We’ve seen nothing like this since the funeral of John Paul II, but in England, an uncountable crowd is queueing up and patiently waiting to quietly file past Queen Elizabeth’s flag-draped coffin. People are being warned that this may involve standing and creeping along for as much as thirty hours in the autumn dampness and chill.
On one hand, it’s not surprising. Aside from authentic grief, there is always a “be here, now” sort of pull to these once-in-a-lifetime sorts of events that helps us recall Rene Girard’s mimetic theory, “Man is the creature who does not know what to desire,” he wrote, “and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.”
We instinctively know this about human nature. There are a thousand zeitgeists going on all over the world at any given time, and every one of them, large or small, owes their energy to human mimetic behavior. It’s why your grandfather may have owned a coonskin cap and your grandmother might have screamed herself hoarse in a movie theater, watching A Hard Day’s Night. It’s why demonstrations routinely exceed participation expectations, and protests propel action ever-forward as like urges on like.
So, I’m watching the crowds continue to gather, and the reports of how volunteers are equipped to help people and how many porta-potties are in place, and I can’t help help but marvel at the lackluster rhetoric we’re seeing from religious leaders on the topic of Elizabeth and her faith, saying little-to-nothing on the state of faith in the world today. I can’t help wondering why Catholic and Anglican Bishops are offering such “beige” pablum on the monarch’s faith and saying nothing of or to the crowds of mourners, action-seekers and true disciples. “She was a good Christian,” they’re writing as they haul out some Elizabethan quotes — and they are very good quotes, indeed — but whether Elizabeth was a good Christian or merely a so-so one, we cannot say, any more than we can absolutely know the state of anyone’s soul or can absolutely define what in fact constitutes a “good Christian.” I know that by the measure of many (and often even myself) I am not a “good” one, and so reading this sort of vague drivel amounts to church leadership doing as little as they must in order to clear the inbox and be counted among the prominent voices. The articles will please those who wish to be pleased and move no one else, either toward a Tabernacle or away from one.
MISSING THE MOMENT
But what a moment this is! What visual cues we are being given! And how hugely the leadership of the mainline churches are missing the largest one — the God-provided cue to speak to the queues! They’re missing the chance to say something real, something valuable and timely, differently hopeful and dare I say it prophetic about the state of faith in the world — and not just the Christian faith, not just the Abrahamic Big Three Monotheisms of Judaism, Islam and Christianity — and why its continued diminishment is eroding and threatening the very underpinnings of what we call civilization. And how the Churches must take the blame for that.
This is the moment for some bold voice within the churches to gesture to these crowds and make note of the fact that, as ever, people want something to love, and to honor, and that as these lines demonstrate, when human beings have identified what they treasure, they will greatly inconvenience themselves, will even risk health and well-being, to serve that great pearl. Yes, we see it on a smaller scale with summer rock concerts, and sporting events, but at this moment the message is being writ large: The people are there, and they are hungering, but Britain is solidly post-Christian, as is Europe, and the Americas are not far behind; other faiths are growing only on the extreme and fundamental ends.
This is not God’s fault. And it’s not the fault of the flock, who are showing us right here, right now, that if you show them something they want to love and serve, they will beat a path to possess it. The diminishment of religions lies directly at the feet of churches who are doing a poor job of introducing the sheep to the richest pastures and guiding them there to feed.
So, where is the bishop, where is the cardinal or the rabbi or the imam who is ready to admit that a five-mile queue endured for the chance to walk past a coffin — not even to view the relics of the monarch — is a strong indicator that people are still looking for something greater than themselves and are ready to sacrifice when they find it. More importantly, who is ready to call for real discussion about the failings of organized religion, ready to talk about WHY the churches, even those churches that are deeply conformed to the times, cannot hold the attention of the masses — can’t even get their feet through the doors.
The most fascinating mysteries — for Christians, the Incarnation to start with — are shrugged off while people are entranced with their four-inch screens and whatever is being served up by what Flip Wilson used to call The Church of What’s Happening Now. They are putting so much energy into serving modern, deep-faked or otherwise unnatural illusions because they’re not connecting with the old and authentic supernatural realities. And, again, that’s not their fault. The messengers who believe they’ve answered a call to bring the All-Loving-One to the people are doing what my granny would call a sh*t-poor job of it.
I’d love to see someone in Church leadership — really, anyone — say all of that and then add,
“So… let’s admit it: the churches are doing something wrong. The churches are too far into themselves, too closely holding on to themselves, ducking under their desks and protectively clinging to their little territories and ministries (“darning their socks in the night when there’s nobody there,”) while what is housed in all the beautiful structures — that would be the hearts, minds and souls who God created, delights in and who (like the Father of the Prodigal), runs out to meet while we are still a long way off — goes neglected. All the lonely people standing on five-mile-long lines to experience a single, fleeting moment that cannot save, that will not feed, go underserved. The churches are seeing to themselves instead of taking a good hard look at their ways and means and discovering where they have dropped the ball and underserved the souls entrusted to them. Some churches, like the Catholic church have plenty of outreach to the bodies — and hurrah for those efforts! — but they’re still not attracting the soul, or healing the soul, or helping the soul to discover the great treasure of Christ!”
THAT would have been something! A bishop calling on all the churches to stop fiddling about and once more the WITH and FOR the people, meeting them where they are, walking with them as Christ walked and reminding them, again and again, that the Creator is right there, reaching for them with a ring and a robe and joyful feast in their honor.
It would take a prophetic and visionary leadership to admit to so great a ball-dropping. Until then… the falling-away and distracted disinterest will continue.
Image: Katie Chan, Creative Commons