Someone about whom I care deeply, 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 some 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 up and spit me 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 at so many levels and in so many ways . 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 it’s 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 do 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.” We’re still here.
I do enjoy the mischievous half-sensical voices that pop up in you! And your words called to mind an article I read today by Peter Marty (Lutheran pastor in Davenport) called “Part mystery, part mess: Unity over uniformity in the church.” I think you’d like it a lot (it’s short, and available at http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=10029 A taste of it: “The significance and risk of this togetherness [in church with people with whom we disagree] is too much for some. Plenty of people take one look and opt out. They prefer believing in themselves, or at least more in their own story. Freelance discipleship sounds a lot better than attaching oneself to some older story, however wiser it may be. . . . A make-up-your-own-spirituality-every-day sounds more tantalizing than hanging around some unholy assortment of people who refer to themselves as Christ’s body.”
And: “An incomparable joy arises when people of faith recognize the image of God in those who aren’t constructed exactly in their image. We might say, ‘Blessed are those who do not leave a church simply to find one where everyone else thinks like they do.'”
You are among few blessed to see the Truth, to recognize life is technicolor, rather than black and white, and dominated by the Light. Your post made me think of one of my own (one I remember now that I still need to revise because I was too eager for feedback to postpone publication)… http://mollyjayne40.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/the-way-one-truth-gods-love/ It’s not my best post, but I thought you might like reading it.
Thanks yet again for your response. Reading Peter Marty’s article reminded me of Flannery O’Conner’s galvanizing phrase in “Everything That Rises Must Converge:” “the bleeding, stinking, mad shadow of Jesus.” That is precisely the wonder of a resurrected life, as paradoxical as it might sound. That’s precisely where I want to be for eternity.
I enjoyed your post very much and am glad to know about your blog. I do truly believe that Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life. But, I also believe, and I think that Church teaching supports this, that there is no path that Christ will not walk down to find us and to gather us to himself. I pray for a Church that is less eager to fence people out for one reason and another, and more eager to BE the Body and Blood of Christ in the world, continually broken and poured out.
…and a follow-up comment. When I heard those brutal words that day in my office, I was unaware that St. Augustine had spoken almost identical words, “The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.” Tony Campolo does a good job of elucidating the whole business at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/mayweb-only/118-22.0.html