Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saving The Church From Itself

Lately I've found myself watching a lot of sports movies - "Win-Win", "The Express", etc.  I'm not sure why, but sometimes I think our imaginations function a bit like our bodies do when it comes to nutrition.  I've read in several places that it's not unusual to crave foods that are high in protein, like nuts or meat, when the body is lacking in protein.  Or when the body needs more vitamin C, we gravitate towards oranges, etc.  You get the point.  I think my imagination, my spirit, has been craving a little "umph", a little testosterone, whatever you want to call it.  And yes, I know that's kind of sexist but I don't care.  I'm making a point.  

I've arrived at a place where I have to make a decision - actually, I think my unconscious made it for me, and my conscious mind had a fit.  That decision is whether or not to give up.  Give up on what, you ask?  I answer: does it really matter?  Once you give up, you give up.  You've laid down your arms.  You've packed up your body armor and called it quits.  It really doesn't matter what comes at you at that point - you're a goner.  

Giving up is not as easy as you would think.  In fact, I believe sitting on the fence is much, much easier.  You don't have to make a decision one way or the other.  You can continue to lick your finger and test the wind until the cows come home.  And if they don't, what do you care?  You're up on the fence out of harm's way.   Or so you think.  Little do you know that one strong kick from either side of the fence will send you tumbling, and at that point you have no power to make decisions about which side you're going to fall on.

Spit it out, Nicole - what does this have to do with The Church?  I'll tell you.  I've been reading article after article passed on by colleagues and friends - clergy, lay and musicians - about what's going on in particular denominations and faiths.  I've read in the newspapers and magazines about global happenings in faith communities.  There seems to be one unifying theme to all the issues that are presented: The Church hierarchy, in whatever form it takes in whatever denomination or faith, is completely out of touch with the people it SERVES.  I'll say it again.  SERVES.  SERVICE.  That means putting the needs of SOMEONE ELSE before the needs of yourself OR the needs of the institution.  Aha - there's the sticky part.  After all, doesn't the hierarchy exist to protect the needs and longevity of the institution?  If you think it does, than perhaps you are reading a completely different Bible than I am, which is certainly possible these days.  

I'm not even going to suggest that you bore yourself and read all the blogs, articles, etc., that are out there drawing attention to the issues.  Unless you enjoy that type of thing, and if you do you've already read them.  But if you don't, just go to your own church.  Talk to the people in your own District, Synod, or Diocese.  Read your denomination's monthly or bi-monthly magazine or newsletter.  Surf the net.  Go talk to some other clergy members in your particular church - not just your own.  What do they really believe?  How does it compare with what the hierarchy is preaching?  If there is serious opposition, what is being done about it?  Are you really ok with being a part of an institution who states one thing on paper and preaches another from the pulpit?

I am certainly not asking people to challenge others about what they believe and why - everyone is on their own faith journey and will find their own way to God, and there are plenty of denominations out there to support one belief or another.  I am challenging others to fight for what they believe in, while at the same time giving others the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings.  State your case.  Express your thoughts, and allow others to express theirs.  Don't rule by squashing the opposition.  Many people in The Church these days call that leadership.  It's easy for me to affirm what I believe, and affirm what you believe when we agree with each other.  It's much more difficult for me to give the same respect to the person who is diametrically opposed to what I think.  But I must, as a person who believes that every human being has value, respect their right to express it.  The place where we turn into big chickens is lovingly confronting each other when it gets out of hand.  We get angry.  We get emotional.  We start attacking each other personally.  All natural reactions, really, but unacceptable in a group of people who have mutually agreed to be in relationship with each other.  You can't just do or say what you want.  You have a responsibility to me, and I to you.  And if the hierarchy of any Church uses its "power" to grind down those who respectfully question its decisions or actions, than that institution is NOT acting out of the love and respect God demands and it should be called out for it.

Perhaps that seems like radical or extreme stuff.  Maybe.  But I believe that there is no such thing as a non-extreme Christian.  Christianity is a RADICAL faith, even in its utmost humility.  That doesn't mean we go around blowing each other up, condemning one another to hell, or saying that if we don't comply with the rules we are risking our salvation, as I heard in the news this week. As if any human being on this earth has the power or knowledge to state such things.  

I read an article several weeks ago (click here if you want to read it), and I know I'm supposed to "identify" with it because of my age/generation but I really think it's crap. I agree that we are to treat each other with love; but the core of Christianity includes bringing Christ to those who do not know him by showing them who he is. That doesn't mean I have to go door to door like our Mormon friends (who, I must say, have gotten a lot nicer over the years).  It could be as basic as helping a random stranger pick up the groceries they dropped in the parking lot, bringing up your children to be faithful Christians, or feeding the poor at the local soup kitchen - that's living the Gospel, baby.  Its simplicity is the beauty and genius of it.  But along with those actions we must be willing to admit openly, when necessary, that we do them because our faith INSPIRES and REQUIRES us to do so WITH A LOVING HEART.  Is that really so hard?  When someone asks me, "Why are you helping me" I can simply say "because my faith inspires me to love those around me".  Whether people buy into it or not is their choice.  I don't consider this an attempt to "convert" people - wrong word, wrong sentiment.  It is simply showing them who I am.

I'll be the first one to say that I roll my eyes every time I see over the top, devotional license plates or the employees with more religious paraphernalia on their desk than their actual work.  You know why?  Because if I have to put up all that signage to let people know I am a faithful person then I'm doing a pretty crappy job of living my faith.  If we are truly living as faithful followers of Jesus, we can go on living our "quiet, Christian lives" as described in the article in the assurance that we are spreading the Gospel. But in the end, we have to admit that there is nothing "quiet" about it. Living a life rooted in love and sacrifice for your neighbor is about as foreign to modern society as eating dirt. If that weren't true, then leaving my post at Christ Church wouldn't have been seen as so shocking, as it was to some - it would have been seen as the only choice, which is what it was to me.

Back to my point on service and hierarchy: if someone - that means us - does not stop the administrations in these denominations from destroying the expression of God's love for his people from within by politic-ing, fighting over agendas, voting themselves raises and more staff while the local churches die on the vine, and on and on and on...the only thing the world is going to say about Christianity is that "it had a good start, but in the end only existed to serve itself which is why it died a slow, painful death.  What a shame, because there is so much love and wisdom in its teachings."  

This is why we can never give up.  

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