Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wrestling On

Over the last month of being “semi-retired” and not being as immersed in the daily work, I have found myself wrestling with religious issues as if I were back in the pulpit again. I have been blind-sided by this movement in my life. Not that I left it behind over the past 10 years of working outside the church. The posts of this blog often had that religious direction to them.

But here I am spending a lot of time talking to myself in these words about what it means to be the church, to be part of the church.

So why am I still preaching? At least, still preaching in my writing? Why am I still working on being part of the church? Why can’t I quit you?

Yes, it is that kind of a relationship. It is one I am stuck in and with because I am unable to leave it behind.

Now that is scary. That is what I hear all the time from my patients and others who are still stuck in addiction. It is why I described the movie that line is from as about love addiction- co-dependence.

Perhaps some of it has to do with the fact that I spent 30 years of my adult life serving the institution- and I want to make sure it was for the right reasons. On one hand I know it was for many good and wonderful things came out of it. People were touched, loved, brought into deeper relations with the Creator of the Universe.

But the church is an imperfect organization that hurts people as much as it helps them. Not necessarily a given congregation, but the Church. The human institution is very capable of doing evil. A scan of religious news of the past several decades would easily give enough examples to fill many books.

Many people have been abused and misused by other church people. Judgmentalism, self-righteousness, anger clothed as “holiness”, violence in order to protect God’s good name have not been missing from the day in and day out life of many churches. People have been cheated, lied to, accused of wrong doing by leaders they thought they could trust. Even when the truth comes out, the abused and misused have been sure they were wrong and their leaders had to be right.

The institution itself perpetuates its own myths. We think of ourselves more highly than we deserve to be thought of, yet are often truly humble and willing to reach out to the least and lost around us. Most positive social change has started in one way or another in the halls of faith as a response to living out the call of God. Abolition of slavery, civil rights, building homes with the poor, feeding the street people are but small pieces of the work of the churches.

Yet these were just as often opposed by church people using the same Bible to keep the status quo in place and the poor and oppressed in their place. The KKK found a fiery cross for its symbol and Hitler easily co-opted a country of deep religious history into buying his Final Solution.

There is always a “Yes, but…” in the discussion about the church. There is always another side, the opposite side sometimes good, sometimes evil, but clearly able to be seen. The church slowly makes its snail-like progress through the centuries, often stuck in an image and understanding one generation behind.

Hence the eternal need for prophets in the church. When the institution becomes too secular it is challenged to go deeper into its faith. When the church becomes too comfortable in serving itself the prophetic challenges it to step outside the box. When it throws out tradition because it doesn’t seem to be “relevant” the voices remind it that tradition can be solid ground in difficult times. Or when tradition is the end-all and be-all a prophetic vision breathes new life into the seemingly dead bones.

In short, the church is always in the process of dying- and always having the holy wind of God’s resurrection pushing at its stone-guarded doors.

This is what I am wrestling with today. We will see where it goes, of course. I seem to say that about many different things, but then again, I am always this work-in-progress. I seek each day to be led by my Higher Power. Step Eleven of the Twelve-Step programs is very clear and what I try to do each and every day. I try to seek

through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God, asking only for knowledge of God’s will for me and the power to carry it out.

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