(Present day view of the site of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, “After I have gone there, I must also see Rome.” So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia. About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.” When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions. Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theater. Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defense before the people. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” But when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven? Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. You have brought these men here who are neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.”
One of the readings from Acts in the Daily Office a few weeks ago was this story. It's always a fun and slightly pithy one for me.
Paul's in trouble again, and it's because all his preaching and teaching has caused a bit of a lull in the Silver Souvenirs of Artemis trade. The folks in the souvenir trade got other folks all whipped up, (probably even a bunch of people who couldn't even afford a silver Artemis for the living room or kitchen table) and it took a wise and silver-tongued town clerk to calm folks down.
Well, and when it was all said and done, as you can see by the photo above, the religion of worshiping Artemis didn't withstand the test of time.
My fellow Joplin volunteer pal Christian posted this interesting article about the church and the language of grief and lament that really caught my attention a few days ago. In fact, in the last couple of years in particular, there's been a huge amount of press-inches devoted to various permutations of "The Death of Christianity," and "Is Christianity Dying?"
Well, to that I say, yes...and no.
I believe the church as America knew it in the 1950's is dying, if it isn't already dead.
I believe the church as a social organization is dying.
I believe the biggest thing holding back established churches at the moment is the maintenance of huge barns of buildings that they can no longer afford to keep up, heat, and cool--especially in small towns.
But here's what else I believe, based on a lot of reading and discussion:
I believe millennials desire God as much as any generation prior--but it has to be real and relevant to their experience. Many did not grow up as regular church or Sunday school attendees. My generation at least knew how to "go through the motions." But honestly, if I was a 20something, and my choices were, "God as evangelical Christianity portrays," vs. "atheism," I'd choose atheism. I don't think we tout nearly enough that there are other options, and so no one knows what we have to offer very well.
I believe that the more we begin to shed ourselves of the burden of maintaining too-big sanctuaries, and become more like the Early Church, we will find people who desire God and we, the already churched, will become more comfortable with change.
I believe the more we empower the laity, the more we get the laity in touch with their own fundamental priesthood as it relates to our Baptismal Covenant, the more tolerant we will become of change, both great and small, because we will feel "invested."
I believe that the more each of us begins to live the life of a baptized Christian, rather than a "churchgoer," we will become more tolerant of one another's human-ness, including the human-ness of our ordained clergy. What they do and how they do things with the little liturgical details in terms of their own personal piety won't matter as much, and we'll begin to get off our "But that's how we've always done it."
But the scary part is I believe in some ways, the church will have to die to itself in order to be reborn.
I think about the "little things" that my own parish has over-focused on in the past, and how we've over-focused on the priest as the engine of the liturgy in times past. I still remember the first time as acolyte in our interim period, and our interim had me behind the altar, looking out at the pews instead of to the side, looking at the priest. It slammed into me like a cinder block for the very first time that it wasn't the priest that makes the Eucharist happen, it's us. Granted, the priest has an incredibly important role as presider, as the person who sacramentalizes the process. But the fact remains--you can't have a Mass for one, even if the "one" is a priest.
In short, we have to stop treating the building, the priest, and the "way we've always done it" like silver souvenirs of Artemis.
I imagine the Artemis-worshipers of ancient times treated those little silver statues a little too magically now and then. Relying on magic, rather than the incarnation within each of us and the relational aspect of that to God, frankly, makes the experience less real. It takes us out of the loop as active participants.
But what I'm proposing--this notion that each of us needs to gain an awareness to our own fundamental priesthood--well, it can be dangerous business and filled with heavy uncertainty. It's also, sadly, very threatening to ordained folks who are not comfortable with their own fundamental priesthood or hide behind their ordained priesthood as a vehicle to fulfill their own inadequacies. My experience has been that clergy who are very comfortable with who they are in their own fundamental priesthood are not threatened at all by a lay person with a strong sense of his or her own fundamental priesthood.
The flip side is that laypeople who are not in touch with their own fundamental priesthoods, or are uncomfortable with them, lay things on the clergy that they should be taking care of themselves in terms of their spiritual growth. Seeing the priest as a magical shaman rather than an icon of our own priesthood causes laity to blame the priest for the oddest things.
I think back to the time of the Book of Acts. Paul had to put a great deal of trust in many, many empowered laity. Granted, he was not "ordained" in the sense we now think of it, but the geography and nature of his travels demanded an early church that had to understand their own priesthood as individuals. They could not depend on silver statues of Artemis to make things right.
Yes, there were mistakes. Big ones. But we still all make big mistakes in the name of the church--laity and clergy alike--and perhaps a better tack is to simply keep the dialogue going, and continue to worship together, rather than huddle up in little groups and stir people up like the silversmiths did.
Not long ago, I was involved as part of a "think tank" in helping a parish begin to facilitate a solution to some very serious problems they were having. Now, I doubt I know a single person in it, and they most certainly have no clue who I am, or that they even knew I was involved. What I discovered, as this "think tank" turned its gears, was that it required me to discuss my own learning regarding some of my own huge mistakes in life. I found myself filled with an odd sense of gratitude. What I had started out learning for my own sake, could actually be put to use to help others. Living through my own mistakes had value beyond myself.
An amazing thing happened. I found myself truly invested in people I didn't even know--not in the outcome, mind you--that's their row to hoe, not mine--but simply in the life and spiritual health of these people I would not know on the street if I walked by them. I found them in my prayers, and in my musings--and I found myself truly wishing them well, and asking God to give them every good thing that had been given to me--including the ability to learn from mistakes.
This, to me, is part of what being an institutional church is all about. Yes, we have an individual relationship with God, but it is our corporate life that is sacrosanct. We have to toss our silver statues of Artemis aside and stop believing in magic that gets showered down from above. We have to get our hands dirty and our noses bloodied. We have to care about people we don't even know.
Ultimately, I believe the church will survive--and not just survive, but thrive. But to do it, we have to be willing to change ourselves first, and not just holler for the church to change.