Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Step One: Interlude

Yesterday, on the invitation of a dear friend, Judy and I accompanied her to church and sang with her in the small choir. There was so much good will and love. So much acceptance. But for me there was more sadness than joy. The congregation was six funerals away from death but it was clear that they didn’t know it or at least acknowledge it. Only twenty parishioners were in the sanctuary while twelve choir members were hidden in the balcony loft (with the organist/director). How I wanted to help, to make suggestions that might improve or give them strength! For instance, if the choir and leader were seated within the congregation’s vision what an increased sense of community there would have been!

The minister was young and well spoken and the sermon predictably semi-evangelically fundamentalist. Strong on the belief side and weak on the do. The scripture mostly talked about was the story from ACTS about Paul and Silas being tossed in jail after Paul had exorcised a demon from a slave woman. The demon had given her the power to predict the future and see the present and the slave owner was naturally perturbed when his property lost its valuable gift.

It is much more safe to preach on faith than it is on faithfulness and that is what the pastor chose to do. In the scriptures used there were several examples of faithfulness and as always, all were risky. Faithfulness necessitates change, not always the kind that we can predict and request. The young minister spoke about the belief of the jailer and family that happened afterwards in the story and I understand why. It’s good news and had a happy ending (or at least, a happy start). On the other hand the poor slave woman has lost her value to her owner and we have no reason to think that anything positive came from Paul’s impulsive action as far as she or her master is concerned.

What would have been the faithful sermon, the WORD of God to this congregation? The slave, her master and the jailor (with his household) all had certainly been changed. To survive meant to evaluate, accept and adapt to a new reality for each. To survive and be faithful, the congregation would have to certainly have to do these things also.

But should the seeming mortally ill be informed (or reminded) of their condition by a brash outsider? Is it better that they continue in their limited love and understanding, unaware that they are indeed dying or hope for new life? Does TRUTH always set us free? Whose truth?
I have usually erred on the side of what I saw was the truth and have paid dearly for it. But this congregation is not mine and I doubt if any words of change I might offer would have more than a negative affect on anything. No doubt that part of the sadness I feel is self pity for I realize that I lack the nerve and strength to risk sharing my insights with them and to face being partially responsible for the agony and hurt that would inevitably occur if they indeed were to chose to change. I’ve been there before.

Yet there are thousands of congregations in this near-end state. I know in my heart that change is possible (not really change, but resurrection) and that a small portion of them would be reborn. And no-one is there to help in most situations. And not me.

Forgive me, Lord.

Step Two: A Problem Protestant Clergy

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