For a couple of days now, I’ve been engaged in an email conversation with a the pastor of a former church of mine. It has been about 5 or 6 years since we last spoke. We ended our previous association on a bad note since I had gone to him for counseling and he provided some very astute statements that pissed me off then, but I now realize were pretty much on target. I never liked how our friendship ended or that we had bad feelings. So, good 12-stepper that I am, I tried to apologize and make amends where I felt that I had been particularly mean. I didn’t apologize for having beliefs and feelings contrary to his. I only apologized for unkind statements.
It’s interesting. I’m in a much better place, mentally and spiritually, than I was then. I no longer feel anxiety when confronting him with what I believe. In fact I find it fascinating in a new context. The dread I once felt about spiritual authority figures is now mostly gone. I even had the guts to tell him that I no longer place any blame on myself for the church’s failing me. Because of course, he places no blame on the church, only on those of us who find things wrong with it. For him, the individual Christian needs to adjust their attitude to live in community, not the other way around. He is still singing the same one-note song: “Christians are not meant to be alone. Christians should go to church. There’s nothing wrong with the church if we had the proper attitude and so on.” I can’t even muster up enough anger anymore about such head-in-the-sand thinking. That’s too easy of a target.
But I can now say to him without fear some of the things I’ve learned in the last six years: Christians ARE in community when they go to work, talk to their neighbors, communicate online, and any other time that they engage in public debate and conversation with others. Iron sharpens iron, whether it’s in the next pew or in cyberspace. I told him that I found faith where ever I could find it and not just in a building, designated as a church. I almost feel sorry for him now, because he can’t help but mouth the same words over and over again. It’s his livelihood after all.
To be fair, he is nothing but gracious towards me, almost to the point of being subdued. I think his family has been through some hard times. But I’ve always liked him and his wife. They are just like you and me. He pastors and home schools their kids. She is an accountant and works outside the home. But they are committed to their faith and their church and there is no room for thinking outside the box. It’s sad really. There is so much potential out there as we see in the Emergent Church movement. (Not the “emerging” variety ala Driscoll either, which is the same old church dogma dressed up for new generations)
You know, I love to study religion. I love to talk about religion. I love to debate religious issues. I miss the community. But, I love spiritual and intellectual integrity more. I’ve realized that I am unwilling to be the only thing about my faith community that changes. So, if the church isn’t changing, it’s not up to me to sit quietly hoping that something will happen. No, it’s up to me to create my own sacred space, where ever and when ever I can find it.