Henri Nouwen once said that church "tries to connects our story with God's story." Nouwen, who had known great pain himself, went on to observe that
every time there are losses there are choices to be made. You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper
In the American experience of churchianity, times of great shared pain have triggered an increase in church attendance. During the Great Depression, church attendance surged as Americans turned to faith in difficult days. After 9/11 there was just such a boomlet in seeking God in local faith communities all over the country.
The troubled times we find ourselves in right now seem to be breaking that pattern, with people seeing churchianity more as a complicit partner in these troubles, rather than a vital wellspring for "passages to something new, something wider, and deeper"
Contrary to recent media reports suggesting that the country's economic troubles have led to higher levels of church attendance, a Pew Forum analysis of polls by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has shed over half its value since October 2007, there has been no increase in weekly worship service attendance during the same time period.
Worship attendance data from Pew Research Center for the People & the Press surveys.
Market data through Feb. 27, 2009, from Dow Jones.
There is so much in our shared narrative right now around anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment - the media blares it to sell their advertising, we traffic in it throughout our daily stories. People are struggling to make meaning amidst all this loss.
The community of people who followed Jesus were also grappling to make meaning, suffering after the Empire executed their leader. The book of the Acts of the Apostles tells how they struggled to re-member themselves to a story:
I am heartened that the official doofus of Christian Scripture - Simon Peter, the Galilean fisherman who went on to be the apostle to the Jews - that Peter proclaimed Good News in the midst of all that anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment :
People are hungering for lives put back together, for healing after being beaten down, for total life-change - they are looking for something new, something wider, and deeper.
Churchianity is not offering that.
Who will ?