Theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, once stated: “The problem with Christianity is not that it’s socially conservative or politically liberal but that it’s just too damn dull.”
His statement speaks volumes to millions of Catholics who feel disconnected from their own church because it promotes a status quo that is out of touch with the struggles of ordinary people. Though fundamental enterprises—from family to business to religion—are certainly strengthened by what is predictable, routine, and well known, religious practices and pronouncements in our modern time have become wearisome and tiresome to lots of people. Too often, when church leaders speak out, their comments are irrelevant to young people seeking direction, offensive to those marginalized by church teachings, or something that turns them off to hearing more. Put simply, our presentation of Christ’s message is too damn dull.
During the recent election and inauguration, Catholic voters endured indignant attacks upon their ability to form their consciences according to religious teachings. For many ecclesial leaders, the litmus test for voters “thinking with the church” comes down to the issue of abortion. We can, therefore, usually accurately predict how Catholic politicians that are not in lockstep with their myopic view will get condemned. Though sincere about health care, immigration, the death penalty, racism, and other teachings that straddle political and religious realms, it was not surprising that there was a statement on inauguration day from the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) professing that the Catholic president’s leadership is problematic because of his attitude toward the preeminent issue. The robust dialogue and debate that resulted among members of the USCCB and other church hierarchy is hopeful.
Similarly, though some parishes get creative with worship, mostly in arenas of good music, attractive environment, and substantial messaging, the majority of liturgical services also remain lackluster. Hundreds of years ago, before television and professional sports, the church was the chief provider of entertainment for most communities. Church buildings usually occupied the central spot in municipalities and were open for citizens to gather—some would even listen to sermons that lasted several hours. As we might imagine, music, poetry, literature, art, civil discussion, and pop culture of times gone by normally revolved around the church, too. Of course, churches do not exist for the purpose of entertainment; their greater purpose is to unite heaven and earth, human and divine, sacred and profane. And that should be anything but dull if we can touch the heart of where they intersect.
Catholic Worker Movement co-founder, Peter Maurin, once said, “The church has taken its own dynamite, wrapped it in hermetically sealed containers, and sat on the lid.” He challenges us to recognize what we possess and what we are commissioned to share with the world. Providing music that is beautiful and engaging and environments that are artistic and imaginative while preaching messages that are relevant and touch the soul of listeners certainly helps. But even more important is connecting in ways that Jesus illustrated. He met people where they were and offered them His companionship to journey to a higher state of being. He was in-touch with struggles, relevant to contemporary life, and not offensive to the marginalized. He never demanded that people be validated by proving their piety, passing a litmus test, or performing deeds of religious allegiance as many church institutes do. Instead of forcing people to come to standards of ecclesial acceptance, He went to them.