Might it be true that the great threat of God becoming human, as a baby who becomes an anarchist rather than a priest, is that in the incarnation God threatens the church and her power-mongers, annually?
I was speaking to a young Christian from a non-denominational church last week at a Christmas party. She was in her twenties, a lawyer with a prayer practice of daily meditation and mostly retreat days in the forests of the Colorado mountains. I liked her. She had great shoes and a clear goodness!
I mentioned that I was an Episcopalian. She sipped her cosmo and said with a wry smile “Oh, dear. I am so sorry. Do you have a plan?” Unsure what she meant I inquired further. She said, mater of factly, the way an architect tells another architect that that those building plans will create a building that will collapse “Well, I mean am sorry that you have an institution built on a history of patriarchy and top-down power structures.” I felt my fingers grip my drink rather too tightly as I asked what she meant through a tight smile.
“Oh well, I am not trying to be disrespectful, but you must know by now that my generation will no longer put up with a patriarchal system. Generations X and Y will choose churches and denominations in which power structures are turned upside down and power is shared. Your system is medieval and lovely, the way candelabras are lovely, but we are not going to light our homes with them. Advent is proof that God will rip apart your power structures.”
I remember finding it hard to breathe as I realized that the woman standing before me represented two generations of people who will choose the church’s beauty and mystery, silence and majesty, redemption and even God, but will categorically reject our power structures – finding new ways to monitor misconduct and new ways to bless. I said, tentatively “But this church has weathered many storms and survived these past 20 centuries.”
“True,” she said with a smirk as she took another sip of her cosmo, “But that is because Bishops and clergy have always had the power to raise the money they needed through manipulation and intimidation. What will you do now that new generations are emerging who can and will simply choose what fits their lifestyle and their new ways of thinking? My generation is a new kind of army threatening the church. We do not have to attack your high walls nor send angry letters to your bishops. We simply have to stop giving you our money. You have not raised enough money to sustain your lifestyle as a church. Like armies of old, all we need to do is starve you to death. Starve your churches and that will starve your higharcy. My parents are the last generation to fund your way of life. It’s all very Downton Abbey really!”
As she walked away, in her modest clothes and confident step, I marveled at a God who would subvert Herod’s higharcy and power structures by coming to us as a baby in a rejected stable or cave and I wondered even at God’s ability to escape the power which tried to kill all the babies of Jesus’ day, slipping through to the freedom of choosing when and how He would die. And I wondered then, as I do now, if we really know what we are so rejoicingly welcoming at Christmas.
If we do not raise money from generations older than 65 and if we do not raise that money from planned gifts in these next 10 years and if we do not endow our church structures with that money, then our churches, and subsequently our Bishops will simply be de-funded by new, younger generations whose willingness to find God with a candle a crockpot and some close friends and whose views on power and the use of it will, in the end subvert our entire system. This little baby brings change to power. The church will, finally, Like Herod, be brought to its own knees after centuries of telling people to kneel.
Perhaps we should be more careful and rethink if we really welcome that kind of God-man and that kind of structure-subversion. Are we sure we want Emmanuel to “come, oh come?”