By Tom Ehrich
PORTSMOUTH, NH – In the middle of a family birthday visit, as three generations dealt with grave illness, a one-year-old’s burbling, changes in work, and all the comforts and discomforts of being family, there came an email exchange from church.
Two weeks ago, five of us scheduled a meeting for Saturday morning to discuss strategic planning. I scheduled my family trip around this meeting. Now came news that two of the five had other commitments – which they either knew about when we scheduled Saturday’s meeting or now considered more important. I realize I had taken the risk of valuing something before knowing whether others valued it.
Cue the frustration. Born of countless experiences of exactly this dynamic. Church hasn’t died from wayward “nones” or “secular humanists” or too much change or inadequate leaders or bad theology or passé practices. Churches have died because we simply didn’t care enough.
Leaders didn’t care – for if they had cared, they wouldn’t have kept doing things that weren’t working. Members didn’t care – for if they had cared, they would have demanded more, instead of just drifting away. Denominational leaders didn’t care enough to require better. Seminaries didn’t care enough to teach better.
We have been like the family that finds itself married, owning property and expected to function, but no one cares enough about the family to do anything different or better to make it work.
We expect God to drop everything to tend to our needs – or so our fervent prayers convey, especially in time of distress. But we can’t be bothered to do the same. We’re pretty good on crisis care, but we allow the day-in-and-day-out of being a faith community to go adrift.
Our low-caring church behavior seems disturbingly like the lack of caring that is allowing right-wing politicians and their faux evangelical supporters to usher in a fascism and theocracy totally foreign to American values.
Trump rallies take on the appearance of Nazi rallies in the 1930s: scapegoating the “other,” secret police, violence against dissenters, a mob mentality, loyalty oaths and right-arm-up salutes. Cruz rallies sound like the run-up to the Spanish Inquisition.
And through it all, while the candidates and their mobs care with blistering intensity, other Republicans make nattering noises that sound like the whining of 1930s-era German aristocrats sniffing at a vulgar demagogue. Democrats battle each other using long-ago statements as weapons, rather than conveying values worthy of a democracy. They care only enough to seek partisan victory, not enough to set aside vanity to combat villainy.
I think we need to take the risk of caring. Caring about our churches, caring about our political processes, caring about our nation – all of us caring, each in our own way, each with openness to hear the caring of others. What happened with Saturday’s meeting, you see, is that five people had five different ways of caring. None of us is all right or all wrong. We need to listen to each other, so that we can convert the risk of losing into the joy of being ourselves and in community.