What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Conversation in the UHaul

The main activity of my weekend involved sifting through the papers, toys, books and other various things from my childhood that had been stored for the past 12 years in my parents' attic. One of the downsides of Dad's dismissal as President of New Brunswick Theological Seminary is that he and my mother had to vacate their seminary home. This wouldn't have been so difficult had it not be so large, thus allowing for the accumulation of every postcard, photo and stuffed animal with which I could never imagine parting.

Add to those things the 120,000 baseball cards I had obsessively collected and my seminary-mandated "pastor's library" of MDiv related books, and I quickly realized it was going to take a UHaul to get all the stuff back to Brooklyn.

Thankfully, my kindhearted brother helped me load the truck. He and I then drove it together, bopping along the Staten Island Expressway hoping my one fancy framed poster didn't crack along the way.

Midway through our sojourn, my non-churchgoing brother turned to me and said, "have you ever noticed the way the church mandates what people should think? And how it forces people to conform to what they think people should be?"

The cynical older sister part of me wanted to say, "wow John, I had never thought of that before, but thanks for telling me." I'm sure he would have added something along the lines of "Yeah, I sure love watching our parents move out of their house after Dad got tossed out of being a minister for officiating at your wedding."

Instead, though, I nodded my head and acknowledged the honesty of his driver's seat critique of the church. Of all of us, it's my brother who I feel the church has failed the most. Like me, he grew up in the church, but he refuses to be boxed in or to have his faith controlled by some outside institution. He'll show up for worship occasionally, but he doesn't do so because he feels obligated. He won't have his thoughts or faith controlled by the church. He's seen the institution cause too much pain to too many people to want to participate in it fully. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, he's seen what's behind the curtain and knows that the wizards of the church don't match up with the Jesus of the Bible.

This wizard stuff isn't just about the brouhaha of the past year and my dad. It's about the subtle ways in which the church works to enforce racism, sexism, classism and U.S. imperialism. It's about the ways in which church folks fight, and how they talk more about you than with with you.

I've always ribbed my brother about not attending church. One time over dinner I went through the familiar "here is the church; here is the steeple; open the doors - but where is John?" It was pretty funny at the time, but nonetheless, I'm saddened and ashamed that someone as caring and compassionate and honest as my brother might not feel that he has a place in the church.

There are countless other people who have recognized the church's hypocrisy and who have abandoned ship. They haven't abandoned their faith, but they have withdrawn from the visible church - either by not participating, or by just going through the motions. I've even caught a glimpse of this in myself this summer - my own boundless enthusiasm for ministry has dimmed somewhat. Why bother working to get people excited about Christ if they are going to encounter such hypocrisy?

Yet, I maintain hope - hope for my brother and for myself and for the church itself. Hope that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.


At 4:30 PM, Blogger Friday Mom said...

One of the wonderful things about blogging is the way in which thoughts from one blog to another begin to converge in interesting ways. I just read a post at Kathryn's blog, Good in Parts, in which she has a picture of a poster that says, "We should be followers of the running God who causes a commotion by going to the periphery to make it a center of light." I don't much like being pushed to the margins, like you and your brother have been, but I do wonder if it isn't somehow a gift. Maybe that's where the light is, where hope is found.


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