The Multipersonality Disorder of the American Church

Multipersonality Disorder – A disorder characterized by the presence of two or more distinct personality states.

Disclaimer: I have had multiple drafts of this post.  When my communications/writing major daughter read through it she commented that the post was obviously connected to my experience locally.  She felt it was not objective enough to just be a neurtral treatise (whatever that may mean – but it sounds scholarly, right?).  

I thought about that a lot and I imagine none of us are truly neutral.  If we were neutral, we would be pretty BORING.  We would be like robots, cogs in a wheel.  If we are to have opinions and be passionate about any issue, we must have personal experience with the content.  My personal experience with this content is my local congregation and others we have attended in the past, both while church “shopping” and visiting friends and family in different parts of the country.  I don’t think the experience is unique to my local congregation.

As stated in one of my all time favorite movies, “Write what you know.”  So, I shall, with this rather long disclaimer.

We don’t know who we are.  How can we expect to be any sort of compass to a world in terror & confusion when we ourselves are confused?  I’m talking specifically about what some might call the “Order of Worship” on any given Sunday. (Although my apologist friend may argue that we are very confused about what we actually believe and why – but that’s for another post, or for me to point you to his blogs.  Check it out!)

This confusion is not good for people like me.  Magpies who are easily distracted by shiny things.

We don’t have a plumb line.  There is nothing grounding from week to week that is ritual and meaningful.  We try so hard to be relevant to everyone that we end up being spastic and the Order of Service ends up feeling haphazard.  I know that is not the intention.  I’m not discussing people’s intention or their desire to make it meaningful. And I know that quite a bit of trial and error goes into creating the flow of a service.  That is not in doubt in my mind, at least when it comes to my local congregation.

I believe there is value in ritual – even if we end up just going through the motions.  In fact, I believe that may be the point.  The beauty is in the ritualistic part of the ritual.  The beauty is the fact that we have done it so many times we could do it in our sleep.  We can participate when this crazy life is so insane and we can’t think straight; and precisely because it’s a ritual, we can still participate.  The beauty and mystery of it is that even when we just mumble along with the words and ‘go through the motions’, the words or actions are still keeping those neural pathways open in the brain and connected to the meaning of the words or actions, particularly when we find it hard to remember what we’re saying or doing or why.  

It can be as simple as a paragraph or scripture that we repeat as a congregation every. single. service.  
It can be as elaborate as celebrating the great mystery and intimacy of communion every. single. service

Instead our churches are filled with a buffet of styles to choose from, and sometimes that buffet is offered up during a SINGLE Sunday service!

We are trying too hard because we think we are losing the next generation.  The leadership reads all kinds of theology books, studies, and polls about why people are leaving, why people are staying, what supposedly works, what supposedly doesn’t work, etc. We try to appeal to the dissenters.* Those within and without our church who throw accusations at us so as to put us on the back foot; such as:

  1. “The church is full of hypocrites!”  Well, duh!  It’s full of humans.  
  2. “The church doesn’t meet my needs.”  Boo-hoo.  Maybe you’re supposed to meet someone else’s need.
  3. “I can’t find a church that does things they way I think they should be done.”  Umm…there is no perfect church (see #1)

I know, I know.  You see my list and say to me “Duh! Is she really this thick?” YES, I am; but I get it.  Remember, this blog is so I can talk to myself without raising eybrows at the grocery store.  

The church is full of souls who have no idea how to live life, how to be a friend, how to move beyond those shallow conversations.  None of us have it together, although some pretend like they do.  I try to ignore these folks; but the more I try, the more I notice.  Hmmm…

The church should be a safe place where we can bare our struggles in community and I believe that ritual can help us be just that.  Something to cling to, something familiar.  Familiarity can breed comfortableness. You can  argue that familiarity breeds complacency, perhaps…in some.  But, I believe that those finding meaning in the ritual will far outweigh those who become complacent.  There will always be weeds in the church.  Jesus tells us so (Matt. 13:24-30).  

“Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.  Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth.  We might just create sanctuary.” – Rachel Held Evans in Searching for Sunday

We can tell the truth in the ritual.  When we…say, recite the Beatitudes every Sunday in unison – that becomes telling the truth; to ourselves and each other.  Frankly, I don’t need another worship leader trying to force spiritual meaning on me from his life during the previous week: what God told him through a gas station fill up nozzle.  I need Jesus infusing meaning into my life from the coporate acts of speaking His Words out loud, from sharing communion with my brothers and sisters.  It’s when we are vulnerable that we find meaning.  Ritual allows for vulnerability because our minds are free from worrying about watching the screen to read what to say next or whose turn it is the speak – the leader or me? – and instead we can say the words by heart and our souls can be vulnerable and feel the balm and notice the hurting soul beside us.  

“And he opened his mouth and taught them saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Imagine!  EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY! At the same time, no matter what.  Then, imagine that followed by communion! 

Peace to you!! xx

*ADD moment:  I appreciate the plethora of books about church written by women and men much smarter than me.  People who have degrees and lots of capital letters after their names, but I think that the people in their churches might benefit from our pastors reading books like:

The Idiot by Fydor Dostoyevsky

Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy Sayers

The Cantebury Tales by Chaucer

The Aeneid by Virgil (The Lind translation is best, in my opinion)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (seriously any thing written by Wendell Berrry, seriously)

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

The Office of Assertion by Scott Crider

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Norms and Nobility by David Hicks

Evensong by Gail Gibbons

and just for fun

May B. by  Caroline Starr Rose

Currently, I believe the best books for a time such as this in the American Church are (and it’s precisely because these two titles/authors may seem incongruous to one another that they are beneficial):

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

A Weed in the church by Scott Brown

This post does NOT contain affliliate links.  Alas, I wish it did 🙂

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Good Stories

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
– Emily Dickinson

“Jesus must have spun stories because they’re sneakier than sermons. They infiltrate our senses and weave their way into our hearts before we see their deeper meaning coming. They tell us the truth, like poet Emily Dickinson said, but tell it slant, because the beautiful, weighty truth really is ‘too bright for our infirm delight.’ I’m convinced our Lord is still subversively telling stories. Have you heard a good one lately?”
– Leigh McLeroy from The Sacred Ordinary

Amen….Amen….and Amen.

I believe firmly that Jesus tells us His best and most profound truths, not in ‘Christian fiction’, but through the stories which do not bear the Christian label. Those gritty, messy, and sometimes (gasp!) offensive ones.