Our church is having its annual convention right now. I have attended ten others and this is my eleventh. the make up, among clergy, is very different. There are a half dozen new faces, people of whom I have heard but do not know. Relations are generally friendly, but I also know that we are divided in many ways.
I have lain awake for some time, pondering and praying. It is an occupational hazard. I remembered something my son said many years ago when in grade school. I had gone to have lunch with him at school. As we sat at the table set aside for visiting parents he pointed toward the corner. "Dad," he said, "if you bring a peanut butter sandwich to that table, those kids will die." At that time, I was aware of peanut allergies, stories appeared in multiple media. Even so, it was sort of stunning to hear my eight year old mouth the words, especially with such a haunted look in his eyes. Life and death.
As I headed upstairs this morning to write this, the heater had just kicked on downstairs. It was relatively chilly downstairs. The computer is upstairs, as are my kids bedrooms. Last night it was stifling up here, so I put on the air conditioner so they could sleep. One house, two "climates"! As I turned that paradox around in my head, it suddenly became a metaphor for the church.
The church is made up of people. The same people we see everywhere. The great divides we see in our society are reflected in the church. There are folks who consider traditional believers to be "haters." As one lady worded it, "he is an offense to God and I think he is disgusting." She was talking about me. Now lest it appear that I see myself as an innocent victim, I assure you that I have expressed myself in strong terms on many occassions. For example, I think much of the Modernist theolgy is heresy. I think much of the Post-Modern theology is as well. I have shared that belief in public. I try to be kind, but I am also honest.
So our diocese meets and I know it is a gathering of two worlds (and probably many more). We live a parallel existance. In our local parishes we preach and teach our versions of the Christian story. Much of it overlaps. Much of it doesn't. One big "lunch room." But I know, from past experience, that I have an allergy to what they are teaching. I have seen the ravages within my own soul, made manifest in my own life. The Traditional Christian faith, the words of Scripture, the old ways give me life. The other view is tasty to them. They love it. Just like I love a peanut butter sandwich. But like my son said many years ago, peanut butter sandwiches can be deadly. For me, the theology so popular in the mainstream is just that. Deadly.
Over the years I have learned to co-exist inside the church. Many moved on years ago. Some started new churches, others began to attend else where. Too many quit altogether. We have held together, far fewer than before, but it seems that is pretty widespread. I am no longer in pain at our convention, but I am saddened that it is not a time of excitement and renewal. I am sure some are feeling that. It is parallel universes, after all. Yet, I intend to go today. I will contribute what I can when I think I should. I will spend time praying and I will see old friends and smile and talk. I will be nice to those with whom I disagree and be pleasant, if not overtly friendly, with those whom I strongly disagree. It is what we do in the church, in the world. And the church is the world. The real world. Perhaps we only learn true love in community with the ones with whom we disagree. Perhaps we only grow into the fullness of Christ trying to be faithful yet loving, honest yet kind in a world composed of all types. Perhaps being comfortable is not the goal. Perhaps...