Dion's random ramblings

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Losing my religion... More and more people are doing the same.

If you were old enough to listen to contemporary music in the 1990's you'll remember the REM song "losing my religion".  The phrase actually comes from the American South where it is used to refer to being at the end of one's wits (usually it is associated with having lost the love of a significant person).

However, it would seem that all of America is starting to loose it's religion.  Recent research has shown that around 12% of Americans now consider themselves without any faith at all, that is up from 8% ten years ago.

The image in this post shows the changes in statistics... However, if you would notice they key points out '*Percent atheists, agnostic, or no religion'.  I am not sure that this accurately describes and emergent generations approach to faith. 

First, I think that there are many sincere Christ followers (in America in particular) who would rather have nothing to do with a religion held by it's President who sanctions war in its name, exploits the poor, plunders the environment, yet prays on Sunday.  Sadly George W Bush is a Methodist - if it were not for saintly America Methodists (among them Stanely Hauerwas), I would long have given up on United Methodism!  Sadly, the same can be said for almost every single denomination throughout the world (mine included!)  Heck, I am part of the problem!

Second, however, I think that statistics such as this do show us that we need to find news ways to SERVE people with the faith that we all need!  I think that as society changes we need to be ahead of that change, finding ways of taking ministry to where people have needs, not JUST asking people to bring their needs to where we can offer ministry!

Can you see the paradigm shift I am talking about?  One says "where do you have need, let us bring wholeness to you there".  The other says "we have wholeness here, bring your needs to us."  

Third, I think that measuring the effectiveness of any faith by numbers is dangerous business!  Just consider this for a moment - would you say that 12 people are less effective than billions today?  Well, if it was not for the effectiveness of the One (Jesus) and his remaining eleven disciples the billions would not be here today!  Churches that measure their effectiveness by seating capacity are measuring the wrong thing!  We should be measuring our depth, not our breadth.  We should be seeing what difference we are making to this world, not how many people are entertained in our services!

Last, I don't mind if people loose their religion, myself included.  In fact I quite often pray that God would release me from religion and free me to live a life of faith!  I don't want structures that bind, symbols that mislead, and communities that more concerned about sustaining themselves and their image in society!  I want to be part of something that is alive, flexible, life giving, life changing...

So, perhaps we need to embrace the loss of religion and find ways to discover and embrace faith.

Just by the way, we must not think that this will not happen in South Africa!  It has already begun.  Those of you who have children or grandchildren in primary school, just ask how many of your child or grandchild's peers go to Church...  Not many....  That means that their parents (even if they are people of faith) have lost their religion...  These will grow up thinking that Church is something strange and antiquated...

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Monday, October 29, 2007

A new religion in Soweto... God wants you to drive a 4X4.... iKhasi yam is changing, and I'm not sure it's all good.

Today I spent most of the day at the Jabavu community centre in Soweto. It is a place that holds great memories for me! Whilst I was not trained in the three phase system for ministry (I came into the ministry when Noah was just putting the finishing touches to his ark... Back in 1991), I spent a lot of time in Soweto, both during my student days, and also with Bishop Verryn (before he was a Bishop).

The area has changed somewhat, there are clear signs of renewal, investment and development. I remember a particularly bleak morning in 1991, or 1992, when the school across from the centre suddenly became a war zone as police fired teargas and rubber bullets at disgruntled learners... Today I watched an elderly women planting her vegetables in the school yard. I also remember being scattered by teargas grenades at the Regina Mundi Catholic Church at the entrance to Jabavu... Now, the Church is well kept, surrounded by a green park and well paved lanes...

I drove out of Soweto today and saw the familiar sight of the cooling towers, they are still the same, although they now reflect the new prosperity of upwardly mobile young black professionals with an FNB Bank advert on the one, and scenes from township life on the other.

What is of great interest is that the mural on the one tower has an ikon of the Madonna and Child. It goes to show that there are still religious sensibilities in the township, however, the radically political faith of the 70's, 80's, and 90's has given way to a new kind of Christianity. Whereas Churches were places of prophetic witness, places of safety from batons and dogs, places where rousing speeches of freedom and the journey to a new promised land were heard, something has changed...

There are signs of a NEW religion.... Two other things that reflect the change in demography and faith in the township. First, there is the facade of the brand new, HUGE, 'Maponya Mall'. It is all glass and iron, with designer shops, and everything one's first world heart could desire! It looks like a Cathedral to commerce....

Strangely enough, just across the road one can see that it is not only the secular economy that is booming, building is underway to extend and renovate the 'Grace Bible Church' a Church that is very much en vogue with young professionals, people with BMW's, GTi's and 4X4's... Faith, but of a new kind, quite different from that of the liberation struggle. I cannot say what kind of sermons are preached in that Church, but I do wonder if they have the same message of justice, social responsibility, mercy, and courage, that were preached in years gone by. I would certainly hope so!

However both the Mapnoya Mall and the Grace Bible Church are dwarfed by another new development in Soweto. That is to be found in the HUGE (and by HUGE, I mean HUUUGGGEEE) Universal Church of the Kingdom of God 'Cathedral' just behind Baragwanath hospital. It is such a stark contrast with the houses around it... It is opulent, it has palm trees, air conditioning, and looks a lot more like a 5 star hotel...

Don't get me wrong, I think that it is great that the economic cycle of Soweto has finally had an upturn! It is wonderful. However, when the finest building in your community is a Church, not a school, or a community center, or houses for the poor, but a Church, then something is wrong! Sure, Churches need buildings, but do they need to have the kind of buildings that are so out of place with their community that they dwarf their surroundings?

Earlier this year there was a service delivery riot in Wolmaranstad. The members of the community attacked cars and people at the local Churches because the Churches were out of step with the community - the Church's buildings became a target of the community's scorn, frustration, and anger, because they did not reflect the poor, or even truly help them. Rather they seemed to them to be nothing more than expensive white elephants that stood empty for 6 days of the week...

People will soon see through the motives... Sadly, this same Church was reported to be teaching its members that God wants Christians to drive a 4X4, wear the finest clothes, and have a snappy cell phone.... , and that Jesus drives a Porche... God for him!

Somethings wrong with that picture. Perhaps when our past is so painful it is easy to forget it, but perhaps we forget too quickly...

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