Book the Band (Friendly is Not Enough)

The “key for the church is to welcome, not exclude.”

Pope Francis (2013)

The key for the Church is, rather, to possess something so desirable that people will charge a machine-gun nest to get it. In my youth I went to nightclubs to see bands play what I fondly imagined was great music. Those nightclubs were extremely unwelcoming. The bouncers were surly, the floors were filthy, the air was noxious, and price of drinks was shamelessly extortionate.

But those nightclubs were packed because they had THE BAND.

Friendly is not enough. Everyone learns this at a personal level soon enough. The world is full of friendly people who also happen to be vacuous, vapid and void of additional attractions. (Evidently the world is full of people who find me to be one of these people, for I am pretty friendly but not oversupplied with friends. (There is, of course, the possibility that people find, behind my friendliness, not a man who is vacuous, vapid and void of additional attractions, but rather a man who is vicious, villainous and vile.))

People go to church to meet GOD, not to make friends with the unprepossessing riffraff who clutter up the pews. I went to those appalling nightclubs to see THE BAND, not to make friends with the degenerates between whom I was squeezed. If GOD is in the church, there is no need for a grinning usher to open the door, pump your hand, and invite you to the free pancake breakfast after the service. If GOD is in the church, people will break down the door, push the usher out of the way, and go without breakfast (or lunch for that matter (cf. the story of the loaves and fishes)).

On the other hand, if there is nothing in the church but riffraff, bad music and a funny smell, no amount of grinning, handshaking, or free pancake breakfasts will lure people in.

Friendly is not enough.

Francis said that welcoming is the key when he first took possession of the Keys, seven years ago. The quote has resurfaced because dingbat reporters need to contrast Sweet Francis with Sour Benedict, the occasion of this need being a report of Benedict’s ongoing failure to swallow the sexual revolution. That is the liberal Catholic diagnosis of what ails the Church, after all. If it would just swallow the sexual revolution and ordain women, wed homosexuals, and see God’s mercy at work in the many-colored cloak of serial monogamy, they assure us that pews would be packed (not to mention offering boxes).

If I may revert to my original analogy, this is just like a lousy nightclub that has no cover charge, no dress code, and no reason whatsoever for anyone to come inside.  I say BOOK THE BAND and forget about everything else.

18 thoughts on “Book the Band (Friendly is Not Enough)

  1. I’m involved in my parish’s “young adult ministry” and you’ve put words to what I sensed the problem was. We are trying really hard to reach out to people and be friendly. But if they don’t want to see THE BAND they won’t want to come to our particular club. How do we inspire people to want to see THE BAND? Well, you don’t. at least, not that way.

    Why was the nightclub you attended packed with people? How did they all learn to stop worrying and love the band? Some of them probably fall under the category of “ardent fans” who will follow the band wherever it goes. Others probably fall under the category of “I was going to the club and the band happened to be there”. But probably the majority saw there was a crowd and thought it was worth trying to get to. People charged up the hill and clamored to get into the club because other people did the same. If they like the band, they’ll become the first kind who follow it. If they like the club, they’ll become the second kind who return to it for its own sake. If they dislike both, they’ll stay home.

    So I should probably think about my parish’s young adult ministry. Not going to get people to charge the machine gun nest by handing out a flyer and telling them how fun it is. Going to have to do it myself, first.

    • Social conformity is a powerful force, so it is undeniable that more people would go to church if more people went to church. Especially more of the right sort of people. Your youth group could probably gin up some interest with some slick advertisements that said, in picture and word, that Keysis (that’s what they call it in my parish) is a place where good-looking cool kids go to have fun. I think you should spend your time thinking about what you are going to give them if they come through that door. All the pizza and dodgeball in the world will not matter if there isn’t any BAND. Obviously, God does not give command performances, so you’re not going to give them a voice out of a cloud, but there has to be something more than pizza, dodgeball, and brief and awkward “talk.”

  2. The idea that a church possesses God and thus can exclude people or charge admission is a truly bizarre notion to me. If God is omnipresent, and intimately connected with each human soul, why do we need a fancy building and a specialist in funny clothes to access him?

    I’ll answer my own question: it’s because humans are an intensely social species and we do things in groups and institutions, not on our own. Including religion. Institutions breed specialists, who need to eat. Priests are one of the oldest professions, right up there with prostitutes. Even neolithic tribes have shamans, who had to be paid for their services.

    Seedy clubs and bouncers exist because bands (the shamans of our time) need to eat. They may be communing with cosmic spirits, but the food they eat is material and they need some way to extract material wealth out of the crowd.

    It is an odd kind of person though, who looks at this and valorizes the bouncers and their ability to exclude and extract. It recalls the Kafka parable, “Before the Law”: http://www.openculture.com/2014/09/kafka-illustrated-with-pinscreen-art.html

    • I am not a natural church-goer, and am in fact at the moment exercising a boycott or taking a vacation, depending on how you choose to look at it. The crux of your comment is, of course that word “if” at the head of the second sentence. You seem to take it as an axiom, whereas I take it as a question. And it is a question I answer in the negative. I’ll concede that, so far as I know, God could be present in every place and person, but experience has taught me that he is not. Indeed an implicit point of my post is that he is often absent from Christian worship services. Which is nowadays one thing that God and I have in common. Whether or not priests are necessary as intermediaries seems to me an empirical question. I can not form an argument from first principles. In social life, I must often employ experts and agents to act on my behalf. It is not obvious to me that establishing communication with God is simpler than setting up and internet router or filing a tort in a court of law.

