere would it be more likely to sound ludicrous than in the church, there are a few sacred cows wandering the aisles of our assemblies.  They don't chew the cud and they don't give milk.  But we treat them exactly the same as the Indian people treat their sacred cows.  

These sacred cows - in the church - take the form of ideas.  Ideas that are so entrenched that we can hardly think of "doing church" without them.  

Like our precious "order of service" - known for centuries as "liturgy" and still known as such in some denominations.  These are the magic words, the clerical (i.e., clergy) incantations spoken again and again and again, the "it's just done that way" rituals that dictate that there must be an opening hymn, there must be announcements and offering right after the first set of worship music, there must be a sermon which lasts at least 22 minutes (and in some denominations, an unheard-of 90 minutes!) - after all, that's why we're paying the pastor - and there must be closing music of a certain cadence and "mood." 

Found this photo (via Google) at:
 All these are man-made rote-based sacred cows.  They make the masses feel good because they're predictable.  But they mean nothing and don't necessarily have anything to do with worship, which is why we're told to gather, right? 

Still more disturbing are the culturally-based sacred cows that have crept into the church.  Nurseries that are nothing more than a place for women to gather and grouse about their men - it sounds like those groups my mother-in-law used to call "coffee clatches" where women would air their husbands' dirty laundry, nasty habits, and insensitivities to each other and wouldn't dare dream talking to their husbands about it.  On the other side, we have men's gatherings that are thinly veiled excuses to talk about sports or wrestling or hockey.  (Note I didn't group these last two in with sports.  Different issue.) Or to PLAY sports etc., which opens up a whole new discussion item regarding how a Christian can call himself a Christian and still play dirty. Or they might gather (which is more likely) to escape from the stereotypical nit-picking wife for a couple of hours a week. 

Oh they can call it whatever they want...they can even call it "small groups" or "ministry."  But if we were honest ... we know what's really going on.  The sickness of gender-itis is pandemic in the church.  It sets the men and women up against each other and perpetuates the original curse given to human beings in Genesis 3, spoken to the woman but including all people regardless of gender in its wake .... "Your desire will be to (rule over) your husbands, and they shall rule over you." Everything we do to foster that curse - to divide and conquer - flies in the face of all that Jesus came to do: "we are all one in Christ Jesus."

And let's not forget about the church building itself.  Some churches have had nearly knock-down drag-em-out fights at their annual business meetings over how the church finances are spent, because the vast majority of the money that comes in is sunk into the mortgage or the rent, and there's nothing left for outreach. 

Just as touchy a subject is style of music.  A certain age group wants hymns, a different age group wants bouncy-jouncy choruses, still another wants Gaither music, and a totally different age group wants personal worship music such as Hillsong or the like.  I've seen people walk away from a church because they didn't like the music.  And more often, I've seen people stay and spread dissension over it.  I remember a church once which decided to sell its two-tiered organ, you know the kind, with the foot pedals.  It was removed from the sanctuary and placed in a different part of the building awaiting a buyer.  Someone happened to go by that other area one Sunday before church only to find this old fella in there - God love him - sadly stroking the wood on the organ as if the inanimate musical instrument was a close personal friend who was being deported.


Some have made the dress code their sacred cow.  Men: two-piece business suits at the very least.  Women: dresses or skirts at the least.  Some require hats for the women. And anyone who doesn't measure up is ostracized, treated like someone who doesn't belong.  Funny - I think I remember someone saying that man looks on the outward appearance, but that God looks on the heart. 

Some folks actually believe - of all things - that because they "sit in the heavenlies with Christ Jesus" that their function in this world is to judge other people and especially other Christians.  I've met these people.  They are so narrow-minded that they could look through a keyhole with both eyes, and they firmly believe that if a believer doesn't fit into their perfect Christian-shaped cookie cutter (one which looks just like them) then they have the RIGHT to call that believer down to the lowest and set him or her right.  They have elevated themselves to the position of God (who alone is the Judge who judges justly, hello...)  No wonder their church is spoken of in that community with disdain.

My point?  Perhaps it's time to clear out the sacred cows from the sanctuaries - maybe even get rid of the sanctuaries themselves.  Perhaps it's time to focus on the real reason we gather together - not to see who is wearing what, who's sitting with whom, or get our consciences soothed or whipped into shape, or to justify our own particular brand of "right" so that we can look down on others and call them "wrong." I'm just as guilty of this as the next person... and I don't even know I'm doing it half the time.

Maybe it's time we stopped feathering our nests with other people's feathers - and learned how to fly with our own.  Maybe it's time we stopped focusing on minor differences and started seeing the many things we all have in common, not the least of which is the utter inability we have to live lives that are pleasing to God, without total dependence ON God.  How we all need mercy ... compassion ... encouragement ... love. 

Yes.  Love.  Not more (as somebody I used to know once called it) cow-nasty.

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