Still Here

Someone about whom I care deeply, has faith and is drawn to a deeper faith, but is repelled by the institutions of the faithful—the Church. How do I play a part in his struggle, especially when, in large measure, I share it?

Years ago, after a particularly horrendous week of encounters with church committees, I remember slamming whatever was in my hand at the moment down on my desk and declaring to the Almighty, “I’m done! I’m finished. I’m out of here. Not only can they shove this job, I’m through with the Church. She’s chewed me and others up and spit us out one too many times. I’ve had it; I quit.” I had no sooner gotten the words out of my mouth than I heard, almost audibly, “She may be a whore, but she’s my Mama.” The voice of God? My own sub-conscious? The devil? I don’t know, but I’m still here.

What do we say to those who can’t get over the obvious filth which covers us? Do we even try? The abuses and excesses of the Body of Christ are inarguable…inquisitions, violent crusades, 2000 years of corruption at every level, rampant hypocrisy, bigotry, narrow mindedness, attitudes and actions of the worst kinds of hatred, abuses of the young, the poor, and the vulnerable, political cozying…

On the other hand, we’ve stayed alive in love in so many ways and at so many levels. We’ve borne the best and the greatest in art, music, architecture, philosophy, and education in virtually every period of our history, often simultaneously with the abovementioned excesses and abuses. We’ve fed the hungry when others were devouring them. We’ve cared for the sick and created systems for that care. We’ve offered love and compassion to children who would otherwise have perished for lack of notice. We’ve acted against systemic wrongs of every brand in every era of our existence: prisons, treatment of the mentally ill, racial and civil inequities, warmongering, governmental corruption and abuse around the globe…

So, are we the sum total of the worst we have done, or the best we have done? Are we whore or Bride?

Yes. That’s about the best I can say, and, at its best, it still often sounds like so much whistling in the dark …and I can love…my young friend and others like him…and anybody else who wanders into my life. Jesus’ resurrection and life in me—in us—is as real as it is arguable. We truly embody a power to overcome the worst in us and to live out the best in Him. Those realities make forgiveness possible and love as inevitable as death.

In the face of monumental indictment, almost every argument sounds lame and pathetic. Still we stand and rely on on a love that we often can’t even see ourselves, much less declare to anyone else. Thin as it is, it’s all that holds anything together. “Jesus said, ‘Will you also go away?’ Peter answered, ‘To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

I’m still here.

One thought on “Still Here

  1. O Ric, how often the Spirit speaks to you through a perspective-shifting glint of humor! Even if the voice you heard could have various possible sources, I do think that even the demonic is in the hands of God, and we can hear the message of temptation itself if we shift sideways and listen upside down–so to speak. (But I am thinking of relatively rare nights when I wake up in a spell state of not feeing connected to anything–and know both that I’m to talk back to the ‘demons’ that lure to despair, and also to recognize their face and say: well, what’s going on here, what’s feeling unheard and in need of attention?)

    As for your young friend: it seems to me that the best starting point is to share how much you empathize with his concerns. He can only begin to feel heard–and to want to listen back–to someone who identifies with what plagues him. Then, the singularly most interesting fact is that you testify to staying in the ruins, which are somewhere in between decaying and being ever reconstructed.

    One thing I’ve learned to do with my students is to find myself really remembering that where they are now in their perspectives is not necessarily where they are likely to be down the road. Heaven knows few of them will end up thinking and seeing like I do, if they aren’t already drawn to doing so by the time they are 22. But I regularly have more fundamentalist-leaning students come back to me some years later and say something like, “I’m rereading those books about the historical Jesus you assigned in the Jesus course. They really threw me at the time, and I still don’t agree with them, but some friends and I want to discuss the ideas in them.”

    I too hunger for a world like that in Star Trek: all one’s colleagues are well-educated, competent, sensitive professionals! But Lent is a time to be in the muck, to stay in the wilderness, not to try to create the most pure place on earth (this is precisely what the Christmas Day attempted bomber, and others like him, hunger to do). Purity is in God, and God in Christ came to the muck of our lives. We participate in Christ’s resurrection, as you’ve witnessed; and like Jesus we need to retreat regularly to regain perspective. But even if we need to leave some particular congregations, I think the greatest danger about giving up on every form of institutionalized religion is that we can become blind to the way we reproduce the same patterns in other group settings.

    Those patterns–in us and among us–are part of what we’re called to see, name, and engage in times like Lent. (Or at least, that’s what I’m drawn to this Lent.)


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