I recall with some embarrassment a conversation I had when I was a junior in college, as a young man full of anger at the church and brimming with idealism about the future. I was speaking with a friend who happened to think the institutional church was a pretty good idea, and that hymns in particular (the specific topic of conversation that day) were a rich source for theology and worship. I argued that they were too complex for the modern era, a perfect symbol of bygone and boring ways of doing church. Like the new music that broke out of what I thought was a stifling pattern of verses and rhyme, so the church of the future would free itself from the rigidity of bureaucracy and outmoded theology.
We say lots of silly things when we are immature, but the sentiments that drive the passions of youth often hang on stubbornly. Today, I favor hymns over contemporary music precisely because of their complexity and richness. But my favorite hymns still move in the direction of simplicity, like "What Wondrous Love Is," and "They Cast Their Nets in Galilee."
I have also come to appreciate, begrudgingly, the institutional church. But like most people, most weeks, the church remains a source of frustration and confusion for me. I do wish Jesus had thought of a better way to organize his followers.
Daily Beast uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan has written a cover story for Newsweek that expresses almost perfectly today's religious zeitgeist. As the title inside puts it, "Christianity in Crisis: Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists." Who of us upon reading that would not say, "Exactly!"? And then the subtitle adds this: "Ignore them." To which I want to respond, "I wish!" And the cover copy expresses ...1