A church member had been preparing for knee replacement surgery this past Sunday. She walked through the greeting line after worship, asking for thoughts and prayers. I answered that I and others would do so. Monday morning, she suffered a heart attack and died. She hadn't even made it to the surgery.
The week would be spent in conversation with her family about arrangements. I'd take a break from the proceedings by seeing Harry Potter, which I'd enjoyed, with a few friends. Nearby was a Babies 'R Us. The girls went there. The guys went to Borders.
I had no agenda, no special book I was seeking. I rarely do, but can end up with a handful anyway. Twisting and turning through cookbooks and cat care, I found the Religion section.
Here's the thing about the Religion section in stores like Borders. One doesn't (or shouldn't) puruse this section expecting to find the same amount of depth one might find in a seminary bookstore or library. Go to Borders if you want to read everyone's take on the Church of the New Hotness. The current crop of big players are all there and are of all stripes: Osteen, Borg, Spong, Meyers, Dobson, a handful of Emergent types, people sharing their megachurch success stories, people lamenting the megachurch phenomenon, all calling for the church to be more passionate or more intellectual. They call for the church to 'go back to the Bible' (and THEN what?) or to 'take the Bible more seriously' (a different statement altogether). Or, maybe the problem is individual in nature. Improve yourself! Go back to the Bible! Take the Bible more seriously! Don't be gay! Be accepting of gays! Just be positive! Quit being prideful! A decent chunk of these Christian celebrities put their pictures on the front to help recognize where their section is.
I waded through everyone's $.02 (that they charge $12.00 for) and realized something: I'm bored with all of it. I discovered a few gems that I thought deserved a second look, but how many more 150-page 'How to Make the Church More [Something I Think It Needs to Be More] can one possibly read before getting oversaturated?
I'm currently oversaturated. Maybe it's the daily blog reading where authors and commenters hash this out a thousand ways that helped get me to this point. If you look at my bookshelf devoted to what the church needs to do more or less of, it's really not an extensive collection. There are blogs dedicated to what individual denominations need to do better. There are blogs in favor of and against the Emergent movement. There are blogs from former supermembers wishing they'd done something better with their time, and if only the church had done this and this and this I wouldn't have left. I read this stuff on a daily basis now. Why would I want to spend money to read more?
I came home a little disheartened by my revelation to find a voicemail waiting for me. Another member had died that morning.
I held the phone receiver to my temple and closed my eyes, slumped back in my chair. Here was another family that needs the church to be its best. No book or blog is going to properly dictate what that was. There wasn't time to consult what the appropriate response should be, the proper theological Ps and Qs, the lists of church institutional sins to avoid.
Whatever the church needed to be for them, it just needed to be it immediately.
The Teacher of Ecclesiastes had a good point when he wrote, 'Of much study there is much weariness.'
I looked up the number and dialed...