Tuesday, November 09, 2010

In this moment ...

The sun is shining, the temperature is rising, and it has the makings of a great day ...

This morning over coffee, I sat in the dining room and read through a stack of back issues of the United Church Observer that the church secretary had given me yesterday ... as I read over the last year and a half of articles and stories I noted a very warm and positive glow to much of what had been published. There are few articles that note the negatives the modern church is facing ... I was struck by the unrealistic portrayal of the Church that this overarching tone offers.

As I read the articles I heard the echo of Reverend Mervyn Reuber's counsel on a warm summer afternoon in 1993 ... as he reflected with me on my pending ordination, Rev. Reuber offered words I have long held as my mantra and have shared on numerous occassions:

"The church is NOT a namby pamby social club," he said bluntly, "It is not a place where warm pink fuzzy hugs are handed out to people ... it is the BODY of Christ incarnate and real in the world." He would go on to reflect what that incarnation means and how it is about living the prophetic words of generations who saw the need to comfort the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable.

I can't help but think that today in the United Church of Canada the official status quo operating within our denomination is about comforting the comfortable and afflicting no one, which is an affront to our heritage as a church and is counter to the Gospels.

People outside the Church - those we yearn to offer a message to, see the Church very differently than those of us who are safely sequestered within. As one who has been rejected by the Church and driven out, I have seen a very different face of the Officialdom than that which is presented to the world.

Having experienced the abuse of a toxic congregation, and a spectrum of violence against myself, my family and my ministry, I can say with honesty that I am not alone in these experiences. The Spirit has perhaps lead me to meet many others who have had similar experiences of violence, threats and abuse at the hands of "Good Church people" and yet, the common experience beyond the savagery of the experience has been the ostrich like behaviour of people in positions of power and influence.

For me, being TOLD that the anonymous report to the Childrens' Aid that I was beating my children, the slashed tires on my van, the repeated shots fired at my house, and the anonymous threats to myself and my family, were not connected to the ministry I was part of speaks volumes about the fear the officials of the Church cower behind. Sadly though, my experience is NOT unique ... others who have been treated in similar ways within the Church have experienced the same treatment by the structure of the Church that supposedly prides itself on being caring, welcoming and just. I've also met too many who have had experiences similar to mine to label us as "unique" ... and yet our experiences are also ignored and belittled !!

It is tragic that there is no where within the Church where we acknowledge much less accept and deal with the horrendous reality that in too many corners of our Church we hang signs proclaiming "All Welcome" and failing miserably to live out that inclusive welcome. When proof of this diconnect is uncovered and the drake truth of toxicity is revealed, the blame is placed firmly on the shoulders of the victim, and never on the perpetrators. Sadly, the warm pink glow MUST be maintained at all costs despite any evidence to the contrary!!

Yet, beyond the safe doors of the Church, we hear voices of those who see this stark inconsistency and the breath-taking hypocrisy and who in turn reject the Church accordingly. Within the Church, we continue to fail miserably at owning this reality that everyone else can see, and we fail to engage constructively that critique.

I liken this process to the moment at a Conference AGM when a member of the Church stood and shared his experience of rejection and marginalization within the Church and said - "we are not as welcoming nor inclusive as we think we are ..."

The response of subsequent speakers was to completely deny his PERSONAL experience and repeatedly note that he was WRONG. This betrayed the inability of the Church to accept the reality of the moment, much less our ministry ... In truth, if even ONE person feels rejected, then we are not being the inclusive community we think we are. If ONLY one person feels like an outsider, we have failed to include them, and we are NOT inclusive. To argue that the person who feels excluded is WRONG is beyond ridiculous ... and it is unfaithful !!

Yet, that is the reality of the church today ... we maintain at all costs the status quo that tells us that the Church is fine. We hold to the illusion that when clergy step up and say they feel abused and rejected, it is THEIR fault, and never the fault of a toxic congregation, or an inept denominational structure ... Regretably, when these incidents happens (and they are FAR from occassional occurences), instead of addressing the blatant hypocrisy it represents, and setting out to rectify the situation, we instead entrench the status quo, pretend there is no problem, blame the victim and continue to wring our hands about the ongoing decline of our denomination.

I've said it repeatedly, and I will never shy away from saying it - people beyond the Church can see us for who we REALLY are, they can see clearly the hypocrisy and the failings that we chose to ignore, and they have the reasonable expectation that the Body of Christ will do more than just shrug and pretend that the warm pink fuzzies of denial are enough.

People outside the Church want a Church that is relevant, and that speaks THEIR language without fear or shame. They want ministers and congregations that are real and that take seriously the need to move past the hypocrisy of saying one thing, and doing another. A Congregation that claims "ALL Welcome" then fails to grapple the abuse wrought upon those who fail to meet the status quo expectation is failing to live out its welcome. This is in turn compounded by the failure of the Greater Church to acknowledge when this happens ... and such blatant and toxic hypocrisy is what is cited by those outside the Church who feel rejected, marginalized and ostracized by a Church that in turn scratches its head and says 'why aren't people coming?'

If we are serious about survival in the modern Church we MUST OWN our negative traits and deal with them. We must confess to our sins and alter our behaviour. We must acknowledge our demons and actively work to exorcize them. To do otherwise is to simply feed the view of the Church held by many that we are irrelevant, out of touch and hypocritical.

If we are serious about the survival of the modern church, we must stop pretending that everything is fine, and the problem lies with those who don't fit the mould ... The church grows and changes when those who don't fit the mould persist in following the Spirit and embracing the radical call of the Gospel !!

Moreover, to launch a volley of abuse and criticism at those voices who speak from their personal experience, and blame them for what they've endured fails miserably to embody the heart of the Gospel that sends us into the world to love and tend the wounded ... to blame the wounded beggar at our gates for his rejection and his wounds flies in the face of the ministry Jesus left for us all ...

So, for the modern church it is time to own our darker side ... it is time to honestly do the Shadow Work that needs to be done ... and it is time to reach out beyond the status quo and engage people where they are using the language, the tools and the experiences they have ...

Today, the Church has within its hands the ability to use a myriad of tools and resources to expand our mission field beyond the comfort of the buildings we call home. Through instant messaging, twitter, facebook and the many other online resources that have become ubiquitious in the modern world, the Church has the opportunity to reach out beyond the status quo and engage people where they are, and invite them to be part of the Body of Christ as it is meant to be ... the only thing lacking today is the courage to move beyond our fear and our hesitation.

For me, my commitment to a ministry of outreach means never silencing my insistence that the Church CAN and must do better, and it also means using whatever means necessary to expand the Circle of Care beyond the immediate physical location I call home ... The Church is the incarnate body of Christ, and our job is to stop trying to impose limits and restrictions on that Incarnation.

Stay tuned ... today I had an ephiphany realization about the possibility and potential the rural church has in better utilization of online resources in sharing the welcome to those who hunger for things spiritual ... If we're gonna say "ALL WELCOME" we need to be prepared to embody what it means ... and from where I sit today, I have found a community who understands that and are willing to live it ...

Thank be to God !!!

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