“Could someone please pass the chicken?”

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” ( Acts 2:42-47)

Andrew Nelson Lytle wrote in his seminal work, “A Wake for the Living”, that back in the earliest days of the twentieth century if someone from the industrialized North met you for the first time, the question they would most likely ask you would be “What kind of work do you do?”

Lytle then wrote that to the contrary, folks from the agricultural South would likely introduce themselves with one of two questions:  “Where are you from?” or “Who is your daddy (or mama)?”  Southerners moved at a different pace, and were less concerned with vocation, leaning more toward interest in place and relationship.  Connection was the priority.

Our culture has changed significantly over the years, and a more transient population has blurred some of the lines between North and South, and the industrial, consumer mindset has become a part of even our rural areas..  Today, people are more concerned with “doing”, “producing”, and “obtaining” than “being connected”.  The attitude has even infiltrated our churches.  Think about it…How does your church measure itself? By productivity?  Or connectedness?

In the church of my youth, the Attendance Board was the tool used to measure the church.  It hung in a hallway that connected the sanctuary to the Sunday School rooms and Fellowship Hall.  Everyone that attended would likely pass by it.  The board contained numbers from the prior Sunday, including attendance for Sunday School, attendance for the worship service, and how much the offering was during each of these times.  We actually took up three offerings each Sunday: One before Sunday School, when birthdays were acknowledged.  Little kids would put change equivalent to their age (10 years old = 10 cents) in a small, church building shaped offering box while the congregation sang “Happy Birthday”;  Adults would usually do the same, but in dollars.

We then took up an offering during Sunday School, and finally the “general offering” during the worship service.  Brotha, we knew how to pass a plate back in the day!

The attendance board of my youth has today become a monster. Churches most often measure themselves in the same way western culture measures success: by productivity.  The old board has been enhanced and “improved” with pie charts, line graphs, and budget reports that only an accountant could understand.   One post-modern evangelical church I served at measures the following on a consistent basis:

– Worship service attendance

– Sunday School attendance (Whether you call it “Connections”, “Life Groups”, or whatever the latest catch phrase is, folks, it’s still “Sunday School”…)

– Discipleship classes attendance (usually on Sunday night)

– Prayer Service attendance (Wednesday nights for adults)

– Awana attendance (for elementary school-aged kids)

– Youth group attendance (for teens)

– Number of volunteers serving during each of the aforementioned

(more…)

Flannery as a child....

Flannery O’Connor left us with a treasure trove of thought on life in the South, religion, the Church, and raw human experience.  I hope y’all enjoy these few quotes from some of her stories, books, and correspondence…

“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”

“Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.”

“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.

What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God. ”

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

“When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.”

“The operation of the Church is entirely set up for the sinner; which creates much misunderstanding among the smug.”

“Most of us come to the church by a means the church does not allow.”

“You don’t serve God by saying: the Church is ineffective, I’ll have none of it. Your pain at its lack of effectiveness is a sign of your nearness to God. We help overcome this lack of effectiveness simply by suffering on account of it. ”

“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He’s thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him…”

“Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown.”

“The fiction of Ayn Rand (noted atheist who wrote ‘Atlas Shrugged’) is as low as you can get re: fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.”

“She would have been a good woman,” the Misfit said, “there had been someone to shoot her every day of her life.”

“Did you see the picture of Roy Rogers’s horse attending a church service in Pasadena? I forgot whether his name was Tex or Trigger but he was dressed fit to kill and looked like he was having a good time. He doubled the usual attendance.”