Saturday, January 25, 2014

The PB is coming; The PB is coming.

Years ago I remember a very funny move:  The Russians are coming; the Russians are coming.  It came out at the height of the Cold War.  And it is the story of a rather inept and bumbling Soviet submarine and crew that run aground on the isolated Maine coast while trying to see what the US was like.  Of course the people of the remote fishing village think they are being invaded and the plot goes downhill from there.  It starred Carl Reiner, Theodore Bikel, Eva Marie Saint, Allen Arkin and Jonathan Winters.  And the title, of course, comes from the historic Paul Revere ride.  It poked fun at provincialism that was keeping the people of Russia and the people of the US from finding that they had more in common than the nationalistic jingoism was protraying.  It raised up just how absurd the posturing of the governments and  military-industrial complexes of both nations were when humans really wanted the same thing: freedom and safety to live their lives in peace. 

In a couple of weeks the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori and the President of the House of Deputies, Gay Clarke Jennings are coming to the Diocese of F
TW to offer a program of "Re-imagining the Church" for the diocese.  There has been really very little organized conversation in the parishes or among the clergy to prepare for this event.  There HAS been a good  bit of gossip, however.  I have heard every thing from "SHE is coming to appoint a new bishop"; "SHE is coming to shut down our diocese"; SHE is coming to make us join the Diocese of Texas"  ..... the Russians are Coming; the Russians are coming...

This is the kind of gossip that surfaces in a climate where the people have had a long history of being kept out of loop.  It is the kind of gossip that unwinds when there is not enough open discussion or transparency and ancient fears come to surface.  I do not fault our leadership.  I am just recognizing that the historical isolation of  past regimes still reside among us and how we fall prey to those old patterns even when we were not part of their formation.  The problem is that we are not looking at the old patterns and owning our complicity in them so that we CAN re-imagine a Church for the future.

I can't make it more clear than to say that neither the Presiding Bishop nor the President of the House of Deputies have the power to shut us down, make us join another diocese or make us do anything.  And what I know of ++Katharine and Gay+ is that they do not operate that way by way of nature.  They are here to help us us think again of what it means to be Church.  ++Katharine did it five years ago and is visiting us to see how it is going.

There is also a temptation to think that our diocese is the only one doing this. And many of us are tired and discouraged by legal delays. We may be the first, and perhaps the most in need, but re-imagining is something that is happening all over the Church.  In fact, it is happening in nearly every denomination and even in non-denominational churches.  Church, as I have known it and given my life to for almost 50 years is not like it once was.  On the one hand, thanks be to God!  I would not care to revisit the types of control, the types of brutal teachings that we once taught that excluded folk because they were not of the same race, culture, sex, or class or whatever.  On the other, there are important things that have been lost that I grieve:  I miss the flexibility and liquid form of government that we once had that honored each order of ministry with the authority to work with the others.  And most of all, I miss the freedom to disagree with one another without the kitchen sink being thrown.  I miss the laughter that having different opinions used to engender and the trips to the local pub to discuss what faith meant.  I miss the center of the ministry being in the local parish and unique rather than programed from the diocese or national headquarters or some publishing house.   

I have invested nearly my whole adult life to herding cats in the name of Christ, I know.  But the word religion means to 'bind oneself to', yet it is the oxymoron of faith that the more I bind myself to  relationship with the Holy, the freer I become.  The transformation that the relationship of God finally leaves me with is that I find myself watching this 'Re-imagining' from afar.  Not because I am above it or because I am not interested, but because the intricacies of the institution no longer grab my attention.  I am more concerned that the people I meet can carry on a conversation about Christ without fear, can look at their lives and find the Holy, and can be convicted by goodness, truth and justice.

I remember a colleague being outraged that one of his professors in seminary, the great Joe Fletcher (Situational Ethics) no longer attended church.  J. had also studied with Joe and I asked her about that.  She said, "I think Joe just outgrew church."  That statement has stuck with me.  I find many of
the people I have respected as faithful and faith-filled people have left the Church because we have allowed the Church to be controlled by those whose visions are too short: Lay, Bishops and Clergy.

The Church, as an institution, has become less conscious of the Spirit and more conscious of how we follow can 'fit in' in the corporate 'realities' of our society.  The anxieties are more about how we are going to pay the bills than how we are going live out the love of Christ, how we are going to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the truth we are before God and how to find the Incarnation in others. I have never known that to be a cost driven effort.

It is interesting in the movie I cited above that the way that the Russian and the Maniacs were able 
resolve the 'invasion' without annihilating each other and starting WWIII was by working together to save the life of a child.  Perhaps what our Re-Imagining needs is the willingness to take the focus off ourselves.   We need opportunities to work with one another for a common good, for our children who no longer attend or for those who have outgrown the Church.

I will not leave the Church.  Some years ago a bishop who had been attacked for saying critical things of the Church invited me to 'die with him' for the sake of the Church.  It was a charge I have never forgotten.   The liturgy alone is food for life, death and resurrection.  It is what continues to transform me as I face my declining years.  We need to find ways that those of us who have invested our souls in the life of the Church are not turned away simply because it appears that we have outgrown it.