It’s been more than a month since we got back from California and some of what I experienced there is still stirring around in my soul.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that a mentor had once told me that there are times when we see things as they are and then there are those especially meaningful times when we see things the way they really are or ought to be.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to make much sense of 21st century life. I listen. I read. I try to pay attention to the things academics, politicians, dog catchers, pundits, preachers, T.V. anchormen and women, astrophysicists¸ teachers, and lawyers are saying, but they’re all sounding like carnival barkers to me. They’re selling a lot of stuff, but not much of it is worth my time or attention. Author Tom Robbins (“Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas”) described what I’m experiencing perfectly: “We're given Time magazine, and Reader's Digest, daily papers, and the six o'clock news; we're given schoolbooks, sitcoms, and revisionist histories; we're given psychological counseling, cults, workshops, advertisements, sales pitches, and authoritative pronouncements by pundits, sold-out scientists, political activists, and heads of state. Unfortunately, none of these translations bears more than a faint resemblance to what is transpiring in the true theater of existence, and most of them are dangerously misleading.”
Not even a faint resemblance? No, not really. Most of us are looking for truth and meaning in life, but the prophets of this age are filling our hands and heads up with worthless grease. “Buy this. It’ll make you feel better.” “Trust me.” “Your vote counts.”
I’ve been railing against the secular gurus for a few weeks, but I’m realizing that it’s a pointless battle. As Bette Midler famously put it, “Why bother?” The gurus have the money and the votes.
So, I’m off on a pilgrimage of faith, looking for “the true theatre of existence.” It’s a difficult journey because the waters I’m trying to navigate aren’t easily seen by the human eye. It’s also difficult because the world of contemporary religion I’m part of all too often seems to be at odds with the world I’m looking for. The world I’m looking for is organic, not man-made. It’s a place where life flows gently, yet powerfully, channeled through an eternal stream. The current world of religion, on the other hand, is deeply earth-bound. It’s been assimilated and co-opted by politics, entertainment, economics, and a misplaced aura of respectability.
Assimilated? Co-opted? What do I mean by that? Just look around; the sights and sounds of what I’m talking about are everywhere. They’re especially evident in the economics of religion today.
A week ago, Bishop Wilton Gregory from Atlanta made the news when it was revealed that millions of dollars which had been earmarked for the charitable work of his parish had actually been spent on building a new home for him.
There must be something in the water in Atlanta. Neo-Pentecostal pastors, Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar, preach prosperity and live extravagantly. Dollar drives a Rolls Royce, flies around in a Lear jet, and lives in a sumptuous mansion. Until his mega-church empire began to crumble around him, Long drove a Bentley, owned Lear jets, and lived in an estate worth millions.
When confronted, Wilton Gregory apologized and said he would sell the house. When they were confronted, Dollar and Long were indignant. As one of their mentors, Benny Hinn, once said, “The wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous.”
The power of mammon isn’t just visible in the life of the high rollers. Many churches these days talk about the need to protect their “investment portfolios.” Some religious television networks are making the outrageous claim that they are churches in order to hide their assets from public scrutiny.
In a couple of days Christians will be celebrating the miracle of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. A short time before that incredible event, Jesus walked along the courts of the temple in Jerusalem. He saw money changers profiting at the people’s expense and was furious. “My father’s house should be a house of prayer,” he roared. “But you have made it a den of thieves.” He then proceeded to overturn the tables of the money changers. I’ve been on the temple mount. I’ve seen the tables. They were quite heavy. It took a very angry man to overturn them.
I see the current state of religion in America and wonder – “Is it once more time to overturn the tables?”