From Bee to Butterfly
From Bee to Butterfly
The bishop cut me loose from local church responsibilities eight years ago. Since then I have been gradually transformed from a bee into a butterfly. From busy, busy, busy to flit, flit, flit: thatís your Critical Christian.
I have become that kind of churchgoer I once, in my unvoiced thoughts, considered a slug in the kingdom. Someone who goes to worship regularly, but eschews the organizational meetings for which Methodism is famousÖ or infamous. Someone who will not suffer fools gladly, especially if they are in the pulpit. Someone who admires but does not emulate those loyal church people who, with a nod to Stephen Decatur, worship by the rule, ďMy church right or wrong.Ē When Iím in one thatís wrong, Iím out of there!
Oh, thereís a more positive side to it, this butterflyness, this flitting around the varied hives of faith. I get to sample the offerings of a wide variety of tables of the Lord. I get to audition scores of anthems and voluntaries, that sitting in one pew perpetually would not permit. And I get to conclude, with plenty of personal evidence, that Christians here are not much different from Christians there, no matter how earnestly each may insist on his own brandís integrity.
Years ago I laughed at the proposal by Peter Berger in his book, The Noise of Solemn Assemblies, in which he posited the end of the local church as we know it. Theologian and sociologist Berger lifted up the university as the model for the future of faith. That was 1961. Then all hell broke loose on college campuses across the country. I was in Brooklyn pastoring blue collar souls who hadnít the foggiest idea of what was troubling students at Columbia. So much for Dr. Berger.
Until now. No, not the haloed university again. Something elseÖ which you may think worse.
Without a second thought or even a momentís reflection, I began I donít remember when, to address you as ďmy electronic congregation.Ē What arrogance! As if I had an online church! What kind of holy monster did the bishop create with his eagerness to send me out to pasture? Come to think of it, thatís how Methodism started in the US: spokesmen, unwanted by the bishop two and a half thousand miles away, got on their high horses and preached the Gospel in the wilderness this land once was.
My high horse is the computer and my wilderness the internet. But the message, give or take a few centuries, is the same: the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ for a very broken world. Itís the good news published often here, and without an offering plate being passedÖ which (the absence of the plate) probably disqualifies my new denomination as Methodist.
Not that I donít dabble in local church commitment. There are two sets of offering envelopes and a plot of grass in the church parking lot as evidence. But this retirement has cast a whole new light on the business of church. Meetings? Thank the good Lord I donít have to attend them every evening or even some evenings. What counts most? The Sunday morning hour, into which I poured my heart and brain for fifty years of sermon and prayer preparation, sometimes wondering, considering the slim attendance, whether it was time wisely spent. It was, if only for my own soul.
Which goes a long way to explaining why this butterfly occasionally thinks heís still a bee (Lenten messages online, for instance). But this morning looking through the front window, seeing the sunshine on the emerging green, untroubled with thoughts of ecclesiastical responsibility, a day ahead of me like a blank piece of paper waiting for my artistry (or lack thereof), a benediction rises: itís good to be a butterfly!