Sunday, January 06, 2008

and the Shofar Blew

My lastest read was and the Shofar Blew which is by Francine Rivers, the same author who wrote Redeeming Love. It is about a pastor and his family, and some friends. The pastor is the son of a famous mega-church pastor and televangelist. The story starts when the main character is hired as pastor of a small dying church in a medium-sized town in California. The congregation had been served by the same pastor for forty years and consisted of a bunch of senior citizens. Paul, the lead character sets out to revitalize the church and ends up buiding it up as a temple to himself, rather than to God. Given that the book is Christian fiction, I doubt I'm giving anything away by saying that in the end he realizes this and re-dedicates his life to serving God.

I have mixed feelings about the book. First is kind of a smug "at least that can't happen to us" feeling because as Catholics, I doubt that particular scenario would happen to us. Paul built that church the way a businessman would build his business--he found out what sold, and made that his product. He expanded, branched out, sold, raised funds and refined his product. He dropped products (like Bible studies) that weren't popular and added others, like aromatherapy classes, that were. He attracted large crowds and the larger the crowd, the less holy his preaching. I think our system of assigning pastors, a celibate clergy and geographic parishes largely protects against what happened in this book. However, as the priest sex scandle brought home, our leaders are not above sin, nor above choosing to protect their turf rather than to protect the flock. Of course there is a dig against Catholicism--one character is described as "a devout Catholic" but later in the book he says of a Bible study turned church "I learned more about the Bible in six months with you than in years of Catechism"

While I have problems with the idea of marketing religion in much the same way as one would market any other form of entertainment or education, I am impressed with the way Evangelical churches do reach out to others. There are a lot of people out there who don't have faith in their lives and we do very little as a community to reach out to them. While I'm sure that some of the growth in this fictional church was from people who left another church for Paul's; from what I've seen, those churches are good at reaching out to non-churchgoers as well. My daughter attends a public school I suspect there are more Catholics (at least in name) in that school than members of any other faith. However, it is the Evangelicals who bring pizza to those kids weekly and offer a friendly face, listening ear and invitation to church. Protestant churches post large banners inviting one and all to Bible school in the summer--at no cost. Catholic churches, if they offer such a program, offer it to members only, and only if they pay the fee. I guess we all need to be on-guard against building up temples to ourselves, but open to bringing others to His temple.

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