Agnosticism Part Deux

I received several emails and comments this week in regard to last week’s posting about my recent concerns about the ability of the church to form character. The responses ranged from, “You’re just now noticing that??” to “I’m sorry you feel that way. Take an aspirin”, to “Yep, the people in my church are crazy too.”

I attended church today, as I do every Sunday. It is an anchor of stability and hope in my life, not to speak of the community I enjoy there. I brought several concerns and anxieties with me today, and in the moments of silence, prayer, song and eucharist, my heart was quieted and my faith restored. Feelings of loneliness had crept into my heart this weekend because I’ve been so busy this week without any time to really connect with anyone, but today I spent the day with some people from my church like Maryetta, Brett, Tony, Chuck, Jadon, and Carol, and I found my way out of the dark hole to a sense of community and wholeness. I am not “down” on worship or the community that one can find in church. I certainly have had many positive experiences in church that has made the person I am today.

I simply was asking an honest question last week in my entry that not many church people are willing to ask because they don’t have many significant friends in their lives who do not share their same faith or experience with church. I do. My point in my first entry was simply that — when comparing their lives to many people I know in churches — their lives are less anxious and less dramatic. In fact, it is the church experience which is sometimes causing the drama.

I’ve asked myself why this is the case. Why is the place of worship and community where we should find peace and calm the source of so much drama? The church as many people are experiencing it — if they are honest — is not a place where life is being made more whole for them. Why? I think much of it has to do with the assumption that we must always be nice to each other in order to love each other, so anger and hurt goes unexpressed. Churches are made up of volunteers, and it is difficult to fire anyone or tell them to leave. In business, you can rid yourself of drama by just firing its source. In churches, these people are often left to continue bringing up the same issues repeatedly. I also think that some people find church as a place to exercise power that they are unable to exercise in any other part of life. They are “in charge” of something at church, and you would think they had been given charge of a small country because of the way they protect their territory and defend their kingdom. The way this plays itself out often in church contexts is the lonely Messiah who is trying to rescue everyone and everything. They are constantly putting themselves out in service in order to exercise control, then get angry that no one affirms them or wants to follow them. In my experience, those people who try to be the Messiahs of churches are the worst source of dramas that become dysfunctional. I also know some people in churches that are trying to pray away problems that really just need a good therapist.

What is the solution to all of this? I don’t know, but my only point here is that the current model of doing church is not forming Christian character in many cases. Something new is needed. Something more organic, less hierarchial, more honest, and more empowering to live a good life. My guess is that most of it just goes back to confession, forgiveness and the refusal to take up power and to exercise control as the way of being in the church or in the world.

When people are inspired more by Oprah than the church to love, do good, and forgive, something about the church has failed to live up to its claims. Maybe it’s me, but I feel much more inspired to be a better person after listening to Oprah for an hour than after most sermons. Why is that the case?

I still do believe in the importantance of faithful community, and I believe in the power of God to change the church too. But we have to get honest about the situation we find ourselves in if we are to hope for something more. When people see that they can become better people by being in the church rather than apart from it, they will flood the church doors. As long as the church demonstrates that being part of it adds to the drama of life rather than takes it away, they will stay away in droves.

We concluded the service today with one of my favorite hymns, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”. The last line always inspires me, and I never tire of praying it yet again for myself, and today for all of the universal church, “May our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace.”

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