Let’s talk about efficiency

I love living in an efficient age. I can get on my phone and order groceries and have them delivered or I can go pick them up. I can call any of the banks holding any of my loans and get answers; no letters, no long lines. I can text my wife and figure out what we’re going to make for dinner, or what movie we’re going to watch, or which events we’re going to go to. We can even keep an online calendar that automagically updates in both our phones. Efficient!

What’s not efficient? Church. Democracy. Life in community.

This week’s Iowa caucus has had me reflecting on our common life as a faith community. The issues surrounding the Iowa caucuses brought out a lot of interesting commentary around the caucus system and our democratic (citizen-governance, not the political party) life in general. Issues of “first in the nation” status, race and representation, technology and voting, and many other problems around the caucuses, but those aren’t the issue for this blog post. Today, I want to write about inefficiency.

Despite all of the issues with the caucuses, I have to say, I kind of like the inefficiency of the whole thing. It is lovely that most of the time we go to a voting booth (and everyone should be voting but the issues around voting are also a different blog post) and, if the line isn’t too long, you can cast your ballot within minutes. That is a great system, but it strikes me that voting alone in a booth is not at the heart of our democracy. Despite the many flaws in this past Monday’s Iowa caucuses, maybe Iowa does get something right: taking three hours out of busy lives to gather with our neighbors and talk out the group’s politics is the heart of democracy and common life.

In the same way caucuses are inefficient, so is our common life in the church. There is absolutely nothing efficient about taking time out of each day to pray, each Sunday to gather in community to hear God’s Word and to celebrate the Eucharist, or to listen to our neighbors. There is nothing efficient about visiting the lonely, the sick, and those in prison. In our hyper-efficient modern life, we are sometimes tempted to make religion a one-hour-per-week, efficient sacrament dispensary, which makes no claim on the lives we have entrusted to God, that has no time for others. The heart of our Christian life is the inefficient, often messy, always beautiful life in community as followers of Jesus.

I’m often asked how to get more “young people” into church. A lot of times I’ll ask in response, “Are your services only at times when people work or need to catch up on their rest from working? Do you welcome children to participate in the service? Do you provide high-quality childcare? Are you asking them what they want out of religious life? Are you listening to their voices?” These are deeply inefficient questions, but I believe they are vital for the life of our church (and our democracy).

God opens the mouths that have been shut. God liberates the oppressed. God empowers the powerless. Christ’s mission to us is to do the same. Let us not sacrifice our democracy or souls on the altar of efficiency. Let us do the opposite. Let us open the floodgates and make our churches dens of inefficiency where Christ’s love reigns, where we let real life in, and where all the voices of God’s children are heard.

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