    • The idea that a church possesses God and thus can exclude people or charge admission is a truly bizarre notion to me. If God is omnipresent, and intimately connected with each human soul, why do we need a fancy building and a specialist in funny clothes to access him?

      Not to worry. The Church doesn’t teach those things.

      Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.

      Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.

      Catechism 847-848

      The Church does not possess God. It’s the other way round.

      God is not limited to or by the Church any more than he is limited to or by the body of Jesus. Still in both those bodies is he peculiarly, fully, and intensely present, and therefore efficacious; for, they are uniquely *his* bodies, in a way that, say, an ordinary acorn is not (but is, rather, mostly just itself, and not of another transcendent to itself);; so that to be in union with those bodies *just is* to be in union with God. That is why the Church is duty bound to evangelize all men, and has moreover, and therefore, the absolute and preeminent ontological right to do so; for, in her they have their best chance of salvation.

      The price of admission to the Throne Room of Heaven – to salvation – is everywhere the same. It is everything we have, and are. It’s all, or nothing. Tithes are but a sign of the Christian’s donation of his whole being. This is not a peculiarly Christian notion. It is the basis of the askesis and sacrifice found in all religions. To choose God, you have no option but *to choose God,* rather than, ahead of, and instead of, any other thing. Choosing God prevents choosing anything less (although it does not, at all, prevent due and proper enjoyment of anything less).

      It’s simple. You can’t serve two masters, any more than you can have your cake and eat it, too.

      Everybody knows this, in his heart.

      Finally, the Church excludes only those who repudiate her in word or deed, and of their own accord – who, that is to say, repudiate the Body of God, and so choose alienation from him, and damnation for themselves. Excommunication is but an ex post formal recognition of an already accomplished ontological fact, enacted in the first instance by the excommunicant himself.

      Excommunication is the Body of Christ saying to the damned, “OK; thy will be done.”

      Don’t worry, a.morphous. It is evident from your comments that you do not know the Gospel, or the Church. Not your fault, but ours! So long therefore as you do your best to do aright, in the best most honest light of your conscience, your prospects are good, whether or not you ever darken the doors of a church.

      Not that this reassurance anywise relieves you of the duty to seek the Truth, or then to meet his Way. It does not. But I know you well enough after all these years of our correspondence to feel sure that you feel that duty as keenly as any man. You might want to start then with finding out just what it is that the Church teaches. Once you have done that, then and only then might you be in a position either to reject or to accept her doctrines, and so to choose for yourself witly either Heaven or Hell.

      Beware! Once you start down that road – or no, up it – there is no turning back. There is then only either climbing, or falling. And it’s a steep climb.

      • Kristor: In the past, you have mentioned that you were once a river guide in the canyon-lands of the mighty Colorado. As such, you did not “possess” the canyons or the river, but you held the keys to an experience of the canyons and the river. Presumably this is what you told your charges when they clambered into your boat at the head of the canyon, and presumably your charges agreed when they clambered out at the bottom. No doubt there were malcontents who found fault with the raging of the rapids or the towering of the cliffs, but I doubt you ever had a charge who asked you, where’s the river? where’s the canyon?

        I understand that spiritual experience is not like physical experience. I also understand that we are all too easily desensitized to spiritual experience by extravagant expectations. If I believe the spiritual is more important than the physical, it is, for instance, easy to imagine that spiritual experience is like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time multiplied by ten. Which, of course, it very seldom is. But with all that said, I think that, when a person goes to church, they should experience something. I know there are people who will say that it is efficacious without any experience, and I can see that as a theoretical point, but I still find it pretty unsatisfying. If you, back in your river rat days, had conveyed my comatose body down the mighty Colorado, I would have passed through the canyon without experiencing it, but I would have found it pretty unsatisfying.

      • To be sure. Indeed, you wouldn’t have found it to be anything at all.

        The responsibility of the guide to his clients as host and pedagogue is very great indeed. And our priests have mostly done a lousy job at it. Not only have they failed to interpret the geology, ecology, archaeology, and hydrodynamics of the Canyon in a way that engages their charges, so that they all – guides and clients, both – understand better what they are experiencing; they have done much worse. They have as it were smoothed the Canyon walls and covered them with white paint, cleared out the rock dams whose spillways are the rapids, cut through the meanders, cleaned up all the mess of the Anasazi trails and ruins, taken out all the plants and wildlife, and put an opaque white roof over the whole to keep out the weather and the sight of the stars. They have installed modern motels at all the campgrounds, and the climate is controlled – not too hot, not too cold – so that all who pass through may be made as comfortable as possible. The deletion of the rapids is the most important aspect of that assurance of anodyne comfort.

