The Faithless Church (A Call to Remember Easter)

When I write about the church I do so as both part of the church and apart from the church.

The church is a living organism and as such it is a complex thing, difficult to generalize because it is made up of almost 2 billion individuals representing various and myriad facets and attributes.

It doesn’t help that these differing aspects of the church often doubt that their brothers and sisters are even part of the same body and often publicly call one another out.

That being said there is a place for introspection and criticism because the church is an important part of the world.

When I write about the church I am writing about the western church as I see it and have been a part of it. I am not writing about the South American church, the African or Asian church…these are not part of my experience.

I do think that writing about the western church can affect the other parts of the global organization – if only to act as a warning to avoid some of our pitfalls.

Even then as I may write critically I cannot hope to capture the intricacies. There are individuals who in no way reflect the church that I see – whole congregations and communities likely. Still the church that the world sees is that Christ that the world sees and so the visible and loud parts of the church need critiquing.

Unsurprisingly the church, being made up of people, often acts like people in various circumstances. The church can be defensive and immature, the church can be violent, the church can advocate for evil…because its members do…regardless of its headship.

In the face of persecution, in the face of irrelevance, in the face death – the church is afraid and has turned to fight. The very Christ of the world, as it is being led to the cross, would rather turn and kill its enemies than trust in the resurrection – this is the church today.

I wrote the above paragraph as a Facebook post the other day mostly to remind myself to write about this subject.

The church is constantly walking a tightrope between the character of the ones who make it up and the character of the one whom the church is supposed to reflect, that one being Christ.

On the one hand you have the church that is confronted by hostility from all sides – humanism, secularism, other faiths, atheism and from within. In response to this threat the church has many possible responses that fall into one of two camps – either the human response, which is to defend and attack back in order to assure survival, or the response of Christ.

There are churches in the United States that advocate for arming pastors in the face of violence. There are churches today that advocate to keep the stranger out of our land. There are churches today that struggle to give sacrificially.

When confronted by the poor the church as an institution and its leaders will conveniently remind the congregation’s individuals that “you are the church and you must give sacrificially” all the while bringing in enormous sums of tithes to shore up salaries, benefits, buildings, furniture, technology, musical instruments and programs. I have been party to this. I have seen this. I have done this.

Take a look at your church’s budget – I would shocked if more than 10 percent of its funds have been dedicated purely to the poor.

Our churches are institutions accumulating wealth out of a belief that the institution can do more in the world as a result of infrastructure and investment – and this feels right. Always remember our churches are reflections of us…they are supposed to be reflections of Christ but they will be only inasmuch as we are.

There is a temptation at this point to blame pastors for the state of things but the reality is your pastors are merely members of the church, the same as you.

When we look to Christ we encounter the Son of Man who has no place to lay his head and we wonder why God’s style of ministry was so different from our own? Is it a cultural difference? Maybe – although even today no modern organization can match the structure and organization of Rome and the Roman Empire. Christ had examples of structured and well-funded evangelism but still he chose the path of a homeless, poor, beggar. It makes us wonder perhaps about our own strategies.

Then there is the enemy.

There are some who clearly feel the church should pick up the crusader sword against the “infidel” at our doors; that we need to act with God-ordained violence and make war upon our enemies – be they individuals, groups or whole cultures.

If we believe that Christ is the ultimate expression of God on Earth than there is no use appealing to Old Testament texts that might make us feel better about advocating violence against our enemies etc.

We look only to his example as expressed in the New Testament and we see the response to the perceived or real enemy in his parables and in his own responses. We look to the parable of the Good Samaritan and we cannot misunderstand what our response is supposed to be. We look to Christ’s own responses and ultimately to the cross and we cannot mistake what our own should be no matter how hard we try.

There is Christ in the Garden at Gethsemene praying and agonizing over his upcoming arrest and execution. There is Christ very aware of the enemy at the door…begging for God to let it pass. There is Christ, whom we believe to be the embodiment of God, resisting the urge to remove the threat.

