Friday, June 02, 2006

Making the invisible visible

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
(1st Corinthians 15:3-5)
This is my only passion,
The very reason why I live...
To make You known
And to make You seen
To be Your hands
And to be Your feet
Oh, I want to be
A revelation of love
Oh, I...I want to make
The invisible God

(From the song "Visible," by 4Him)
This passage from 1st Corinthians, and this song by the group 4Him have been ringing in my ears ever since I got back from visiting with my sisters over Memorial Day.

I had two-and-a-half days of pretty deep conversations with sister Sue and her husband Jeff. Maybe it was the visit to the cemetery that triggered the discussions. After all, Jeff's father is buried there; his mother, he and Sue all have plots there. But my parents donated their body to science, and the remains were cremated. There is no plot, no "place to visit" in our family. (My parents really taught us that there is no value in honoring the flesh, once the spirit has fled.) At any rate, that visit to the cemetery seemed to spur lots of serious talk, which was kind of a first in a long while.

Jeff has been a life long Missouri Synod Lutheran; their family was one of the founding families of their church. Sue, coming from my own tradition of lapsed Catholicism, goes to church when Jeff goes (which is not often). I found my way back to church and faith while getting sober; Sue went back to church with her husband, but I'm not sure she ever found faith again.

As we talked about issues of life, death, and faith, all they could see of church was a restrictive list of shall-nots, and not the living presence of Christ in the world.

They both questioned the validity of the church as a whole, because of lots of things related to their own church: its absolute insistence on belief in the "real presence of Christ" to receive communion, the refusal to ordain women (or to even respect women who are ordained in other denominations), the insistence that music not performed on a pipe organ is not holy music...the list went on and on.

I wanted to weep. Repeatedly.

Insistence on dogma. Raising tradition to the status of commandment. Clinging to this proof-text or that key verse of Scripture as a way of drawing people in or keeping them out. A select group of men deciding whether certain people are (or are not) going to Hell. Churches (like the one in question) who post signs on the wall saying, "Free Coffee. Eternal life. Yes, membership has its privileges."


Pointing to institutions and the traditions, instead of to the Savior.

Early on Memorial Day morning, I actually awoke while it was still dark from a dream that I'd gone to this church, grabbed the pastor by the lapels, and (misquoting a famous politician) declared, "It's the GOSPEL, stupid!" I found myself going back to 1st Corinthians 15 (my own personal credo) time and time again.

And I wished that churches who claim the name of Christ could put away all the petty differences, all the exclusionary and persecutory crap, and do the same. To preach Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. To preach hope, rather than despair. To preach inclusion, rather than exclusion.

What a wonderful world that would be...

Lord God, help each of us as followers of Christ be sure of Who and what we are worshiping. Help us focus on the "first imporantance" things: life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In everything we do this day, let us ensure that we are sharing Your love and helping to make you Visible to a world that needs to see You so very badly. Amen...


Mind the Bear said...

Steve, I SOOOO agree with you. And I'm a "company man" when it comes to the institution. Even so, I get so disgusted with the institution, I could spit.

Frederick Buechener (writer and theologian) expressed some of these same sentiments in his book, "Telling Secrets," in which he relates a bit of his story and experience in twelve step groups. He believes that what goes on in and with 12 step groups is much more what Jesus had in mind.

I am inclined to agree.

Cheers, Joe.

Poor Mad Peter said...

Christianity as a whole has never recovered from Constantine I: all the institutionalism stems from him.

That said, Steve man, I have run into a lot of people who have never darkened the door of a church in their lives, have not been raised in a churchgoing family, who say exactly what your churched friends say about the non-existent "Church" that is a list of "don'ts" etc etc. It is, on most peoples' part, an ignorance and a widely-held cultural myth, something like the widely held cultural myths about the inferiority of black people that was part of many cultures for centuries.

I've learned to recognize certain signs of this: the catchphrase "organized religion" is a good indicator; another is never having gone to church but a couple of times in their lives. Another is a naive acceptance of the tenets and behavior of any religion except Christianity; the exception here is the full-blown atheist who distrusts relgion, period. Yet another thing is the use of the word "spirituality", as opposed to having a "religion."

You could say it's a cross we who are people of faith, bear. And that said, Christianity as a whole deserves the bad press. Part of our faith journey, I'd suggest, is a redemptive role on our faith's behalf.

chris said...

Beautiful posts! It's sad that the organized church has become what Jesus was standing against. I agree that we should teach inclusion instead of exclusion. Faith is not a prayer or belonging to a particular denomination. Faith is loving God with all you heart and your neighbor as yourself. There cannot be any exclusion or condemantion to hell if we practice Jesus' simple command.

~m2~ said...

where are you, bro?

miss you.


Anonymous said...

I am wondering where you are too. and I don't even know you.

Gloria said...

I come to your house everyday and knock, are you home? I'm a little concerned that you are okay.

PM Summer said...

A tip of the hat to sixteen years. Keep working, don't quit.

On all of it.

Anonymous said...

I'm yet another guy who doesn't know the author, but appreciates his blog, and also is growing concerned. Is he OK? I miss his insights, and pray he's doing well.

Lorna said...

Great writing. And I miss you!