I’ve found myself getting caught up once again in arguments with people on certain blogs that come to no good end, at least as far as I can understand. Perhaps, God in His providence does something and perhaps lurkers take away something worth while. Actually, I’ve found myself in an argument on one blog and a discussion on another, but on both of them I find myself the odd-man-out – too liberal for some and too conservative for others. At least on the more liberal blog, the discussion is civil and respectful. I wish I could say the same for the other blog.
Anyway, I’ve found myself distressed too much, again. I can’t do anything, can’t convince anyone even if I should, even as I try to persuade individuals to step back for a moment and consider the call of God to love even our enemies, to lay down our lives even unto death for a friend. Now, one might die for the sake of a friend, but how much more is love shown if one gives up life for an enemy! What love – a love of a kind demonstrated by Jesus. We are called to such a kind of love, but how difficult is it for us to understand and imagine such love in our broken world, even now in our broken Church. We do not listen well, even if we hear. We do not attend to God’s call nearly enough. We miss so much.
There was a point in my life when I nearly chucked the whole church thing. This was before I became an Episcopalian and before I discovered Anglicanism. I wouldn’t chuck God, because I experienced God on deep levels that would not allow me to simply turn away, no matter how fed up I was with church and people who claimed to be Christians.
There is part of me that feels like chucking everything all over again, but I know I cannot. I’m fed up with all the acrimony, all the stubbornness, all the self-righteous and arrogant pride, all the hypocrisy. The second chapter of Romans begins with a charge of a kind to not judge – who are we to judge in our own blindness and sin? “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Right after Paul got those Roman listeners all riled up with “Amen’s” and “Hallelujahs” in the previous verses, he socks it to ’em by saying you folks are doing the very same things – so stop making yourselves out to be all superior and all better than and all holier than thou! Who are you!?
As I’ve gotten all sucked back into these same, tired debates and arguments… my joy leaves, my anxiety returns, and I become discouraged because I know that all of us and this Church in all our troubles continue to set a very poor example of Jesus and the love of a kind we cannot fathom but are yet called to live into and exemplify for a devastated world.
We present to the world an example of a profoundly deficient life in a Gospel that we proclaim to be all sufficient. No wonder we decrease in attendance; no wonder people pay little attention to our prognostications; no wonder they look at us and say that they really would rather go get a cup of coffee and read the New York Times than attend to their souls in the Church.
God touches souls, and they can do nothing else but respond. These institutions of ours and these battles we fight over purity, doctrinal exactitude, and perfection of life when perfection is simply not possible – it all add up to us all being like the Pharisees of old stacking up laws and regulations upon the shoulders of people looking for some kind of peace. Jesus came to take upon Himself our heavy burdens – his yoke is light. Who are we to pile them up? Jesus demands everything, and in return we are given everything made new.
I came across the following while doing some investigative work for my job. It is posted on a rector’s blog and quotes a portion of a sermon delivered by another priest. I think this is what I’ve tried to say in my head, in my deficient writing, in my arguments to people that are all caught up in the externals. Here is the source of the quote, the rector’s blog, World of Our Making.
“Tom was our preacher on Sunday, and his sermon moved me and many others deeply. Speaking on the Gospel text from Mark 1:40-45, where a leper is cleansed and made whole by the gentle and willing touch of Jesus, Tom related a story about attending a recent concert by the famed violinist Joshua Bell at Avery Fisher Hall in New York.”
After an ovation from the packed house at the end of the program, Bell offered his rendition of Massenetâ€™s â€œMeditationâ€ from â€œThaÃ¯sâ€ as an encore. You could just hear the intake of breath, not only because people recognized it, but because it was so extraordinarily gracious, beautiful and soft. People were sitting forward in their chairs, there was a hush in the hall. Everybody stopped coughing if you could imagine that. Bell gets to the very end and plays a final series of ascending notes which ends with a suspended harmonic, the finger just barely touching the string. The harmonic was ethereal, as if you had climbed the stairway to the angels. It was stunning. I was in tears. And I turned to my wife and said, â€œHow can a human being do such a thing?â€
Before Jesus became the centerpiece of an institution, the alleged source of doctrine, rules, boundaries and walls, he came into a world of desperation, a world of oppression, a world of brokenness, a world in need of healing. He came to all peopleâ€”the sick, the sorrowful, the excluded, and he also came to the proper, the establishment, and the winners. He came to all of them and rested his finger lightly over their livesâ€”not the heavy hand of Caesar, not the heavy hand of the religious establishment, not the heavy hand of right opinion and doctrine, but the light, almost not-quite-there touch of grace. He put his fingers on their lives, and he played a harmonic, he played a note in their lives that no one had every played before. He took the common stuff of their instruments, which in the eyes of the world was nothing, and he touched them so gracefully that they produced a sound, a love, a community, a life, that was like a new harmonic and they became a thing of beauty.
How can we as the body of Christ, the People of God, be present in times like these? How do we turn around a long 45 year decline in membership attendance [in the Episcopal Church and other mainline denominations], and how can we turn around the moral drift of these historic times and the bitterness that is so prevalent in our land right now? How do we take all that weâ€™ve been given, which is good, and how do we make it beautiful? How do we make it sing?
I believe that we can do it. God wantâ€™s us to do it. And the world desperately needs us to do it. And we will do it not with the heavy hand of a prideful institution. We will not do it with the pride of Caesar or the wealth of Caesar. We will not do it with wonderfully organized hierarchies of power. We will not do it with careful allocation of privileges. We will not do it with right opinion or impenetrable doctrine. We will do it by placing our fingers on peopleâ€™s lives and just barely touching them, playing a note that is not a note that anyone has heard in those lives before. God working through us can give us the capacity to touch and to make music, to take our common stuff and play it higher and more beautifully than its ever been played and make of us a song.
And if we can get out of our own way and let go of all the things that stand between us, people will turn to each other as I turned to my wife, and they will say, â€œHow can this be? How can people do this?â€ And the answer will be, â€œItâ€™s by the grace and mercy and love, and power, of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.â€
Individually, if we yield, if we have patience, if we do not think ourselves to great or wonderful or pure, if we can believe ourselves to be wrong for but a moment, then perhaps God through Christ can heal us of our illness and teach us to love ourselves and others not as the world teaches us to “love,” but by the way God defines it, perhaps our lives will be as the sound coming from an instrument played by a master. Perhaps people can be moved. Perhaps people will see something worthwhile and true about this Gospel we proclaim. Perhaps by God’s providence people will be drawn by good examples and be saved. Perhaps.
Perhaps all those confused and hurting and searching people might turn to each other as they look upon us and say, “How can a human being do such a thing?” That’s just it – these human beings can’t but for the Grace of God, and only with God’s help.