It was a pretty good Thursday morning. I went to a middle school prayer breakfast, submitted my application to graduate from WTS and my thesis proposal, and finally found my local NPR station here in Chesapeake. Better yet, the local NPR station is not in the middle of a pledge drive so I was able to dive right into the latest episode of All Things Considered.
The episode was titled ‘Being With People Like You Offers Comfort Against Death’s Chill’. The story starts out about a man who had the idea of building a retirement community in Florida marketed towards Indian-Americans who are nearing retirement age. The idea is pitched and investors lined up and then the market collapse of 2008 happened. The project stumbles for a while but then something no one expected to happened did happen: the community began to sellout at prices above what the market values were indicating at a fast rate.
How does a retirement community in a state where you can’t walk down the street without seeing one flourish in the midst of a nation real estate crisis? Skip ahead now towards the end of the story (not really you should listen to it but for the purposes of writing this post I will).
“No matter who you are, you will experience a deep primal desire to withdraw.”
“Is it animal nature to get a little bit racist as death approaches?”
When death is on our minds we like or want to be around those who are most like us. It might not be intentional but nationalistic tendencies and racial lines become much more prevalent. Why is this? Is this our attempt to delay death? Psychologists think that we are diving into our own category, making us feel more significant and giving us the illusion that we are some how controlling something that we have no control over.
Does dying with our own kind translate into the church too? Could the primal desire to be grouped with “our own kind” explain why it at times our faith communities are divided more so by age life stage groups? Could this explain why tension between age groups in faith communities can seem to be more prevalent than it should be? Don’t read this as me saying that those who are on the downward side of their lives are “the problem” in the church or that their voices are unwanted. But maybe we can see just for a minute how this could have an impact on our local faith communities.
“Don’t change that because it has always been like that” could be interpreted as, “please don’t change that because it gives me comfort or changing it will remind me that this community will be moving on when I am gone.”
“We have ALWAYS served coffee this way, why should be change it now!?” could be translated as, “this my closest friends and I always enjoyed this time together. They’re no longer here and if it’s changed then their memory might be lessened.”
So what do we do with this? Do we just accept that the church has become (for some) a place where they can gather with like minded people to die? No, I don’t think that’s the case but I do think there is a bit of truth to that. Maybe this means that for those of us who are advocating for change in churches where change often comes with drawn out committee meetings and hurt feelings, we should be aware that some of the things we are advocating to be changed are actually meaningful to others. While we don’t see the big deal about changing how coffee is served or the order of a worship service for some those changes are challenging the very things that provide comfort in a time of uncertainty and fear of the unknown.