There are things in life that become so broken they cannot be fixed – or it simply isn’t wise to fix them because of the cost and impermanence of the repairs. In these cases, it’s better to let things go. That’s an easy choice when it comes to things like cars. It’s harder when it comes to relationships, places of employment, homes, religions and other organizations that once held meaning for us but no longer do.
I have long believed it was worthwhile to attempt to repair institutional religion, particularly Christianity, to push it beyond its perverse attachment to things long past their time, its tendency to isolate itself in an irrelevant history that most resembles a musty basement, and to challenge the seemingly endless arrogance of a large percentage of the clergy – all in the hope that people would once again find meaning in and be nurtured by religion. I have come to the conclusion that project is much like trying to restore a 1974 Ford Pinto to factory condition: even if we were to succeed, one collision and the whole thing would likely explode.
I just finished reading an article about the Vatican and the things revealed by the Vatileaks scandal. The only reasonable conclusion is that it has the institutional equivalent of metastasized cancer that has reached every corner of its hallowed halls. There is no fixing it, there is no healing it, all that is left to do is to allow it to die its slow, agonizing death and pray that it doesn’t hurt to many people with its death throes.
Other corners of the Church are just as sick. I recently read a book promotion by a progressive Pentecostal bishop in which he announced he was “a holder of Episcopal office, a prince in the Lord’s Church.” I thought I would become physically ill. There is nothing in that statement but unmitigated arrogance, and the time and effort necessary to get that individual and the thousands like him to have even the slightest chance of seeing the light would require more effort than I can afford to expend. Again, the body is riddled with cancer.
If these were isolated incidents I would write them off to human folly, but I am afraid the structure that is institutional Christianity has spent more time rewarding fools than people interested in innovation and service, and that ship is sinking faster than an ill-fated cruise liner pulling out of port. There are islands of hope, of course, and I am grateful for them and the people they serve. Even so, just as I physically walked away from the institution in 1999, I must now turn my attention away from it because any energy spent on it is energy wasted. My energy is much more productively devoted to promoting a viable alternative.
Consider, for example, the liturgical season of Lent. Lent is the traditional forty day season of preparation for the Feast of the Resurrection – Easter. During it people ponder the significance of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross to atone for our sins. The only problem is that many if not most responsible Christian thinkers no longer agree that Jesus’ death was a case of God killing him because he was angry that people sin. Atonement theology is an idea whose day has passed. Suddenly, forty days (not including Sundays in Lent, which don’t count) of long faced self-flagellation don’t seem to have a reason. Even if they did have a reason, most people who have a Lenten observance joyously announce what they have “given up” for Lent, thereby taking all the power out of the gesture by seeking to be rewarded for their holiness by the appreciation of others.
I think it’s a good idea to periodically engage in a season of self-examination and reflection, no matter our spiritual persuasion or lack thereof. We all could stand to take a look at the things we do and don’t do with an eye toward seeing whether they align with our values and beliefs. I also believe that it is very important to be clear about our understanding of our spiritual practices. If we want to say that Lent is our once a year period of self-examination because self-examination is a solid spiritual practice, I am fine with that – but please don’t ask me to believe I am engaging in a period of self-abuse in preparation for the celebration of God as abusive parent reconsidering having killed his son and then making everything okay, because that I cannot do.
Over the next several weeks I will be examining practices that seem to make sense, particularly in light of what I have called Christ Enlight spirituality – an interspiritual practice for people rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We will be honestly exploring practices that work, and laying aside practices that have lost their meaning. Hopefully what will emerge are some solid ideas for a spiritual practice that is truly transformative!