Peter Steinke has written a pristine little summary of the nostalgic longing pastors have had for the good old days when clergy did their thing, people flocked to church, congregants swore allegiance and the community discounted the minister’s golfing expenses. Today, it’s a different story. At a recent debate between former Prime Minister Tony Blair and writer Christopher Hitchens, held at a Toronto University, out of 2700 attendees, 53% said they thought religious interests were harmful to a civil society. On a personal level I’ve done more than 400 weddings in the wine country over the past 12 years and nearly two-thirds of the couples I’ve married were interested in a “spiritual, but not religious ceremony.”
Steinke calls this phenomenon “dislocation.” In my mind this phenomenon is the single most profound cultural artifact of our north American social scene. As I lunched with a former Campus Life student this past week he was brave enough to admit that his family and work life had “swallowed up his soul.” The creative juices he had as a young man were absent and the life he lived was devoid of real friends.
In the midst of this existential crisis my friend resisted looking to church life as an answer to the dilemma. He’d become wary of the dogmatic and group peer pressure he had seen in his earlier forays into formal worship. He was looking for genuine community and real joy.
This week’s Advent readings encourage believers to see the connection between hope and joy and communalism. “As a farmer waits patiently for the fall rains….” is the beautiful picture of hope that informs activity found in James 5. For people of faith we look forward to God’s making straight the path and our activity and love for the brethren and sisterhood are consequential responses to the Hope we have in Christ’s kingdom. People rightly connected to this kind of essence can reach out to touch others in harmony with a future calling and a present sense of joy.