By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist
I had just a few minutes before leading a morning Advent devotional service, and I thought I’d work on this column. Ninety-nine percent of these are written on my laptop computer, but when I opened it to “wake” it up from hibernation, it just growled and chose to hibernate a little longer. It caught a virus last week and must still be a bit out of sorts.
In a flash of ingenuity, I went to the closet and pulled out a high tech yellow pad and a pen. It’s not flashy, but it was just what the situation called for.
I’m less and less impressed with “flashy,” particularly when “flashy” is coupled with “faith.” The two don’t couple very well.
I recently asked a staff member at a mid-size church in a nearby city, “How are things going church-wise?”
“Well, we’re doing pretty well and seeing some new folks. But like most churches in town , we regularly lose some folks to Disneyland and Six Flags.”
Huh? Then I realized what he meant. I won’t supply the real names for the two amusement parks above, but they are the currently popular megachurches there. If what folks want can be categorized under “glitz” and/or “big” and/or “thrilling,” those MegaMart churches have it. If you are a red-headed left-handed secretary born in a month ending in “R” and you want a program for folks just like you who “need their needs met,” congratulations! Go to church only once a month or so, as convenient, and the machine will roll along just fine. You get your “needs met” with the bonus that they don’t actually need you and anything approaching real commitment at all. Better yet, if you want to bail out of the not-so-flashy church where you are now, you can baptize the whole thing by blaming God instead of yourself as long as you begin the sentence, “I just feel led . . .” (Not just church members who do that. Preachers who never plan to stay anywhere more than two years do it all the time.)
Good (and bad) churches come in all sizes, mega and mini. Each has inherent blessings and challenges. It just happens that a major problem with some of the biggest ones is that you can easily choke on all the plastic. (Did you hear about the megachurch pastor who is now preaching also for a number of satellite churches through the magic of electronic ITV? My first reaction was, “Well, the screens could hardly be more plastic than that guy already is!”
God sent some pretty flashy angels that first Christmas. But maybe most impressive is that he sent them to some very real and un-flashy shepherds whose “faith” had more to do with daily finding food for sheep and putting salve on the wounded and calling them all by name than it had to do with needing a miracle or thrill over every hill. Real-life sheep-herding had precious little to do with glitz and glamour and thrills. It had a lot to do with love.
One of the greatest miracles of Christ’s birth is that the God of heaven sent the first birth announcement to genuinely earthy folks. Decidedly non-glitzy Joes. Real people. “Down home” non-Fortune 500 folks. Shepherds.