Monday, August 17, 2009
The fray that is called Church
Returning from vacation is much like starting a new school year, January 1st, or an anniversary. It is a time of renewed energy and purpose. To that end, I am going to try to post something daily on this site again. I have gotten quite lazy about addressing the issues of church, faith and daily living. The laziness often comes from fatigue but it also comes from a certain ennui that comes from being in the Church.
Both of our traditions have had national Church meetings this summer. The Episcopal Church had theirs in June. The Lutheran Church-Wide Assembly begins today. Church politics is something that many want to ignore or deny. But any organization has a political character to it. Whenever people are united in a specific cause, there are politics. But Church politics often seems to be somehow un-holy, or demeaning. Often I hear people cite “church politics” as the reason they don’t go to church. But what they are really saying is that they don’t want to deal with controversy.
Controversy is at the center of Church. It cannot be helped. Whenever someone who has faith discusses their faith with another there is likely to be controversy. Whenever we have those deep and abiding relationships with the Divine, we are likely to find that even our best friends have different ways of describing their own relationship with the Holy. When we talk about our experience, we want others to share our experience rather than entertain that their experience might be informative or enlighten us. And often we want to “win others to think the way we do” in order to reinforce our own relationship with God rather than listen to the unique experience of the other.
I must admit that one of the things that drew me to the Episcopal Church when I left Rome was their polity. I love the democratic process as it relates to the development of faith. I believe that groups of people can, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, come to faithful renderings of the path for the Church. I have been gratified by finding much of the same attitude in the ELCA. Of course, it takes lots of discussion, lots of listening and some political savvy to accomplish things in either Church on the governmental level. And yes, there are always those who lose. But the democratic system works, both in state and in church as a way to address the needs of folks and help us plot our way. It is part of the checks and balances of the church.
I have also heard others, usually those who are not winning, complain that God is not about majority decision. Of course that is true. God is about speaking not only to our individual hearts, but God is also about leading us in ways that we can share, not by edict but by mutual consent. In the Episcopal world, the delegates to convention talk online about the issues as they face the Church. Sometimes there is some tedium to the discussion; sometimes the rhetoric can be galling. Those who are not delegates can follow the conversations and may join in if another delegate will post it for them. I follow these conversations because it is a way for me to remain current in my own tradition. But also it makes me take seriously the opinions not my own. In no other church publication can I find this level of dialogue going on. I have not found this discussion in the ELCA. It may be that it is going on, but I just don’t know how to access it.
But all of this kind of discussion can tire one. It sometimes leaves me stale and unimaginative in the face of the liturgy, parish life, and the mundane life of a Christian. Sometimes the awesome responsibility of Church takes its toll in the way I live my life in Christ. In other word, I get grumpy!
This is why vacations are a necessity! Just sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in, no book, no discussion, no thoughts in my head, was remarkably refreshing. I am not generally a beach babe. My Celtic skin is too prone to sunburn to be comfortable, but this past week was temperate and kind. The sunburn isn’t bad and is actually turning sort of brown. The wind blew away the fatigue; the sun baked out the parish-based tension and I was cradled in God’s generous bounty. The rhetoric and the issues were drowned in the roar of waves.
Now I throw myself back into the fray that is called Church refreshed and renewed.