Saturday, May 29, 2004

SILVER THREADS AND GOLDEN NEEDLES. The Associated Press reports that Pope John Paul II told U.S. bishops America is turning against spirituality in favor of materialism. His remedy: study contemporary culture and find out how to appeal to young people. Pardon me for saying this, but this sounds very evangelical, in fact, very Baptist. Only, if he were a Baptist, he would appoint a committee or a task force to study the issue. And if it were like most Baptist churches, the committee would meet every week for months and issue a report, which would then be ignored by the church staff.

It is true that America is materialistic. It always will be. It will never completely change, barring disaster. That is because it has always been that way. People came here to be free to make a living. They still do. Fort Worth is loaded with them. We have Koreans taking over the donut businesses. We have Vietnamese families coming here with no English, graduating their kids first in their high school clasess and going to college while mom and dad work and save. There is an interesting cafe in Haltom City, its name sounds like "too high", and the owner is a former military man in South Vietnam. It goes on and on.

There has always been a religious and spiritual component in America also. Some people came to worship. That has died out quite a bit. But, John Paul, let me tell you this. The danger is not atheistic materialism, it is polytheism and paganism. People have a desire for the spiritual. Many have turned their back on Christianity, but few are true atheists. But, there are lots of folks who make up their own religion, taking a little from each in a cafeteria plan. They like God, as long as he isn't enforcing those pesky rules. Especially about sex.

They like reincarnation; Americans believe in second chances. It is comforting to believe that, if you screw it up this time, you got this safety net.

Most paganism in America is by people who think they are Christians. They just redefine God to suit their purposes. You can hardly recognize him if you are an orthodox, classical Christian. This God did not make hell. This God does not get upset if we break the rules. Lots of people that go to church on Sunday believe God wants to make you rich if you only believe.

But, you know, I'd like us to worry less about appealing to the culture, and just preach the gospel. Tell it like it is. Don't hide anything. Then let God do his work.

The church could also learn to live its own lessons. The Pope said the church must "respond to the profound religious needs and aspirations of a society increasingly in danger of forgetting its spiritual roots and yielding to a purely materialistic and soulless vision of the world." Well, I'm not sure the opulent Catholic church can say much about materialism. Who owns more stuff than the Catholic church? They own their own little country. They own zillions of pieces of priceless art. They own buildings. Look how many people are on the payroll. Now that is opulent.

I remember an old story about a priest who came to visit Rome. An older priest, who had been there a while, took him on a tour of the Vatican. He showed him the impressive buildings, the fabulous art, the statues, the rare books, the relics, all the great guilded things owned by the Church. The young priest said "well, we sure can no longer say with Peter, 'silver and gold' have I none." The older priest nodded in agreement and said, "true, but neither can we say 'rise up and walk'."

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