When I was a little kid I was into war movies. I loved to watch them and then act them out in the backyard with my brothers and sisters. One of my favorite movies was “First Blood”, staring Sylvester Stallone. “First Blood” was the story of a returned Vietnam war hero (John Rambo) and the difficulty he had in adjusting t a world that did not value him. This world he returned to had no idea how to embrace him. He was a down and out mental case as far as most of his encounters were concerned.
Rambo goes on a “rampage” in the forest against a local sheriffs office and is finally cornered in the local police station. Surrounded and left with no other option Rambo prepares to go out in a blaze of glory. Then enters an old friend, Colonel Samuel Trautman. Trautman is the guy responsible for training, Rambo.
The end scene is one where Rambo goes on about the horrors of war and the difficulties of civilian life. He recounts the gruesome details of war and losing people you love. Rambo tears up and the emotions rise. Then Rambo surrenders to Trautman and the movie ends.
I caught this film the other day on AMC. I watched the end scene and made a connection that I never had before the disconnection from “then” and “now”, the anger, frustration and fear of “what now” seems to be present in the “church” today. I have witnessed the ecclesial version of the end scene of “First Blood” in many conversations about a way forward for the church.
This past weekend I attended the Regional assembly for the Christian Church of Kentucky in Lexington. It was a wonderful event. We were to gather together in tables of 8-10 people and discuss a way forward for the region. I joined one group and we began to speak. The table was full of hurts, hope lost and certainty of a way forward.
Some folks openly mourned the loss of the grand old days when young people went to church and the church was the moral compass for all. Others lamented the pain experienced in leaving a particular faith community due to financial problems. Still others crossed their arms and spoke with conviction of how we need to bring in young people to take over the church and keep her going.
I sat there praying that I keep listening. I became frustrated with the conversation. I was the youngest one in the room by 30-40 years. I am the “young people” they are talking about. What if I do not want to saddle up to the table strapped by your dreams and hopes for the church you built? Can I have Jesus without the bells and whistles? These are some of the questions that flashed across my mind. I asked them, “What would happen if we sought to engage young people in relationship instead of bringing them in?”
The room fell silent and folks looked at me. One women said, “that’s the same thing.” I told her that it was not. I tried to explain the idea of church existing in a different context of today in a different manner is still the same church that she and others built in her glory days. That church is a group of people gathered to be the arms and hearts of Jesus the Christ. Like Rambo she was upset. What about all the hard work, the sacrifices she made to keep this thing going? She stopped talking. You could see her heartbreak or at least burden beyond her ability to hope.
I stopped talking too and mourned with her and prayed that one day it will all make sense to us. Her intentions are in the right place and her hopes are my hopes. What is difficult is to be in two places at once. I cannot be me and a fella in his 70’s or 80’s having experienced anything in its glory days. She cannot be herself and a young woman just experiencing the beauty of faith and the challenges of trusting God. I am me and she is thee. She has a point. We need young people to sustain a physical presence of the church. I do not see bringing them in as the solution. What would happen if we sought to engage young people in relationship instead of bringing them in? What would happen if we opened our hearts and dared the Holy Spirit to deliver us to “them?” I do not know for sure what would happen but is it not worth a shot?
By Ryan Kemp-Pappan
Ryan is a minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at Douglass Blvd. Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a B.A. in Religious Studies from California State University, Northridge and a M.Div. from Austin Seminary (TX). He delivers mad Esoteric Piracy. He likes to think of himself as a Royal Pain in the south end of a north bound donkey, Master of 3 of the 5 logical oceans, Beloved creation, 1985 Beer Chug Champion, Amateur Sock Puppeteer, Buckaroo, Reclaimer of lost treasures, Seeker of truth, Tamer of lions, Pugilist of toothless circus bears, Servant, & Tinker of convoluted ideas…
He blogs at The Fettered Heart. He is a host with HCX. He secretly hopes that “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs” is what heaven is really like. He also believes there is a conspiracy going on with the seemingly limited supply of Coke Zero at church related functions.