I came across these paragraphs this morning in a meditation by Richard Rohr. I think they summarize much of what we have spoken of in our discussions on the church as an institution:
As Phyllis Tickle (1934-2015) reflected, in the process of building necessary structure in institutions, we eventually “elaborate, encrust, and finally embalm them with the accretion of both our fervor and our silliness. At that point there is no hope for either religion or society, save only to knock the whole carapace off ourselves and start over again.”
With each reformation, we don’t need to start from scratch but return to the foundations of our Tradition. We don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, but reclaim the essential truths. And remember that truth anywhere is truth everywhere. With each rebirth, Christianity becomes more inclusive and universal, as it was always meant to be.
My perspective is, of course, as one who, now, sits on the sidelines, outside the church as an institution looking in. I know first hand what it means to “keep the institution going and growing” and at the same time struggle to move it closer to “following Jesus.” Those two things often are incompatible and at odds. Unfortunately, I see “keeping the institution going” as winning the contest and clergy just going along to get along. And that’s in the mainline (even progressive) Protestant churches and denominations.
What about evangelical, fundamentalist congregations and denominations? As for “following Jesus,” in America this often is interpreted through the eyes of evangelicalism’s “individual salvation in Jesus Christ,” where following Jesus is understood as securing one’s heavenly reward and obeying petty moralisms while ignoring the gospel and the “weightier matters of the law,” that is God’s universal love and the call to live the Realm of God now in justice, mercy, peace and divine, inclusive love of creation and humanity.
This “ evangelical” understanding, seen most prevalently in white congregations and denominations, then reinforces Christian tribalism allowing for and reinforcing fear of those who aren’t “like us.” The evils of xenophobia, bigotry, racism, misogyny (ironically embraced even by evangelical white women regarding control over their own bodies), nationalism and jingoism thrive. Individuals within the group are encouraged and urged to hit the sawdust trail to salvation as the ultimate initiation rite into the tribe, while the tribe sticks together in cultural fear and animosity toward others.
Anyway, those are some of my thoughts this Sunday morning. Maybe a poem a little later on.