Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Still Loving the
Disheveled Bride

For the past thirty-five years, by choice, I've been in and around Christian Churches of almost every description. Utterly setting aside for a moment how one might assess my overall fidelity to the Faith, my best intention has been to be about the business St. Paul writes of in his Epistle to the Church at Philippi: "Be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility. For it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose." (Philippians 2:12b Phillips Translation).

To me this has always meant that, while there are some things only God can do, we are still called to participate in our own lives. This is not a gussied-up version of "God helps those who help themselves" which, while unbiblical, has its merits in context. But neither is it "Just let go and let God" with the sense that our lives are merely on Cosmic Cruise Control until the end of our collective human road-trip.

We have work to be about, we have responsibilities. Our ticket is fully paid for, but no one (and, as I think about it, no One) forces us to get onto the train or ties us to our seats once we're aboard.

The pivotal "face to face" meeting between humankind and the Second Person of the Trinity (Jesus) first happened at His birth. Of course other essential things that are part-and-parcel of the Gospel are to come. Cross, Resurrection, etc. But at the first, it's Incarnation.

We Christian folk rightly like to emphasize that there's nothing anyone can do to earn their way to favor. And, conversely, there's nothing we can stop doing to assuage God's singular and holy commitment to both justice and mercy. But sometimes we're tempted to miss the fact that discipleship requires actual effort. Not earn-your-keep effort, but effort that's necessary to the functioning Body of Christ and to demonstrate that what we believe (or, perhaps, don't believe) has actual, incarnational consequences in the touted real world that we all purport to want to live in.

We're not called to escape this present level of existence, we're called to fully engage with and inhabit it. We're called to INCARNATE, to make flesh-and-blood-real the things we believe. To put our every day existence "money" where our all-too-easy-to-talk-about-it "mouths" are. We are, in a healthy sense not to be found in the DSM-IV, to "act out".

It would take a book's worth of writing to recount some of this and I'm not yet convinced that book is in me, but I'm thinking about it. Part of the reason for this blog is to work out some of these ideas and see where, if anywhere, they might lead. Suffice to say that for every one thing that I might have gotten "right" along the way, I'm pretty sure there's a much longer and more painful list where I've been flat-out, no-excuses "wrong". That pertains to me as an individual and, if I may be allowed to make the leap, to all the individuals who collectively make up the Church.

Those who might not be inclined to darken the door of a church often have an understandable bone to pick with the beliefs and practices found within those pointy structures. I can't blame the suspicious. I'm a card-carrying member of the Congregation and I dearly love the Church. But sometimes I'm just shaking my head over how we manage to collectively snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

I loosely remember a years-ago quote from Brennan Manning where he mixed-and-matched a description of himself as a "son of the Church" but concluded that he, nonetheless, had a "lover's quarrel with Her". (Don't over-think that juxtaposition boys and girls, just move on.)

Somehow we feel strangely drawn to the Family Thanksgiving Dinner even though we know, by definition and experience, there might be some annual disappointment and frustration served up alongside Grandma's righteous stuffing. Yet even with scandals, lunacies, infighting, and serious-damage done, I still want to be part of the Household of Faith. I would like to think this desire is something more mature and insightful than just a siege mentality in sheep's clothing.  

Christianity calls us to be in proximity to others just as whacked out as we are. Close enough to receive a pat on the back or a sucker punch. It's a full-contact Religion. It may look like a Convention of Underachievers, but it takes guts to even attempt to play nice with others. In order to get along with people, you actually have to keep company with them. Not just "friend" them and then ignore their news feed. **

I'm not excusing or minimizing bad behavior in the Church. God forbid. For instance, even now, I'm wrestling with the world-class anti-Semitism from the pens and pulpits of early Churchmen who are still considered to be Heroes of the Faith. How can this be? And what I can I do to make sure it doesn't happen on my watch in the Name of Jesus. Good God, help us.

But as I once answered my Dad after he opined, "Church? It's full of hypocrites." … "Hey, we need a place to gather too!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
** Added on June 13, 2012 at 2:07 p.m. PDT:
After a day of mental percolation, a thought came to the surface and I wanted to add it to this post. The last sentence of this paragraph, while absolutely not a direct lift, is probably attributable to my awareness of a great quote I discovered in mid-March from Dr. Nicholas Perrin"At its worst, Western Protestantism has functionally defaulted to a notion that views the Church as little more than a loose association ... the equivalence of Jesus' Facebook Friends." So while I'm letting my sentence stand as is, in an abundance of caution I'm giving credit to its more-than-likely antecedent.


Ron Metcalf said...

Thanks, Bob, for these insights. I, for one, would run - not walk - to buy any book you would write. I am appreciating the wide range of ideas for your blog entries. Let me suggest the book Soulful Spirituality by David Benner. This speaks a bit about our needing to embrace our humanness in our spiritual journey. On another note - will miss your trip to SC next week as we are heading to Fl. Wish it would have worked as we haven't been able to see you sing for a long time. Grace to you. Ron

Lynn B. said...

You absolutely, positively have a book in you! You're too gifted with words NOT to! I'm a published author and experienced editor, if you want some help. But I sincerely believe you don't need any at all. You're called. Just believe that you're also equipped.