Monday, December 3, 2012

A Church Full of Sinners, Just Like Me

A couple of days ago I saw a bumper sticker, “Losing my faith in humanity, one person at a time”  And as a middle aged christian man I am acutely aware of the various hypocrisies that the church represents to the world in spite of or because of the variety of virtues that are brought forth in light of mission outreaches. 

Some years ago I was honored to be an Elder (A Big Muckity Muck) in a church of some 2000 regular members, I had no idea what I was doing, but tried to not embarrass God anymore than I already did as a regular sinner.  One Friday night in spring of some forgotten year it was my responsibility to sit in on a Confirmation Exam.  This event was the most feared aspect of the two year confirmation process of a Lutheran teenager.  In front of God, family, friends, pastors, elders and any other member of the church or public the Confirmands had to stand in the center of the dais in front of the 30’ cross and 3 tone granite altar (It looked like it had been imported from Stonhenge) and answer questions on doctrine, dogma, and humanity in light of divinity.

From the adult perspective it represented a time of reflection on their own examinations, but from the point of the Elders it was intended to allow us to ensure that the teaching of the pastors was in order with the beliefs and polity of doctrine, dogma and denomination.  But however we adults saw this affair, the teenagers saw this as the ultimate in Gestapo like techniques of bright lights and unforgiving questions, a wrong answer condemning the poor soul to hell or worse recycling into the next years confirmation class in a humiliating do-over.  

One young, tall and lanky teenage boy, the grandson of the Lutheran School Principal of some renown was at the microphone when he was asked to share his thoughts and interpretations on the following somber question. “Dr. Luther has taught us that we can find the very evil we seek to avoid in every church.  Where did he teach us that we might find it in this church?”  A blank look followed as a bead of sweat trickled down the side of the young man’s face, he shuffled nervously from foot to foot.  It was clear to everyone watching that he did not know the answer or at least not on the tip of his now dry tongue.

The Pastor sensing the deer-in-the-headlights look took it upon himself to coach the young man with a little nudge in the right direction, “John (name change to protect the convicted) where do you think we might find evil in this church?”  Now it must be shared that the church building was a towering brickfaced edifice of the modern architectural style of the 1950’s not lightly taking some of the design elements of Frank Lloyd Wright.  The basement held a full commercial kitchen and seating capacity for several hundred, there is an elevator from basement to the balcony of the choir loft, the narthex is a towering structure of glass and steel, and the sanctuary is high ceilings of angled polished timber with walls of brick.  Stained glass windows lined one side of the church, while 8 x 8 inch timber formed a massive cross beside the 3 ton table of polished granite.

Finally a response was uttered in a tremulous less than confident voice far removed from his physical and social stature of his peer group, “The basement?”  After the laughter died down, the pastor pointed out that the ladies group who were at that moment down stairs making refreshments for the post grilling celebration would not appreciate their preparations being associated with evil.  And the young man relaxed and remembered the answer.  “Evil may be found in the hearts of every man”

The church, international, national, regional and local are all made up of sinners.  Sinner are the type of hypocritical people with who the aforementioned bumper sticker is complaining. As a good sinner I went to church yesterday in part because misery loves company, but also because I was indoctrinated as a child, love my God and want to share a part of my joy and thanks for life to an entity that needs neither.  And like the inexorable rite of passage that Confirmation exams herald annually, my faith in the church took yet another blow.

Sin within the church is nothing new, and there are no special sins that are specific to or restricted from members of those august bodies.  Religions over history have established rules of conduct that are intended to facilitate a harmony and prospering of the relationships that are the true structure of their existence.  Whether it is the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, or The Seven Deadly Sins, the goal is the same thing; and yet in their very existence lie the pitfalls of sins of judgment, gossip and pride.

A Child dies: why do they not come back to church? Why are they still grieving? Why are they not grieving? How can they laugh? How can they not laugh?  They are just too sensitive?  I am so sorry that God didn’t answer their prayers?

A nineteen year old boy likes a 15 year old girl, they have been meeting at church and church events for over 8 months when her parents find one side of the shared love letters.  His intentions are honorable as are hers, but the parents get the elders and the Pastor involved. Threats of criminal charges are leveled – without basis, threats of restraining orders are leveled - without basis, participation in events are proscribed, and attempts at denial of communication are entertained.  The model of love as shared by Dr. Martin Luther and Katrina von Bora are ignored.

Communication continues, an intervention without parental representation is made, more elders are involved and the boy is told that he is evil, criminal, going to hell and should leave the church.  This was 6+ months ago.  The boy and the girl still love each other, more actually for having mutually fought the storm of denial foisted on them by parent and church alike.

A child with a chronic disease is mercilessly ridiculed by a classmate in Sunday school about the way he looks, the teachers don’t intervene, the pastor does not intervene when told, and so the offending child, parents and the teacher think that its okay to make fun of those with physical afflictions.

A man is suddenly left widowed.  He is castigated by rumor, innuendo, and pastoral inquiry that he has not let enough time pass since the death of his wife to seek out the companionship/friendship of someone who understands his loss, a woman. 

“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say” 
Martin Luther

And people wonder why I have issues with the church and its leadership.

“Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen."

(Reply to the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521)” 
Martin Luther, Luther's works, volume 33 : career of the reformer iii

The Christian Church of the western world is divided into two primary veins: Roman Catholic and Protestant.  The Orthodox church has made inroads, but the dominant faiths associated with Jesus are RC and P.  At the core of the belief systems lie two thoughts: love your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and treat your neighbor as yourself.  But to clarify this and to ‘ensure’ that the correct interpretation is applied, the church well before reformation established the code of The Seven Deadly Sins.  The commission of these sins whether by action or omission were deemed by the Church Fathers (There was no room for Mothers, they should be home making dinner and raising the children, lol truly intended for humor) was to commit such heinous affront to God that the offender would spend all eternity in the pits and fire of hell.

For the sake of review, the 7 sins are:  Pride, Lust, Gluttony, Envy, Sloth, Wrath and Greed.

So Observation of the day: Who rules your Heart, Soul and Mind? You or your Higher Power? And knowing that you are guilty of committing the seven deadly sins (if not this moment or today, then in all likelihood this week, and for sure in this year and with certainty in your life), does this affect how you move forward in your journey?  Should it affect how you travel at all?

Enjoy the rest of your day, I know that I will. Because I have no perceptions that I am perfect and no expectations beyond a commitment to do as Evan did, that is to do the best I can with what I have, today.

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