Wednesday, March 13, 2013

walking in lent 2.0

this day's walk was in cassville, missouri. cassville is a typically ugly mid-western town that makes one wonder what the ozarks hills possibly could have done to deserve it. downtown, what isn't occupied by the huge first baptist church,  is filled with second-hand stores and insurance offices. on the south side of town is the walmart.

i am glad i find cassville so uninspiring, because it provides no rose-coloured glasses with which to view today's ponder. many years i have said i was giving up religion for lent. this year i am very seriously considering not taking it back up.

to abandon religion would mean i would have a lot of redundant books, but their elegant sophistry and writing style would allow me to continue to appreciate them as literature. it might also result in some of my friends finding me redundant. i could only hope that the sheep would have compassion on an old goat.

my feelings have nothing to do with modern science, which i find quite compatible with traditional christianity, nor with the pseudo-historical ravings of folks like john spong or bart ehrman. rather, there are two sources of my discomfort, one theological and one ecclesiological: big words for god and the church.

as usual, out of devotion or habit, i read the daily office. last sunday's readings included the sixth chapter of the gospel according to john, as beautiful a piece of writing as i know, ending with everyone's abandoning jesus but the twelve. jesus says, 'do you also want to go away?' peter answers, 'lord, to whom shall we go ?' usually i read these words and think, 'to whom indeed?' but  this year i stumbled on an earlier part of the story, when the jews talk about the manna in the wilderness, and my mind remembered an image of a syrian woman in the wilderness, fleeing from the fighting there, and i wondered, 'where is her manna?'

no, i know the classic solution for this is that we are made in the image of god, his hands in the world, &tc., and that if god fed all the starving folks we wouldn't have free will. but, i wonder, what sort of a sovereign would abandon his realm to a bunch of greedy and frightened ninnies like us--us being mankind in general and the church in particular.

i admit i can find a few fragments of the church who  seem to live to her high calling: moses the black amongst the desert fathers, some whose faith is known to god alone, even an occasional parish. (st. john the wonderworker in eugene would be my nominee.) but in my experience the church and her priests are  very little different from any other organization and it's officers, even if the older denominations have better architecture and drag. the lutheran idea of the church as invisible and spiritual seems about as helpful to me as gravity did to einstein.

there is much more i could write, but i don't want to be demeaning to anyone. my dear uncle frank often said, 'people just do the best they can'. or perhaps my favourite line from oscar wilde's de profundis is more appropriate: 'the only real sin is lack of imagination.' whatever. i rather feel like there's no going away, but i want to do better, and imagine a better way of holding my thoughts and experiences together than what the church and her idea of god have given me.

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