Yesterday’s blog began a discussion on Emergent Church – inspired by Phyllis Tickle’s groundbreaking book The Great Emergence. After posting yesterday’s blog, I received an email from a friend bemoaning their frustration with all the time Church spends NOT doing the work they are called to do. Today’s blog begs the question, “When is the Church going to start doing the work they are called to do and when are they going to give people what they really need?”
Case in point – my friend shared a situation recently where they were in attendance at a church meeting, one which was supposed to be about serving the community. Instead of spending the time surfacing the needs of the community and deciding how to respond to those needs, the 3 hours allotted were spent arguing over the color of bathroom tile. This stirred my own ire over all the time the church in which I was raised wastes time shopping for precious metal dishware and gold brocade chasubles, in arguing and defending doctrine, policing the charitable actions of the women religious, and rewriting the liturgy so it “more closely adheres to the original Latin” (a clever ruse to cover the real intention which is to further separate ordained from non-ordained). I can’t help but imagine that in the face of all of this Jesus is either weeping or shaking his head in wonder, “Really? This is how you are implementing my simple command to love one another?”
Let Them Eat Cake
I sometimes think the Church is as disconnected from the needs of the people as Marie Antoinette when she famously responded to the hunger of the French people, “Let them eat cake.” (for the record, Marie Antoinette didn’t really say this….but it is appropriate that it has been attributed to her). If the Church is really here to continue the ministry of Jesus, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, set captives free, then this is what they should be doing. And I can say, beyond the shadow of a doubt that people who are hungry, imprisoned, sick, and naked, don’t give a damn about whether the communion bread is made with the canonically approved recipe or if the chalice is forged from 24 carat gold, or if the women religious are in support of using condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS or to support family planning. No, I’m pretty sure they are more worried about putting food on the table and a roof over their head or finding a job to support their family then they are about many of the things Church spends time worrying about. Yes, there are the necessary tasks of running a business, but come on folks….there are way more important things to be done to fulfill the call Jesus has given us.
What Do the People Need?
In asking the question about what people really need and to what the Church is invited to respond, we need go no further than the father of humanist psychology, Abraham Maslow. I think his hierarchy of needs pretty much says it all:
As Church, it is our job to ask how we are working to help support the fulfillment of the above needs for all the people we serve (and by the way, the people we serve is NOT limited to the 100 or so who show up for Sunday mass). How are we making sure people (all people) have the food, air, water, sleep, safety, employment, health they need to not only survive, but also thrive? How are we providing an environment in which people feel welcome, where a sense of acceptance, love, interest and belonging is fostered? How are we supporting people in making, fostering and maintaining healthy connections? How are we supporting the needs of families? How are we fostering unconditional, loving support and helping individuals grow in self-worth and self-esteem? How are we supporting the healing of those who have grown up in environments (and churches) where loving regard was not modeled, where maybe abuse, neglect and deprivation defined their formation instead of loving acceptance? And finally, as people are ascending up the hierarchy of needs and finding themselves satisfied in the lower level needs, how are we fostering their self-actualization? How are we helping people to know who and whose they are, giving them tools for uncovering their own unique giftedness and supporting their discovering of meaning, purpose and fulfillment in their lives?
What Emergent Church Feels Like
And this exploration brings us back to the discussion of Emergent Church. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, we don’t know what the new way of being Church will look like, but as innovators/prophets, we know what it feels like. And to me, it feels a whole lot more like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than the color of tile on the bathroom floor.