Sunday, August 21, 2005

Going Back to Church -a Definite Maybe

I went to church today. This is a cautious, once burned twice shy, definite-maybe sort of return. But I really am trying. The thing is, this return is emotionally and spiritually difficult. Today is the first Sunday of the academic year, and therefore time to fill out the annual Time and Talent cards. How will I interact with the various ministries of the church as we try to live out our mission in the world? I couldn’t fill it out. I stared at that yellow card and discovered that I’m not quite as “back” as I thought I was.

Here’s why.

As our parish is assigned more and more conservative priests, more and more conservative people start coming to the church. Where were they before? I have NO idea. Were they the ones having little home liturgies, praying for a return to the church they know and love? And the liberals start to be squeezed out -out of staff positions, out of leadership positions, just plain out of the pews. So, people like me are at church in dwindling numbers and with a correspondingly dwindling voice, as well. Can I be in community with these people? I just don’t know yet.

My young-adult children have chosen not to go to church, now that it's their decision to make. At first, that really hurt me. It felt like I'd failed somehow. (Of course, it's all about ME!!!! Sigh....) What I mean is, I wasn't worried about their eternal salvation or anything. I just felt kind of surprised that they were making the same decision for the same (essentially sophomoric) reasons that many young people choose not to go to church. On the other hand, the Catholic Church is a hard sell, even on a good day. A person has to work pretty hard to understand that the stuff that seems strange or even silly, can make sense when you understand the rationale and the principles and the history....

On the other other hand (hey, it's early), sometimes the silly stuff IS just plain silly. The more I listen to my kids and their reasons for not going to church, the more they make sense to me. It is absurd that institutionally we valued priestly power and privacy over children's safety. The new repetitions of the policies re: homosexuality aren't just silly; they're frightening. Exactly why aren't we ordaining women, for crying out loud?

Sometimes when we stay in the circle, we unconsciously start to mimic the language of the people striving to protect their own power. "Gradual, thoughtful change is the way of the church. We have to move carefully. The church has a long history; we'll get around to the changes you seek." Well, God bless the people who step outside the circle and point out the possibility that some of this stuff is just wrong.

When Henri Nouwen talked about the "ministry of absence" he meant more like the dark night of the soul -but maybe we could poetically borrow his phrase and see if there's some use to this migration of people away from the church.

But in the meantime, I’m trying to come back. I just can’t fill out this darn Time and Talent card yet.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I thought long and hard about it, and reached the opposite decision. They may not think of me as an ideal person to have, but, damn it, it's my church as well as theirs. I ticked off for lector and EM. I'm giving the choir a pass, at least for now, because (a) it's going to be a damn busy semester and I'm not liking the idea of having to squeeze out time for rehearsals, and (b) I'm not really sure I like the musical direction they've taken since I was there last. (Though given the cantor this morning, maybe some fresh blood is what they need.)

Same for RCIA. Been there, done that. More than once. But the last guy I sponsored was one of those conservatives. He and I never really clicked, and I regret that. And, again, I just don't see where I'd find the time.

It's times like these when I see the wisdom in whoever it was wrote the song "Lord of the Grey." Despite the passionate desire of conservatives everywhere to have the world be either black or white, those of us in the reality-based community recognize that it's almost never that way: just a darker or a lighter shade of grey.

I love the liturgical expression of the Catholic faith. I love the traditions. I love the rhythm of the liturgical year. I like having a connection to that again. But I don't like the authoritarian structure, I don't like the fact that the present hierarchy would cheerfully chuck me out on my ear, and you, just because of who we are and how we look at the world. I don't like the fact that our clergy have become less shepherds to their flocks and more lawyers to make sure that everybody in the pews knows "his" place (as they would express it), and doesn't stray from the orthodox line too far or too publicly.

And I worry about how angry I get at all the BS in the world--and in the Church--these days. Not that I want to remain complacent in the face of what is so obviously wrong and distorted and even evil. But I'm worrying that maybe my "anger" switch is at risk of getting stuck in the full "on" position.

Où sont les neiges d'antan?, indeed.