quo vadis, domine?

Wyman Richardson over at Communio Sanctorum recently posted Calvin Miller’s poem “My Easy Christ Has Left the Church” from Miller’s The Unfinished Soul.

I’m not sure what I think of it. Some of the indictments ring true, but to say that Christ has left the church? Read it for yourself: 

My easy Christ has left the church.
Who can say why?
Maybe it’s because His video-logged apostles all
read diet-books, travel agency brochures
and Christian fiction thrillers
on how the world should end
But none read books on what the starving ignorant
should do until it does.
He left the church so disappointed that Americans
could all spell “user friendly”
but none of them could spell “Gethsemane”

Can we say for sure he’s quit?
Oh yes, it’s definite, I’m afraid:
He’s canceled his pledge card.
I passed him on the way out of the recreation building
near the incinerator where we burn
the leftover religious quarterlies
and the stained paper doilies
from our Valentine banquets.
“Quo Vadis, Domine?” I asked him.
“Somewhere else,” he said.

My easy Christ has left the church,
walking out of town past seminaries where
student scholars could all parse the ancient verbs
but few of them were sure why they had learned the art.
He shook his head counfounded that many
had studied all his ancient words
without much caring why he said them.
He seemed confused that so many
studied to be smart, but so few prayed to be holy.

Some say he left the church
because the part-time missionaries were mostly tourists
on short-term camera safaris,
photographing destitution to show the
pictures to their missionary clubs back home.
I cannot say what all his motives were.
I only know I saw him rummaging through dumpsters
in Djakarta looking for a scrap of bread
that he could multiply.
“Quo vadis, Domine?” I asked him.
“Somewhere else,” he said.

He’s gone – the melancholy Messiah’s gone.
I saw him passing by the beltway mega-temple
circled by its multi-acred asphalt lawn,
blanketed with imports and huge fat vehicles
nourished on the hydrocarbons of distant oil fields
where the poor dry rice on public roads
and die without a requiem, in unmarked graves.

Is it certain he is gone?

It is.

We saw him in the slums of Recife,
telling stories of old fools
who kept on building bigger barns,
oddly idealistic tales of widows with small coins
who outgave the richer deacons of the church.

I saw him sitting alone in a fast-food franchise
drinking only bottled water and sorting through
a stack of world-hunger posters.
He couldn’t stay long.
He was on his way to sell his
old books on Calvin and
Arminius to buy a bag of rice for Bangledesh.

My easy Christ has left the church.
I remember now where I last saw him.
He was sitting in one of those new
square, crossless mega-churches
singing 2x choruses and playing bongos
amid the music stands and amplifiers
with anonymous Larrie and Sherrie.
He turned to them in church and said
“I am He! Follow me!”
But they told him not to be so confrontational
and reminded him that they
had only come for the music and the drama,
and frankly were offended that he would dare
to talk to them out loud in church.
After all, they were only seekers, with a right to privacy.

I followed him out through the seven-acre vestibule,
where he passed the tape-duplicating machine
where people could buy the “how to” sermons
of the world’s most famous lecturers.

He left the church and threaded his way
across the crowded parking lot,
laying down those whips and cords
he’d once used to cleanse the temple,
and looked as though he wanted to make
key-scrapes on Lexi and huge white Audis
and family buses filled with infant seats.

He stooped and shed a tear after
and wrote “Ichabod” in the sand.
In a sudden moment I was face to face with him.
“Quo vadis, Domine?” I asked him.
“Somewhere else,” he said.

My easy Christ has left the church,
abandoning his all-star role in Easter pageants
to live incognito in a patchwork culture,
weeping for all those people who
cannot afford the pageant tickets.

He picked up an old junk cross,
lugging it into the bookstore
after the great religious rally,
and stood dumfounded
among the towering stacks of books
on how to grow a church.
“Are you conservative or liberal,” I asked him.
But he only mumbled, “Oh Jerusalem…”
and said the oddest thing about a hen
gathering her vicious, selfish chicks under her wings.
He left the room as I yelled out after him,
“Lord, is it true you’ve quit the church?
Quo vadis, Domine?”
“Somewhere else,” he said.

Your thoughts?

 

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Russ says:

    I agree that some of the statements made are true of the church (I especially liked the “they were only seekers, with a right to privacy” line).

    However, I find the replacement of doctrine for works is disconcerting. The general notion that all churches are megachurches, that Christ is not to be found in a large church, and that he has left his church is not Biblical.

    My assessment is that Miller was more interested in finding an arresting theme (Christ leaving the church) to advance his admittedly valid concerns about the environment and global hunger then he was with actual Scriptural support. Miller seems to project onto Christ what he would do if he were the Savior; namely, condemn those with whom he disdains by virtue of his absence.

  2. Paul says:

    Indeed.

    “Weep, weep, for those
    Who do the work of the Lord
    with a high look
    and a proud heart.

    Weep, weep for those
    Who have made a desert
    In the name of the Lord.”

    –“Lament” by Evangeline Peterson

  3. Russ says:

    And another thing (I know not why this poem affected me so) …

    I find the suggestion that Christ would entertain the notion of property damage (keying someone’s car) to be nearly blasphemous.

    I find it un-Biblical (and frankly, a little weird) to suggest that the One who beckoned small children to come to him would despise an automobile filled with safety seats.

  4. Paul says:

    That struck me as over the top, too.  I think the sounds of children running noisily through the church and church parking lots filled with carseat-laden minivans are glorious sights and sounds.

    Would not the ridiculous and kitschy trinketry found in our Christian bookstores actually be much more offensive to Christ?  Not to mention, Christian golf balls. Or Christian phone books.  Or Christian pharmacies.
    But do you think Miller is making more of a point here about the Lexi and Suburbans, more of a what-would-Jesus-drive kind of condemnation, rather than a condemnation of kids at church?  I.e., just imagine what the Jesus could do with the sixty grand it cost to buy that Lexus. Millers harshness here seems more like a condemnation of Christian worldliness and materialism, you know – the whole camel through the eye of the needle. And at that point I tend to agree with him.
    But what really concerns me is the petty and impotent portrayal of Christ in response to our materialism.
    Does Jesus want to key my minivan, too?  Or does He just want to key the Lexus parked next to me?  He must be pretty hard up for cash these days to be driven to such harsh measures.

  5. It’s important to remember that at no place in the poem does Miller say Christ has left the church. I have a feeling he chose his words VERY carefully. “MY EASY Christ has left the church.”

    There’s a fundamental difference between proclaiming that Christ has left the Church, and that my personal, easy portrayal of who he is and what he’s about has left.

    The poem itself is less a description of Christ and more of the telling of an “epiphany” moment in the narrator’s life, where he discovers that what it means to be a Christian and to follow in Christ’s way means more than saying the right things on Sunday mornings.

    When that happens, his old idea of who Christ is disappears, and is replaced by a new vision. A Christ who finds his place in those “hell on earth” places and makes his home there to love and care for the unloved and even the unlovable.

  6. Oops…just realized I mis-typed the link to my site in the comment above. The link is correct here.

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