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How’s this for an excellent conclusion? From the final page to Lyndon Shakespeare’s Being the Body of Christ in the Age of Management:
When Aquinas focuses on the bread and wine, he is not merely addressing the elements associated with the Eucharist, he is making the larger claim that matter matters, it overflows with meaning. For what are human beings but a certain kind of material item in the world, and yet animals that are meaning-making and symbol-sharing embodied souls? It is, for Aquinas, one of the wonders of what it means to be human that we are animals of a kind, ones with potential abilities to transcend our materiality through the formation of communities defined by divine caritas (204).
Reading through Justin Lewis-Anthony’s You are the Messiah and I Should: Why Leadership is a Myth (and Probably a Heresy) , I came across a startling quote from former Archbishop George Carey. When asked about his leadership style, Carey responded,
“People have described me as a ‘management bishop’, but I say to my critics: ‘Jesus was a management expert too.”
And we now are seeing some heated debates over a proposed baptismal rite that omits mention of the devil.
When Jesus becomes the CEO and the church becomes a managerial institution, what need is there for the devil? Can he not, like any business problem, be streamlined away by “creating efficiencies” or “removing redundancies,” and other business-based solutions? Is not the fervor over the new experimental rite but a logical consequence of a managerial church?
It is now old news, but Rachael Held Evans CNN piece caused quite a stir over the past month or so. There was no shortage of responses, some good and some very, very bad.
At least one response has hit the nail on the head: Why Are Fewer People in Church? It’s the Economy, Stupid.
Because of economic pressure on the middle class, marriage itself is becoming a less-attainable goal (compare and contrast with this article about urbanization and the family from 1969). When people have to work two full-time jobs to raise a family, they don’t have time to go to a worship service on the weekend. Speaking of jobs, Wuthnow pointed out that it is less likely that anyone will be employed by the same employer in the same place for more than a few years. With all that job-and-place-changing, people don’t settle down anywhere, nor do their children get habituated to church attendance. At a recent church-planter training, Jim Griffith pointed out to us that since people can’t afford to take two-week vacations anymore, they wind up taking multiple weekend trips during the year, decreasing the time they have to participate in church activities. All of these lifestyle and economic influences make it less likely that people will commit to a church.
In short, church attendance is declining because the concept of a Sunday, let alone a Saturday, is declining. Catherine Pickstock made a similar observation in the late 90’s, stating that one of the characteristics of modernity is the flattening of all time for capitalist instrumentality. “People tend to eat at any time; shops are open all night long; and every week is a week without a Sunday,” writes Pickstock.
“The church in the United States shaped itself around the middle class, and grew as it grew. We do not live in that world anymore.” Amen to that. Though I do not agree with Dave’s solution about creating more Church plants. In fact, this would only seem to augment the very economic forces that destroy churches – and by extension, humanity – by creating more and more divisions and more and more markets.
What we need is a sociality itself working to re-enchant reality in the face of a system that puts a dollar sign on everything. What we need is the classical notion of the Parish. That strange place where the smell of incense looms; the strange chanting noises of evensong; people taking time out of their day for the office of Compline; and by all means, and if at all possible, taking Sunday back as political act.
In a recent article by The Other Journal, “Power, Economics, and Christian Faith from Below: An Interview with Joerg Rieger,” Joerg Rieger offers a powerful reminder about the importance of beginning with production and labor rather than distribution.
Labor is what people do. And that means that it is not just a necessity but that it is something much bigger than us. For people of religion, it would mean that we have to see God involved. God is laboring alongside us, with us… Normally we are talking about distribution, the fairness of distribution, and who gets paid what. We are not talking about production. I talk about this in one of my earlier books, No Rising Tide, where I say we have to shift the discussion to production because then we will be talking about the value of what it is that people are doing, how we are valuing that as a society. And then, from there, you can ask questions about how people are compensated, for instance, but in a way that takes the question beyond a simple discussion of a minimum wage or even a living wage.
It’s important to note the “participatory logic” at work here, the fact that God is present in our labor and creative activity as much as God is present in our abundance.
