Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Seeking Christian Community

Joe Perez is a former Roman Catholic who is currently a homeless Christian seeking a spiritual community. He is considering the Episcopal Church. As part of his research, he is fisking the catechism.

Joe is quite honest in his critique, and doesn't pull any punches. By so doing, he has provided us with a great service. I think it is helpful to hear how others view a belief system that many of us may have taken for granted for much of our lives.

In order for such a bold commentary to spark dialogue, it is important that we first read it with the intention of seeking to understand the author, not to engage in a debate. We begin by listening. Later we might go back and develop responses to specific points.

Here is one section:

Q. How did God first help us?
A. God first helped us by revealing himself and his will, through nature and history, through many seers and saints, and especially through the prophets of Israel.

Oh, oh. Just reading the question I can tell that the questioner is asking for a story here. Mythic amber alert! Yup... I have no problem with stories about God. I have no problem with saying that some stories appeal to a religious community more than others and have a deeper resonance. But something tells me this story's gonna start with an opposite-sex couple, an apple and a snake and the terrible crime of a bad, disobedient, independent-thinking woman who is really to blame for everything wrong with the world. A few words later and we learn that God is a "He" who revealed "Himself" in many ways (the "many ways" part, at least, is good to see), and "especially through the prophets of Israel."

Guess what? I have a problem with the word especially here. No, no, no, no, no. Especially from what perspective? Especially based on what set of traditions which are owned explicitly by what faith communities in what particular set of circumstances? I have a feeling I'll be coming back to this again and again, but this catechism doesn't speak to me. So long as it asks me to check my modern and postmodern brain at the door and think like a premodern/child, it pushes me away.

I hear my inner voice saying: "I can do better than this... I can experience Christian community in ways that are deep, meaningful, loving, and respectful of the brains and hearts of all, not just a few." But then I sigh. Are other Christian denominations or sects really any better? If the Episcopal Church weren't one of the most progressive and enlightened of all the communions, would I even bother investigating the Church as a prospective home? It's a painful, sad state of affairs. Let's see if the Episcopal Church's catechism gets any better... I'm not sure I'll make it to the end, but it's a very concise document so I'll try my best.
The above is from the first of a five part series on the catechism. The other sections can be found here, here, here and here.

I know that I don't need to remind most readers of this, but for the benefit of visitors, please keep in mind that we try to meet everyone where they are in their spiritual life, and avoid the temptation to drag them to where we think they should be.

I think there are more folks than we might imagine that would agree with many of Joe's comments. You'll find some in our pews on any given Sunday morning. You'll find others in our pews who are there for the music, but don't have much interest in all the God talk. And others are there to keep peace in the family. And still others who simply enjoy being part of the community.

Does it matter why they are there? Must we insist on uniformity of motive? I certainly hope not.

Our worship attempts to offer an encounter with the living God. If we are successful or not in that attempt is another discussion. As sacramental Christians, we offer signs to point the way to such encounters in many different concrete forms; through scripture, water, wine, bread, words, prayers, candles, music, incense, bells, vestments and the people gathered. The catechism, and for that matter the creeds, are one of these signs, but not necessarily the most important one, it seems to me.

We offer these signs. We don't force them on anyone. The day we start doing that is the day I hang up my collar.


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