Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Some Thoughts about Church

This year (of our Lord, as they used to say) 2013, I'm going to cross the Rubicon of being 70 years old. In my mind, and that's the only one that really matters, it's a demarcation between aging or late middle age, and old or, less starkly, elderly. If you never could quite think of yourself as old, I submit that once you're into your 70s, you can stop fooling yourself about being anything other than elderly. All of this has been a matter of some considerable amazement to me, for we all can remember when we were young and thought about ourselves in the distant future at say, age 65 or 70, the notion seemed completely preposterous.

Even more preposterous are projections we make when we're younger about anything that's going to be true of our life when we get old. For example, except for my 5-6 year period as a near-atheist, I was a church-going Catholic. At age 45, I was ordained as a permanent deacon in the church and for the next 25 years faithfully performed my ministerial duties. And before ordination, I got involved in several different kinds of ministry. I was what could be honestly described as a "religious" person. The point of all this is, if anyone would have told me then or even ten years ago that at the age of 69 I would be out of the Catholic church (and of course out of ministry as a deacon) and not only that, but a member in good standing in a Protestant congregation . . . why what a truly absurd notion. Catholicism was supposed to be a life-long thing. But of course, what do you know about life when you're in your twenties?

Fact is, what you know about life at the stage I am now is only incrementally more. What you don't know is massive by comparison. And that's kinda the bedrock assumption of the little church community I belong to now, a United Church of Christ congregation that embraces a vision of Christianity that comports in just about every respect with my own. For years I silently reflected on the absurdity of my official standing as a member of the Catholic clergy, not because I didn't believe in service. Indeed, service was the only thing that made sense about it. The doctrines and dogmas certainly didn't. It became increasingly evident to me that if I were put in a position of saying yea or nay to a host of Catholic  theological propositions--redemption by Christ's blood, virgin birth, eucharist, Trinity, not to mention the easy ones like papal infallibility, exclusion of homosexuals, etc.--I would be saying either "nay" or "hey, let's talk about this" to just about all of them. I'm the last kind of person to let any proposition go unexamined. And the fact is, just about every theological notion I was taught to believe simply didn't stand up to examination.

Which I might have been able to abide--after all, I had found these propositions problematical for years--but I could not abide the overbearing authoritarianism of the institution and in the light of the massive still unfolding (after years of doing so) sexual scandals, the sheer depth of the hierarchy's hypocrisy and cruelty to children. The massive decades long cover-up of rampant pedophilia among the clergy. I heard a story on NPR the other day about the viciousness of the Irish nuns to the young girls they imprisoned in so-called "Magdalene laundries." Is there no end to these revelations of how un-Christian the Catholic church was and still is? 

It became just impossible for me to stay. So I left, and burned the bridges. I'm now with a group of people now who follow Jesus but who don't have dogma, who accept anybody who comes to our church no matter who or what they are, who believe in peace and social justice, who believe that God is still speaking to humankind, and who embrace a progressive vision of Christianity that we pray eventually will take root in the churches that look to Jesus as the model of how a human being should live his life. I'm not looking back, and I'm old enough now to confess that the future is out there in all its mystery. I don't have clue what it holds.

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