Christ who is arrested. Christ who stays his follower’s own urge to violent defense. Christ who is whipped, beaten and ultimately nailed to a cross. This Christ who could, at any moment, step off the cross and respond in kind. Instead this Christ stays put to the point where he lifts up his voice in agonizing wails screaming his own doubts that are like our own – “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?

Where are you? Are you even there?

Christ, our self-same God, doubting even his own existence in a case of modern existential angst that we can all identify with still resists the temptation to reach for the power he has, by faith that even at the most darkest of hours, a darkness unto even death – somehow God knows what is best and will work toward this – against every fiber of human instinct.

Why? There is resurrection.

The church has forgotten about the resurrection and what it means. We have forgotten about this most important aspect of our faith which the apostle Paul spoke so clearly of in 1 Corinthians 15:14 when he said “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

This is where we find ourselves. We find ourselves at a place where our preaching is useless and so is our faith because, by our thoughts, our words and our actions it is clear that we believe Christ has not been raised. Even if we act this way we make it so and the power of the resurrection vanishes.

Our actions and words betray our deepest innermost insecurity – that Christ was never raised and that God is not really there. As long as we live in this place we will be the violent, selfish, faithless and fearful beings that we are…because the resurrection is lost to us.

The resurrection is still and always there at the centre of our history to be recaptured should we only have faith. But we must stay on the cross in the face of any perceived enemy. We must be willing to let our church die even, if we are to confess and witness a faith that believes in the promise of resurrection – it is the only way; it is the hardest of possible ways because we must go willingly to the cross – whoever leads us there.

The Church & LGBTQ+

This is not going to be a theological post about who is right and who is wrong except for these brief opening sentences where I clearly state my own perspective for the record and for the sake of transparency – I do not believe that being LGBTQ+ is sin/open rebellion against God.

Of course I have the benefit of a theology that leads me to believing that all humanity is broken at a foundational level and so focusing in on the details as we are fond of doing sets up a global farce of 7 billion pots calling 7 billion kettle’s black in an often violent and sad cycle of endless brutality.

That being said the Church (Big C global collection of various types of Christian believers in their many and differing contexts) believes it is being confronted with a very specific challenge – how to respond to LGBTQ+.

I say “believes” because it may in fact only be the Church that sees this as a confrontation while those within the LGBTQ+ community and their supporters are simply moving forward with little regard for whether the church comes along or not in the same way that a field of wheat may see itself being confronted by an army of infantry tromping through it whereas the army is completely unaware of the wheat at all as it has its gaze set on more distant goals.

Herein lies the conundrum for the church. Unlike cultural changes of the past that “confronted” the church like slavery and women (which is still being worked through sadly in some corners) the church does not have the luxury of a century or more to mull over and craft its position when it comes to LGBTQ+ concerns…for the most part western culture has already moved on and brought LGBTQ+ with it. There is no more space for “don’t ask, don’t tell”. This is not to say there are still not significant issues of bigotry that face LGBTQ+ – there are…however the momentum of western history is solidly with LGBTQ+.

It is at this point that some in the Church will say – “So what? Just because culture is doing this does not mean we will compromise our Biblical values” etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

To which the rest of the world says exactly the same thing – if they are listening at all.

Do you see what is happening here? The world is rapidly believing the Church is irrelevant and the Church is rapidly starting to believe (or at least act like) the world is irrelevant…at least in areas where they disagree.

Theologically (sorry), that the world feels the church is irrelevant is to be expected…however for the church to act as if the world is irrelevant is perhaps the greatest sin it could possibly commit, as it exists for one reason and one reason only – the world.

I have no idea what the way forward is for the Church (lies! I have some thoughts) but I do know one thing…whatever it is, the world is caring less and less to the point that it won’t matter one day at all and this is the real tragedy.

