Faith Works 1-21-17
Faithfulness and trust part of the problem
If people don't believe that congregations can be faithful, whose problem is that?
Right, it may not be always or even often true, but the old "perceptions are reality" line kicks in with a vengeance here. If church folk just keep saying "we are constantly seeking to follow our Lord as best we can" and others don't believe us, then there's got to be at least a portion of the burden on our shoulders: we have to prove it. We have to show our faithfulness to God's call on our lives every day.
And yes, even just one failure along the way has a lasting and wide impact.
There's another side to this dilemma of credibility and witness for people of faith, and that's trust. Not much of it out there these days.
I don't trust the media, and I are one. I mean, look where you're reading this, right? But I know much of TV and online and even print media is focused on stirring up worries, anxieties, even fears, since that's what makes you keep watching, turning the page, clicking and clicking further into the website.
I don't trust those who call me. My landline (yes, yes, let it go, I have reasons) means I get, do-not-call registries aside, lots of "survey" and solicitation phone messages when I get home. My cell is starting to get spam calls; at the church, especially in the afternoon, the phone when it rings is always some poor cold calling sales guy pushing copier supplies, curriculum, cleaning gear. Click.
I certainly don't trust my email anymore. I have six addresses I have to check regularly, and they all are a source of ongoing frustration. Spam blockers and screening tools and filters all take time themselves, and yet the flood of skeezy messages I need to not click on continues to grow.
I don't trust politicians. And I know quite a few, actually, some of whom I consider friends, and many of whom I think more highly of than they themselves might realize. But I've been about the work of "lobbying" since I was a teenager, in my home state of Indiana, in West Virginia, and here in Ohio. I've been to the rodeo, and know most of the clowns, and the bulls. Sometimes, you step in it. Sometimes, folks try to hand it to you and call it a bouquet of flowers. That's how the process works at times. So you look for yourself before you step.
In fact, I don't trust my own denominational structure. They're working hard, and trying to hold together a long-standing set of assumptions not to mention properties, and juggle declining giving with increasing expenses (as are many local congregations), but I've heard presentations on how "things are looking up next year" so long I can whisper the next lines to myself as they speak. They can read trend lines and balance sheets as well as I can, and they say what they say and do what they believe they have to do. I respect what they have to do, but I'm careful about taking them at face value. Or to be blunt, I don't always trust them.
But I certainly don't trust consultants and experts anymore. They've sold more sunshine than anyone these last few decades to church groups, and get out of town before the rain gets hard. They have this year's big thing in a new package, and they know we're willing to overlook our qualms and quash our doubts enough to buy another round of advice and slate of suggestions . . . which will be forgotten by the next year, except for the file drawer half filled with the unused workbooks and partial bag of leftover keychains.
You can add your own. We do not trust. Not Professor Harold Hill who just got off at the depot, not Rev. Eric Camden, and not even President Josiah Bartlet. We want to trust, so we love those idealized figures perhaps a little out of proportion to what they can actually teach us . . . and then actually feel betrayed if the actors doing the portrayal don't live up to our needs.
And it ends up in our not trusting God. Or at least we mistrust the fabrications we prop up in God's place. And the hope I see in this untrustworthy era is that we might just knock down enough of those false fronts, fake gods, and start to relate to the real One behind them all.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's not offended if you don't trust him implicitly, either. Tell him about where you put your trust at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.