“We don’t need silver icons standing row upon row in our cathedrals. We need melted saints flowing through the mainstream where life happens in the raw.”
I have been in positions of church leadership since the age of twenty-one. And as I face the fiftieth anniversary of my twenty-first birthday next month, I am feeling the weight of those years. Many battles have been fought along the way, for I have rarely been happy with the way we “do” church. Especially the extreme legalistic paradigm under which I was raised and spent much of my collegiate and early ministry years. I found it odiously oppressive.
At the small, private parochial college where I was a reluctant student, I was known as a rebel. Not that I sought the moniker, but I suppose it was an accurate descriptive given my mindset and growing worldview at the time. I expended considerable energy fighting for freedom of expression musically and warring against the savage beast of corporate hierarchy…a war that extended well into my fifties.
There was a commercial several years ago that I’m sure you remember. In it, the obvious CEO of a company is bragging about a great deal he got on a cellular service through Sprint and he says, “It’s just my little way of sticking it to the man.” And his assistant says, “But sir…you ARE the man.” BOSS: “I know.” ASSISTANT: “So, you’re sticking it to yourself?” BOSS: “…maybe.”
The first time I saw this, I laughed at the obvious humor, but then I realized that I had become “the man” in church leadership. By that I mean, there wasn’t really anyone above me anymore—I was no longer in anyone’s shadow—and that my decisions affected all those who looked to me for guidance.
I’ve gotta tell you…it was sobering!
And now…I’m retired. Completely out of leadership of any kind. No responsibilities (well, except for those delightful ones that come from being a grandfather). The “church” I once led? I am merely a lay person therein. And although it pains me to do so, I have to tell you…I am not a very faithful one at that. There’s a line in my favorite Beth Hart song that says, “I swore to God I’d never be what I’ve become.” Yeah. THAT guy. The one I would always see in my churches and hope against hope that they’d get involved, and yet they stood aloof—on the shelf—seemingly unwilling to make the effort.
I’m sure you noticed my title up there. You know, the “Church in the Time of Coronavirus bit, and are wondering when I’m going to make a point.
Okay, so…here we go.
British general and statesman, Oliver Cromwell, led the Parliament of England’s armies against King Charles I during the English Civil War and ruled the British Isles as Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658. At one point during his reign, Cromwell found that the British government had run perilously low on silver. So, he sent his men to the local cathedral to see if they could find any precious metal to requisition. When they returned with the report of, “The only silver we can find is in the statues of the saints standing in the corners,” the statesman replied, “Good! We’ll melt down the saints and put them in circulation!”
I first heard this story in the early eighties, and the awesome truth contained therein has stuck with me throughout these intervening years. And never has it been more impactful for the church than here in the time of coronavirus.
Have you, like me, been feeling the heat? Watching in horror as building after building is set on fire and structures burned to the ground? What if that heat, metaphorically, is for us—to “melt us down” and get us moving? What if God foreknew that we’d be in a season where the world didn’t need silver icons standing row upon row in our cathedrals, but melted saints flowing through the mainstream where life happens in the raw; where people are sick and suffering; where some have lost everything; where desperation dogs their every step; where hope seems to be on permanent hiatus.
As one who is now an elder “statesman” in the church—i.e. The Man—I have come to understand that my role is NOT to observe the world burning from my comfortable shelf, but to RUN to the flame where I will be melted and poured out on a world that has seemingly gone mad. Thereto my constant cry is, “God, put THIS saint in circulation.”