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Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Losing my religion"

It is interesting to be out in the world incognito.

For whatever it is worth, I don't make a point of telling my hairdresser, my friend's parents, folks I meet in writing class and random people in the world that I am a Lutheran pastor.

I sure learn a lot that way.

The conversations I have, and overhear, are both enlightening and ear-splitting. Most are heart-breaking.

People hate the church. Let's be honest about this. People don't feel neutral or indifferent. They're either in it and of it or they really really hate it.

The reasons for hating "organized religion" are often personal and various but they generally come round to one basic, grounding point. As the poet and playwright wrote, "Somebody almost walked away with all of my stuff."

Abusing power takes many forms. I spent years fighting against and responding to the scurge of sexual abuse, which seems not to have abated, just gone underground again.

But the abuse of power can be subtle and all the more dangerous. A recent news story tells of a Catholic hospital refusing HIV meds to a patient because, well, you know. The controversy around contraception continues.

Freedom from, and of religion was articulated as early as the ancient Greeks. They knew the danger of messing with power and the spirits of persons.

Spiritual life can not be imposed or implied. It cannot be enforced. The human spirit will go its own way.

Which leads to a multitude of abuses all their own. Anarchy in the spiritual realm is as potentially dangerous as dictated spiritual life.

Which leads me to this: life asks a lot of us. It asks of us respect, carefulness, kindness. It asks of us a brain -- to not fall for anything. And a heart -- to not push our experience of the divine down anyone else's throat. It asks of us decency, to speak truth as we know it. And to challenge one another.

It asks us, god forbid, to be intelligent. Much of what I hear from outside the church is mush. It is intellectually nonsense. It is reactionary and shallow. To my mind. And yet I respect the experience that is searching for articulation.

And it comes back around to this: Somebody messed with me, with my mind, my spirit, my body and I didn't like it so I quit. They might not be able to explain it to the satisfaction of the great minds of our time, or any time, and so we ridicule them. Not fair at all.

They are on to something. It is the abuse of power. Messing with folks. Using the gift of divine grace to impose, manipulate, screw with. In whatever fashion.

If the church wants to survive -- and maybe God has new plans for getting the word out, it has become that serious -- we are going to have to clean up our act. And first of all, we are going to have to own up, humbly without excuse or self-exhonoration, to our badness. We are not what Jesus wanted. Not always and maybe even not often enough. It is not just odd balls who screw up. It is the institution itself. We have to apologize. And be open.

We must listen more than we speak, which is why I sit there while Ty puts stuff in my hair to make it come out looking lighter and let him rant and rave. He has a real beef, a real story. Then I ask a few questions. Gentle, respectful. He could like Jesus. He might even follow Jesus. But he is not going to be going to any of our churches anytime soon.

What are we going to do about that?

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