Last week, in the context of an open Facebook group, a priest told me I have a ‘mad on’ for the church.
I suppose there’s a certain amount of truth to that. The church has hurt me in various ways, and I am (finally) saying something about that.
But the nasty, judgmental tone this woman took–not just toward me, but toward all ‘hipsters’ and ‘aging, over-educated intellectuals’ who were not in her view ‘real people’ who want an ‘authentic relationship with Christ in the church’–is something that needs challenging.
In her words, the concern for those ‘hipsters’ and ‘aging, over-educated intellectuals’ expressed by many in both lay and ordained ministry, is ‘hooey’. After all, her ministry context of a declining rural area is still yielding a growing congregation of what she considers to be ‘real people.’ And so, if you just do what she says, you too will no problems. It isn’t, as she claims, rocket science.
Not rocket science.
I love that phrase. I’m always reminded, by a close relative who is a professional engineer, that ‘rocket science’ isn’t all that difficult because it is linear. If you get the mathematical formulae correct, you will probably have a reasonably predictable result.
Ministry among real people in all contexts is not rocket science. It’s more complicated than that. Because ministry is about relationships–between human beings, with each other, with the institution of the church, and with God. And those are not linear, or formulaic, or predictable.
And yes, I have a bit of a mad-on for the church and its leaders when they fail to recognize this. It harms the church, and more importantly, it harms people–whether they are ‘real people’ or the somehow-unreal ‘hipsters’ or (as I can only guess she imagines me to be) the ‘aging, over-educated intellectuals’. It harms people who are members of churches, and it harms people the churches claim they wish to reach.
Who is the ordained person, anyway, to make the judgment of whose relationship with Christ is ‘authentic ‘? Each person’s story is unique, although in broad strokes (or the occasional small detail) may resonate with others. But no two are identical. It would indeed be ‘rocket science’ if it could be reduced to a formula of ‘this is real’ or ‘this is not’.
But human beings, and their relationships with both the divine and with other humans, cannot be reduced to those formulae. And the funny thing about most human beings I’ve met is that they won’t submit their relationships to the judgment of another person just because s/he wears a funny collar or has had his/her head squeezed by a bishop. We have this idea that we have something to say about the quality and integrity of our own experience. We may seek counsel from people whose wisdom and experience we trust, but we do not accept authority without testing it. Neither I, nor most of my de-churched friends, will allow a member of the clergy to judge our spiritual journey in ways with which we do not resonate. That’s especially true of our darkest, unhappiest moments in our relationships with God. The clergy are not particularly good at spiritual darkness, and they are even worse at allowing mere laypeople such as myself to find our own voice and express spiritual pain.
If I didn’t still have at least a little residual love and admiration for the church, I would not be writing as I do. I would be able to both look away and walk away from the flame-out toward which institutional Christianity seems to be determined to engage itself in. Anger still indicates concern. Indifference, especially out of a well-qualified ‘over educated intellectual’ theologian, is what should really worry church leaders.