Shekinah Glory

I a) hate b) love the church
May 27, 2011, 1:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I admit it; the pace of change inside the church frustrates me. It seems to me like God’s people are constantly dragging their feet when they should be running a race. I look at issues of justice and see people who are using ancient tactics and fighting yesterday’s fights. They want validity from younger generations without supporting them with power, resources or their causes. Those social justice gatekeepers seem to only want younger people to do the work for them on their same old worn out issues and then berate the next generation for not having the commitment that they had.

In ecclesiology the church has become enamored with paper and words. We have become captivated with resolutions, open letters (yes I know I’ve done them), declarations, checking boxes instead of having relationships, manifestos, and increasing our policies. It is death one paper cut at a time. Our constitutions become longer and acceptance of institutional deviance becomes less tolerable.

In class the people who claim to be the most progressive often are the ones with the most elitist values. They talk a good game about the poor, but are cliquish and rude to those outside of their tribe. Love is so important to them except when it comes to discipline or a trenchant defense of one of their charismatic minions. There seems to be an unspoken disdain for the religious politics of the right when many swallow the talking points of the moderate left hook, line and sinker.

There is revulsion for things that are “common” and the things that most people find value in their lives. It is not only a segregation of race in many of our churches, but of class as well. I have often said that in most Presbyterian Churches my family of truckers, linemen, factory workers and Wal-Mart employees would feel quite uncomfortable. The Sunday school material is for people with college educations and the sermons amount to professorial lectures.

I yearn to talk with barista’s, waitresses, day workers, dishwashers and retail clerks. Yet, it seems that the churches I know are interested in doctors, lawyers, teachers, bankers and “professionals”. Both pastors and laity have told me people need to feel comfortable in the place that they worship. So, why do I stay engaged to situations that frustrate me? Why shouldn’t I just start my own non-profit, or emerging worship consortium?

The words of the desert mystic Carlo Carretto always convict me on this count. He had been a prominent Catholic youth advocate when he gave up everything to live in the Sahara desert with the Little Brothers of Jesus. In the same vein he proclaims:

How much I criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you!

How you have made me suffer and yet how much I own you.

I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.

You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand holiness.

Never in the world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous, or more beautiful.

How often I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face—and how often I have prayed that I might die in your arms!

No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even though not completely you.

So, I will continue upon this road until my God diverts my path. I contain within me an immense anger with the church’s wicked, slothful and wasteful use of people and resources. I hate to see people’s excitement, joy and energy being sapped by petty and dying gasps. Still, I am a part of this body, this organism that claims to value life. It is a group that yearns for love, mercy, justice, peace and freedom as an outgrowth of that life that they have found. More often than I am willing to admit it is this same church whose members rescue my faith and me numerous times. If these saints can show me mercy what then is my excuse?


9 Comments so far
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Beautiful post and I resonate with almost everything you’ve said, save one–the need to stay. That which I find life-giving in the church–a sense of community for example–I experience only in glimpses, and find its equal elsewhere. My local community centre or my book club, for example, provide opportunities for connection, meaning, and service without all the petty politics and baggage of holier environs.

Comment by After the Pulpit

After the pulpit~

I affirm your choices and have been there as well. I am very excited that you have found connection, meaning and service outside an exclusively religious community. I would say you are where you need to be.

In my direct experience though many post-evangelicals feel the need to live even outside the church in an either/or context that is similar to their evangelical past. It has been more healing and formative for me to live with ambiguity and much less certainty than either my evangelical/fundamentalist or neo-atheist/agnostic friends proselytize.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Brian I love this post… So many points of resonance. Do you think that is what Paul must have felt as he struggled to articulate what God had given him for the church? And what so many prophetic voices through the ages have struggled with? It feels almost like the forlorn cry of the lover “I wish I could quit you” mixed with a very distinct call that sits deeper in one’s soul than desire and aches as it is fulfilled and yet not. Maybe it is the honest human response to a church that is living between realms. Dunno… But thanks for making me ponder this morning :o)

Comment by elbyviau

Strange but true and hopefully comforting in some weird way: all that you express here is felt as well by many of us in lay ministry. Love/hate/love the church and the grief/joy/grief ride is exhausting. One of the many reasons I treasure the support I find from faith folk on Twitter in general and via @Virtual_Abbey in particular.

Comment by Meredith Gould

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for faithful people like you.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Brian, thanks for this. You’ve named some of my struggles as well. Especially with “Why shouldn’t I start my own [fill in the blank]?”

I may yet do that, but every time I think about quitting church to do something (anything!) else, I’m reminded of how much I love the church, with all her flaws. And how much I have been loved by the church, with all my flaws.

Comment by Dave Buerstetta

My struggle is often against ego. 😉

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Preach it, brother. And always keep in mind; we’re called to be faithful, not successful. May it be so.

Comment by Dan Webster

Thanks Dan.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

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