Kitchen’s Restless is a Brilliant Listening Experience

Restless is Canadian musician Keith Kitchen’s third full length album (released November 2012) that is a brilliantly crafted folk/soft rock listening experience with shades of blues and country from cover to cover lending a compelling, yearning (restless) sensibility.

Kitchen opens the eleven song set with the warm, close and hopeful strains of Cozy Apartment setting the tone for the listening and presenting us with the beginning of one couple’s journey together and all the dreams that come with that.

Next comes Restless, the title track of the album inspired by St. Augustine who wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”  The folk/rock feeling speeds the pace up and brightens Kitchen’s voice making it a stand out though it feels older somehow, likely due to the reverent inspiration of Augustine.

Picture of Jesus is a cover originally by Ben Harper. The songs that Kitchen chooses to cover like Harper’s are well cared for and fit perfectly into the tone of the album. The harmonizing on this song is beautiful.

Dark Days follows and surprises the listener with a hopeful sound not as dark as the title suggests…which is likely the point. By this place in the album listeners will discern a wonderful, layered sound led by Kitchen’s soulful voice and clear, well-played acoustic guitar.

Grace is a cover originally by Michael Knott and another great example of a warm layering of music in which the vocal and acoustic guitar takes the lead while the keyboards and other instrumentation fill in, compliment and surround.

Walk in the Way is another prophetic call to give of ourselves in a way that we may have forgotten (or at least hidden from). Quick and clear there is nothing simple about the music which again shows a great level of attention to detail. Instruments weave into one another and compliment rather than copy. The song shows craftsmanship where the beat plays a larger role bringing the drums to the foreground with the guitar and other instruments playing a more supporting role. Lyrically and rhythmically the most complex of the music on the album it brings to mind Michael W. Smith but it’s all Kitchen from beginning to end.

The House with the Sunflowers is starts slow but when the chorus hits you are hooked. Kitchen lifts his voice higher in this song than any other and makes you want more. This song is a very honest song providing that ever present hope that pervades the set.

Down There by the Train is a brilliant cover of the original by Tom Waits. Kitchen’s rendition of this classic Waits’ song is something to be heard. A standout on the album Kitchen manages to channel Wait’s soulful depth while making the song entirely his own. When he sings “and there’s room for the forsaken if you’re there on time, you’ll be washed of all your sins and all of your crimes” I literally had goose bumps. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this song is in the mix because its themes of hope, grace, mercy and forgiveness are central to the entire album. Perfectly executed this song sits among my favorites.

I’m Not the Guy (Burning Bush Lament) lyrically is simple yet in its profoundness it rises above all else. The song is poignant and personal recalling a modern Moses and may in some ways speak not only of the individual but pretty much the church as a whole. A challenging and clever song that gently holds a mirror up to the listener. Powerful. My favorite.

Dweller by a Dark Stream is a cover written originally by Bruce Cockburn and presents us with great, strong vocals, a powerful theme of transformation and strong images of the human condition. Kitchen’s voice is relentlessly hopeful and uplifting even when singing of dark things.

We Come is a cover by Jim Coegart that closes the album as a reminder of the point of the whole musical journey and wraps you in worship. Strong and inviting, Kitchen offers We Come to his audience like a gift.

Overall the album is rife with themes of accountability and acts as a gentle prod to one who is asleep or maybe hiding, waiting out the world. Hope is woven like a bright silver thread throughout every song and the listener is always aware of the source of this light. The entire album is gently prophetic…pointing out human foibles and struggles but lovingly and never judgmental or harsh.

Restless is a beautiful and strong work of a craftsman who clearly painstakingly assembled every piece with care. Nothing feels rushed and thrown together.

Front to back this album is a lesson in how to produce, from the brilliant sound to the cover art, liner notes and CD silkscreen bearing images that suggest a journey and the need to move forward. There is nothing shoddy or lacking in Restless but rather I am convinced the listener will come away well satisfied with the whole experience.

At $20 the album is well worth the investment and I highly recommend it; to order visit www.keithkitchenmusic.com.