I’m lucky enough to live in a house that has a pool in the backyard. In Texas, this pool serves ever so many advantages. The hot tub provides relaxation on cooler winter nights, the rest of the pool a great place to gather and entertain AND cool down during our extended summer months.
All swimming pool owners (probably I should say, “all swimming pool slaves) know the importance of good maintenance, particularly keeping debris out of the filter. Too much will clog it and can ultimately destroy the pump–leading to an expense all pool owners/slaves want to avoid.
Right now, the lovely Bradford pear tree that gives glorious shade in the summer months, shade being another much desired commodity in Texas, wants with all its being to pretend it is fertile and able to reproduce. Sadly for them, these trees were bred to be sterile.
Our neighborhood features marching ranks of these trees, which, of course, do not know they are sterile and therefore produce HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of blossoms/seeds each spring.
And now, those hundreds of thousands lovely, fluffy blossoms containing the ever hopeful but nonetheless impotent seed now float gracefully with every breeze–straight to the pool.
As I was vainly working on getting them out, I thought about the unspoken determination of that tree–and of any other species of nature–to reproduce. Every living creature periodically and apparently promiscuously spews out millions of possible offspring. Only a few will actually live and survive to maturity. Most become food or nutrient for other creatures, needing their nourishment in their own passion to procreate.
That’s what life does. Without the passion to procreate, life will cease. When a living thing no longer cares to pass on its seed to another generation, that living thing draws closer to death.
The Sterile Pool Syndrome
But that passion to procreate is just plain messy. I want my pristine pool, with the (germ killing chlorinated) blue waters sparkling in the sun and all organic material kept far away. I want a sterile pool.
I wonder often if that is what the church wants as well. I mean the church that is actively dying, that has decided no longer to deal with the problems that fertility and reproduction can bring.
An obscure verse in Proverbs, our quirky book of wisdom, says “Where there are no oxen, the stable is clean” (Proverbs 14:4). How true: oxen (or horses, or donkeys or mules or any other working animal) make messes in the stables. So if we want a clean stable, we just eliminate them!
Of course, without those messes, the ground will not be plowed so the seed will not be sown so the harvest will not take place so the people will die.
I do wonder if much of the church so struggles to stay alive because we’d rather have clean stables, or pristine swimming pools, rather than have to deal with the true messiness of the reproductive process.
Once in a moment of deep frustration, when I heard yet one more time, “I wish our church were like it was when I first came” I said, “Then you would prefer that (and here I listed every baby that had been born in the last five years and there had been a large number of them) had never been born? And you wish that (and here I listed many who had joined in the last few years) had never come to worship and serve with us?”
The truth: growth and reproduction change everything. They disrupt everything.
Nothing is ever the same after a baby is born and the entire routine centers around the needs of the light-weight tyrant who now reigns supreme.
Nothing is ever the same when families blend and suddenly everyone has to deal with step-siblings and new grandchildren and radically different holiday customs.
Nothing is ever the same when a beloved pillar of the church or the thorn in the side of every pastor since Moses breathes their last.
This is life. It changes constantly–that’s its nature.
Life is much harder than death. Life means constant choices and never-ending adjustments and what to do with the passions to reproduce that lead people to make often dumb and always life-altering decisions and how to handle the ever-increasing chaos.
To fight the constancy of change, we create system after system to bring stability. John Wesley came up with his famous “methods” which, while originally offering life, have ultimately brought us to the nearly immobilized-by-rules current reality of The United Methodist Church.
When the chaos of reproductive life tries to enter, we cry out, “But you are not following the rules.” Such irony for a church founded by a man who ultimately turned his back on the rules of the dead church establishment that ruled the “Christian” world of his day.
We are now fighting over what “rules” will guide the conversation at the 2016 General Conference. God forbid that they should change from the “three arguments for and three arguments against the motion on the floor and then a vote” that helped lead us inexorably into such a hidebound state.
We can’t even imagine the glory of a exuberantly alive and wildly reproducing church again.
In my morning reading today, I came across a truly scathing article about the perceptions of “Evangelicals” by the world at large. While I think the article is worth reading in full, here’s a summary of the author’s points:
- Evangelical means obsessed with sex.
- Evangelical means arrogant.
- Evangelical means fearful and bigoted.
- Evangelical means indifferent to truth.
- Evangelical means gullible and greedy.
- Evangelical means ignorant.
- Evangelical means predatory.
- Evangelical means mean.
These statements clearly do not define much of Evangelicalism. There is much goodness to be found in that religious world. Nonetheless, they do define the public face of evangelicalism that is trumpeted loudly over press and airways.
Right at the moment, The United Methodist Church stands on the chasm of a split between those who define themselves as “evangelical” and those who define themselves as “progressive.” I think it is fair to state that the progressives see our aggressively Evangelical colleagues as obsessed with sex, mean and bigoted. Too many appear to be without care that those who don’t fit their description of sexually acceptable are not only leaving the church, but are also in deep danger of suicide, especially where our young people are concerned.
The evangelicals see the progressives as uncaring about biblical truth and the essentials of clear doctrine, and infected with the penchant to break the rules that are supposed to hold us together in a tightly bound covenant relationship.
The vast majority of the church, those astounding people who volunteer endless hours and energy bringing goodness and justice and hope to their communities, say, “Why can’t we deal with the really important things here?”
I started absently-mindedly manipulating the photo I had taken of the blossom-littered pool. In a few minutes, this egg-shaped piece of art emerged. An egg, the symbol of life and resurrection, that brims with hopeful future.
I personally don’t think this hopeful future will come from yet another proposal to restructure or a different prescription of how we may and may not engage one another in conversation over legislative items, although I am more than willing to be wrong here.
I do think it will come when we, together despite our differences, and together because of our differences, agree to let life burst in with all its chaos and disruption.
That is my prayer.