So why is this important? As Rieger continues,
Unfortunately, we think of religion, particularly Christianity, mostly in terms of leisure: Sunday mornings, evening meals, and meetings outside of our regular work schedule. But what happens when we bring these things back together again? The main point of my book is that we can learn something from looking other directions. We can learn something about Christianity and other religious traditions by looking from the perspective of labor, which includes organizing labor, the plight of workers, and the treatment of workers. We can also learn something about labor by really going to the depths of our religious traditions. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there is a strong concern for the fair treatment of workers. But way beyond that, there is a concern for appreciating the positive contributions that workers can make. This is back to the bottom of power, understanding that this world is built in so many ways form the bottom up, rather than the top down.
Rieger touches here on one of the most critical issues facing our communities today: in the demise of Christendom and concomitant rise of ruthless capitalism and instrumental reason, how do we think the relationship between our jobs (where we spend the bulk of our time) and our ‘religious’ commitments? Aside from Rieger’s poignant analysis, it seems that our only options our a flattened version of the Protestant Work Ethic, a lazy non-contents position casting everything back on ‘original sin’, or a simply acquiescing to the secular/sacred divide. But as Rieger points out, by focusing on labor, which is to focus on questions of value, we can begin to recover the sense that the world is charged with “the grandeur of God.” The question of labor doesn’t simply reduce the Christina message to an individual ethic, such as “WWJD scenarios,” but calls us to see all of creation charged with glory and to envision a social-ecclesial response. Isn’t this a much for fruitful way for the church to again capture the imagination and rethink its vocation in a post-Christendom era?
It’s worth pondering St. Paul’s materialism :
To say that the Church is the body of Christ is no more of a metaphor than to say that the flesh of the incarnate Jesus or the bread of the Eucharist is the body of Christ. None of them is ‘like’ his His body (Paul never says this): each of them is the body of Christ, in that each is the physical complement and extension of the one and the same Person and Life. They are all expressions of a single Christology.
Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology, 51.
In A Brutal Unity, Ephraim Radner poses an interesting question regarding Judas’s role as both betrayer and integral part of the the Church. Judas, according to Radner, “stands as the mirror of the Church, even if he is not of the Church’s exhaustive reality” (119). Ultimately, Judas “is ‘one of us,’ not some other” (120).
On the basis of Judas, Radner attempts to undo the clean distinction drawn between the Church “as such” and the sins of her members.
So the Church’s stories and histories are multiple: she lives with the rebels or with the disciples or with the indifferent, as Jesus her Lord comes to her and takes her as just one of them, “as such”; but in so doing, she learns to live with him in his giving, and her story becomes his … though his is given over to theirs ever and again in time. In a sense, then, the contrast between the “sins of the Church” and the “sins of the Church’s members” is not a helpful one to make because the center of the Church’s “nature” is the being given over and the being taken up as sinner by Christ, within the particular contours of the Church’s history and histories. The church is historical; hence, any sin from the past cannot be sloughed off but represents the very order of her life as she lives in the world. Obviously, then, the Church must know her past. Indeed, the Church can know herself only by looking backward and thereby judging the character of what she sees in the mirror. (And this, of course, tells us not only about the sin from the past but also about holiness from the past.) Still, we are who we have become; these are not just passing shadows but actual elements of our own being (155).
As the other is always within the Church, there is no point in which we can leapfrog the messy parts of ecclesial history. Like the question of Judas, the betrayals and many failures of the Church are integral to the Church as such. As Radner continues, “the ‘other’ is always within the Church, not simply without. The sinful Church knows this to be the very constitution of ecclesiality itself – the ‘otherness’ that Christ would take to himself” (157).
The problem with the notion of separation is its expressive, self-purifying character. It will not wait for God to purify his own church in his own time. Schisms may come, but woe to that church through whom they come! There is no right, or duty, of schism. As unity is given to the church as a gift, so it is taken away as a judgment. But on no account can disunity be a course of action that the church may embrace in pursuit of its mission or identity.
Oliver O’Donovan, Church in Crisis, 33-34.
+Dan Martins aptly summarizes one of the main difficulties facing Catholic Anglicans:
Under what circumstances is it appropriate to sever formal institutional ecclesial communion? This is a question I have lived with and struggled with for years turned into decades. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I come at this question from a fundamentally Catholic perspective, which is to say that I understand the Church as an essentially visible organism. Institutional disunity is real disunity. My friends of a more Protestant bent (Anglican and otherwise) are able to be less anxious about schism, pointing to an underlying spiritual unity among believers that smooths out those rough places where we are still at odds with one another at a visible level. Catholics enjoy that luxury to a rather more limited extent.