        The Canyon and the River are still there. But so obscured are they, that no one can see them anymore. Instead, they go elsewhere to catch a glimpse of that sublime utterly wild staggering beauty that finds in the Canyon one of its Earthly maxima.

        The guides of the Church have got their mission bass ackward. It is not to ensure our comfort. It is not to be nice, it is not to be our friends. It is to be our high masters, and teachers, and rulers. It is to challenge us radically with sublime beauty nowhere else to be found, with liturgy awesome in its dignity, with terrifying enlightening preaching, with uncompromising doctrine that outpasses and so disconcerts our understanding (thus provoking our continuous deliberation – our attention, and our learning), with unbending ukases both moral and, yes, political; and most of all, with unremitting practical *difficulty.* Christian praxis should be hard and uncomfortable. We should each of us be like John Baptist, living as he did in a cave in the wall of a canyon, and surviving on what its desert provided him, praying always and waiting patiently for the advent and triumph of our cousin and Lord, in the meantime proclaiming him to the stones and the birds of the air, and exulting sufficiently at their happy echoes.

        Church is nothing if it is not a living encounter with First Things: i.e., first, and most immediately, with Death. Church *just is* death of the Body of Death. If you have not confronted Death at church in just the way that you would do if you were to run Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon, why then you’ve cheated the whole shooting match; as if you’d paid to go to a rodeo or a performance of Lear, and spent the whole time at a concession stand or in the john.

        NB: difficulty and discomfort do not ruin enjoyment or fun. On the contrary. Just ask the people I ferried down the River.

        Difficulty and discomfort characterize all true adventure, which is the most fun thing of all. So much so, that if there be no difficulty or discomfort, why then not only has there been no adventure, and so no fun, no expansion or development of the self and her capacities, but what is worse a dearth of experience; a relative emptiness of time, and thus a boring waste of it. Better to watch TV.

        When on the other hand liturgy and parish life are done right, church on Sunday is the scariest, most interesting, most fun, most wonderful thing that happens all week – or, in all normal weeks, anyway, that feature no weddings or hurricanes, no births or deaths, or the like.

        I find it so. When I come out of church after Mass, I feel always a bit happily worked over, as if I’d been to the gym or the dojo, or a difficult session of instruction in a difficult subject. But then, I have sought out quite difficult parishes. In the San Francisco Bay Area, of all places, I know of at least five. And that’s just among the Catholics! I feel quite sure that there are Orthodox and Protestant churches around here that would challenge me equally – albeit differently, at the margins, and each in her own peculiar way – week after week.

        There is much more I could say on this topic. Hoo boy, is there. But, I think you get my drift.

        Bottom line: if when you go to church you don’t suddenly discover that you are in the midst of a lethal rapid in the Grand Canyon, seek a different parish less convenient and more difficult. Find a parish that is not embarrassed to be a harsh salient of the raw incomprehensible gorgeous deadly desert wilderness, and that is nowise reticent about upending – or deepening (same thing, in the end) – your nice comfortable day, week, life. Such parishes are few, but they are out there. They deserve your business. It is apparent from your remarks that your present spiritual guides – however well they may mean – do not.

      • We need a Church for men. That’s how I often think about it. And it is scarce these days. Maybe men are scarce as well.

      • Chicken and egg problem there. But you’re right about the feminized church. Men need to hear stories about wrestling with the devil, with plenty of details about the wrestling.

  3. Pingback: Book the Band (Friendly is Not Enough) | Reaction Times

  4. “If it would just swallow the sexual revolution and ordain women, wed homosexuals, and see God’s mercy at work in the many-colored cloak of serial monogamy, they assure us that pews would be packed (not to mention offering boxes).”
    Just like the Church of England, then. By attempting to be “relevant” they’ve become utterly irrelevant. Protestant theology might not yet be a dead end, but it’s rapidly becoming oxymoronic.

  5. Teasing out the “welcome” in the citation of Pope Francis: But of course! It is the Church’s duty to welcome all comers. But the welcome takes different forms.
    Those in full, living communion with the Church are welcomed by her to active participation in the Sacraments, especially the most Holy Eucharist.
    Those members of the Church in objective mortal sin (and, hence, probably dead members) are sincerely welcomed to the life-giving and necessary Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
    Members of the Church who struggle with her teachings on matters concerning the faith or who question her moral tenets are invited to seek counsel from a wise, knowledgeable, and faithful Catholic who can help guide the person through the difficulties.
    Those who have not yet found their way into the flock of Christ are welcomed to study and discover the beauty, truth, and goodness of His Way by learning it and living it in the one Church He founded.
    If I’ve left out any group, I am confident the Church has a welcome ready for them as well.
    The Church is a welcoming Church.

  6. The Church does not possess God. It’s the other way round.

    I was responding to the original post, which begins “The key for the Church is, rather, to possess something so desirable that people will charge a machine-gun nest to get it.”

    Not that this reassurance anywise relieves you of the duty to seek the Truth, or then to meet his Way. But I know you well enough after all these years of our correspondence to feel sure that you feel that duty as keenly as any man. You might want to start then with finding out just what it is that the Church teaches.

    Thanks for the kind words, but whatever it is I may be seeking, I do believe it lies elsewhere.

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