I believe it was C. S. Lewis who said that he loved the Church, but he hated the people who were in it. Maybe, at least on some level, you share his sentiment. To be quite honest, I certainly do.
In fact, I have recently been so very upset by both Church and churchmen that I wrote the following poem about my experience and feelings.
AND GOD SHUT HIM IN
And, after all,
God shut him in
In with the seven
and other beasts
where amid frayed nerves
pigs and piss
together they lived.
And, after all, the Church is a ship
God shuts us in
In with all the other
where stretched sinews
for the Dove’s return.
Please accept my apology for any offensive language but, notwithstanding, this seems to be how I (and many others) experience the Church. It is not (to borrow from a congregation in which I served) a “safe place for those seeking God.” In practice, it is quite an un-safe place.
Of course it could be argued that not all churches are this way, and that this is decidedly not God’s intention. Nevertheless, it is as it is and it is far-too frequently a substandard excuse for Christian community. If the Church was not Christ’s idea, God’s idea, the place where the Holy Spirit currently dwells among humanity, I would abandon it (not Christ!) all together. (And, to be sure, the issue of Christ without Christianity is a huge question and issue.)
But this is nothing new. Even the primitive Church, as seen in the Acts of the Apostles, had its problems. The Bible is realistic in its outlook and assessments, as was Saint Benedict in his Rule. Both recognize the problems associated with living in community, problems that are not easily navigated.
How do we “answer” the problems of the Church; this (at times) unsafe place among unsafe people —- which God has established as “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” and in which reside the Sacraments? There is only one, exceptionally difficult, solution: Commitment. We must commit ourselves to the Church and do our part in order to make it a better place, a safer place, a place where God’s great love radiantly shines in, through and beyond us.
The great liturgical scholar, Alexander Schmemann, has said that when we experience an inordinate disappointment in the Church it is likely we have fallen into some form of idolatry (The Journals of Alexander Schmemann, Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press). The Church may seem like our Lord’s very bad idea —- but, as its expectations cut against self-centeredness, is it really such a bad idea?
The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a priest with the Reformed Episcopal Church, has been a monastic associate/oblate for over twenty years and connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo California.
Image above, right: Noah’s Ark. Fresco. Juan Gersón, 1562; in the Franciscan church at Tecamachalco, Puebla, Mexico.