I think Malala Yousafzai is amazing. For many reasons, not the least of which being because she emboides the reality our young people are intelligent, strong, contributing members of our society. As opposed to projects for us to work on, tinkering with their lives so they will grow up to be the people we want them to be. Or the hope or despair of the future of the church, objects of conversion rather than ...you know...PEOPLE.
One of the many amazing things Malala has said was she developed her passion for education when education was snatched away from her. In this interview, she commented "We don't learn the importance of anything until it is snatched from our hands."
I thought of this comment as I grumpily pondered whether I belong in church anymore. Sometimes it seems my beliefs and priorities are so different than those around me in church, it feels like maybe I don't belong there anymore. And then there is the reality many people think church is dying. So, what if church dies or what if I become an atheist or others like me get fed up and just leave? What would that mean? What would we miss? What would be the previously unnoticed value which would be uncovered? Well, I can only guess at answers for myself. Therefore, here is my Top Ten Things I Might Miss About Church:
1. The opportunity to tithe. Not all bad. I concede it is possible this would mean I would give less, overall. But it is also possible I would continue to give but would be able to give directly to social justice causes rather than a portion of my money going to support the institution of church. If I felt a greater portion of my funds might go toward feeding people, I might actually be inclined to give more.
2. The sense of community which arises from attending church. This might exacerbate my hermit-like nature and I would retreat into my own tiny little world. Or maybe I would recognize my need for community and seek it out in other ways, ways based upon something more than sitting in each others' general vicinity once a week while staring straight ahead, sometimes joinging together in song.
3. Something to do on Sunday mornings. I confess I really wanted to phrase this as "freer weekends." Not only might this enable my family to better sleep in on Sundays, laze about, have leisurely family breakfasts and adventurous Sunday strolls, it might also enable us to dedicate a portion of our weekend to acts of service. It is not so difficult to occasionally give up a Saturday for volunteer work when Sunday is free.
4. The above mentioned, joining together in song. There is a sense of unity which arises from making music together as well as a sense of transcendence, a sense of more to this life than just the sum of its parts. But, I suppose I could join a choir or start a band.
5. One hour of forced inactivity per week, time to reflect when I cannot be doing anything else. This is valuable for someone like me. I tend to think I have to be doing something all the time. Not that I always manage to do something all the time but I do manage to feel guilty when I am not. Guilt free idle time is of some value.
6. Hearing scripture read. At least this sounds like something I should miss. But, while hearing something read can be powerful, for me anymore, scripture often is more troubling than helpful. Whenever I read it or hear it, I see the difficulties, the contradictions, the patriarchy and tribalism, the seeming fickleness of God, the perplexing, and so on. I guess right now I just don't know what to think about this one.
7. My Sunday School group. Good discussions. Lots of laughs.
8. Help and comfort at funerals. Churches seem to do a good job of caring for each other when there is a death. At least if you are a full fledged church member and especially if you have been a member of the community for years and years. And are well liked and maybe a bit more if you are an extrovert with lots of friends. But in any case the church is there to at least provide a space and a meal and some words of comfort.
9. Hearing about who is sick or having some sort of difficulty. This can seem a bit gossipy and a friend pointed out the "prayer concerns" tend to be all white, middle-class sorts of problems, but there is still some value in knowing who is in need. I can't bring a casserole or offer up my help if I don't know there is a problem.
10. Encouragement to evangelism. This last one is largely sarcastic since I think evangelism is killing the church (see my blog "Why Evangelism is the Death of the Church") and is generally about manipulation (see "Why I Don't Believe in Evangelism"). Also, the way it is commonly posed sends a message introverts are inferior to extroverts. So, yippee for no more calls to evangelism!
Notice what is not on this list like learning about God, pondering the deeper questions of life, exploring the meaning of faith for social justice issues, opportunities for service. It seems like these things should be on the list. But we do little of this in church other than hearing a few ponder worthy comments in a sermon or Sunday School if you are lucky.
Well, looks like another title for my list could be "Ambivalence." Not exactly a ringing endorsement of church. But, I think ultimately Malala is right. We don't know the value of something until it is snatched away. Pondering voluntarily giving up something is not the same thing. Maybe some of you can open my eyes: have you been forced out of church or do life circumstances prevent you from attending church? What do you miss? If you voluntarily avoid church, are there things you miss? If you go to church, what would you miss about it if you couldn't go anymore? What am I overlooking? Do some of you feel ambivalent too?