Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | November 10, 2010

The Church As…

Steve Robinson has written a reflection that seems to capture a touch of the slings and arrows of… well, you know the rest. My experience is that church politics is precisely the sort of meal which needs condiments, and their characteristic lack is reason enough to quit eating. In fact, as Steve suggests, this lack is precisely what sent many of us running in a search of… well, anywhere else. For some of us, anywhere else seems to have been the pen where they keep those dyed-in-the-wool Border Collie-less woolies some refer to as the Orthodox Churches… where if there were a democratic process for deciding matters of faith, one might suppose the votes of Heaven should count more (they vote in triplicate or so I’m told), so why bother.

And if this is in fact Christ’s Church, then we lost woolies in fact may find we have to face the possibility that He makes the rules – even some we don’t like – and there are other options, but if we’re not going take them, it’s  more like, “Get in line!” Yes, of course, but I cannot remain indifferent. This doesn’t mean there is one and only one response however; nor does it mean that someone else’s response – different, or different from what we might expect – is somehow wrong. Were remaining visibly and audibly unmoved all there is, then we wouldn’t have allowed the Church to be run by folks we can’t see and hear.

In charity, allowing for what we may not care for may be in fact a gift of love to those who shepherd us. When they seem misguided, it’s possible we are mistaken and uninformed. Not always, but sometimes; and in these cases, our patience allows time to reveal more… even the truth. And in other cases, perhaps love of this sort will allow a sense of  repentance room to work in a way open resistance might not.

And of course, I’m all for prayer. Prayer is something concrete and doable, but not just for the layity, but all the clergy and the people – even our hierarchs. And yet prayer has many forms and if I believe – as I do – that prayer is also active and there is a prayerful way of living any experience, then there is a prayerful way of resolving matters – even if it involves action where knees are not bent, body not prostrate, and hands not raised. And it is this form where the energies are often most powerful.

So it is with this sense that the story of Joseph comes to mind, and his comment to his brothers more or less to the effect that “these things were done by men diverted from their path to ill purposes, but God meant them for our good.” And just as good came to Joseph and his people because of the untoward events to which he refers, we might equally aspire to a similar response and guard the Lord’s treasure (his people) for the full nourishment of all.

So of course I get the bishop thing… the whole bit about delineating clearly matters of ecclesiology. And I get the sense of waywardness on our part, our clergy’s part… and wherever else. But isn’t that only part? I mean there is still a lot of  murkiness that leaves too much room for the imagination. And with a lot of folks responding to their/our imaginations rather than the Truth… let alone facts as we would have them… I’ve yet to see how this approach works well.

So it’s a mess, but messes come with the territory.

This leads to another (perhaps even my central) thought: We often compare our Church to the hospital, but we might just as well – if you’ll forgive the analogy – compare it to that part of the house where we preen ourselves on one hand, and wash away our dirt on the other. In this room, the stuff that “looks good” may be fraught with snares and delusions for the unwary: all that preening tends to get out-of-balance. And yet no one argues we should neglect it either. Certainly some effort to clean ourselves up, to purify our lives is worthwhile. So no one’s suggesting we can or want to discourage it altogether.

And then there’s all that nasty, offensive, unpleasantness we have to deal with. Nice to dispense with it, but then again, it’s good to do, and very necessary. But heck, more often than not it just offends the senses in the process, pollutes the environment, and worse. We  may politely call it gray water; but it’s often far darker and full of  “lumps”. Yet who can argue that washing away our offenses is wrong or bad, and not in fact essential? Can’t dispense with that either.

So we’re stuck with both, and maybe even with both activities centered in this same room… the room most real estate agents seem to use as one of the defining elements of any house. It’s THAT important. So any surprise some get confused and disoriented in the place from time to time? Don’t think so. Easy to do. Spend a lot of time there? Sure. And yet the whole should seem like a self-management watchful gate sort of thing, and a “simple” matter of  redirecting and refocusing on the Holy Trinity.

But I’m not so good at that myself. Lord have mercy were I faced with the bright lights of the whole Body of Christ looking over my life in this sort of room 24-7. Is that an excuse? Hardly. A matter for love and understanding? Certainly. But I’m not so… oops! Got me.

So I’m only saying. And if that’s all I were doing… I’m sure I’d be better off.


  1. As usual, a very worthy annotation. It is somewhat ironic that we can actually do without the preening part but the other, if we didn’t do it, it would kill us. Hm.

  2. The Church as ….?
    The Met as …. lumps?

    S-P there’s an idea for an Orthograph…

    • Okay. I’m trying to keep it polite here. Appreciate it if we can… hard as it may be.

      FWIW, as I see it, the hard bit is that no matter what we may feel, no one is an object, or worthy of turning into an object… even if they may have done so to others in the name of something or someone “higher”. And we can’t allow ourselves to fall into the same. I should think it is the Sin of Adam – or at least as we encounter it – for the sins of one to lead others into the same, and if I have done this, please forgive me. As the good Met. Jonah put it in the Council where he was subsequently nominated, “It’s killing us and we need to stop.”

      I have tried to be careful and not fall into this, but I have my limits. Don’t think I’ve suggested same. Sin is simply a waste… and that was my point, but it can equally spring from a sense of excess whether of asceticism or gluttony and pride. And while I’m not the world’s best ascetic (LOL!), I’m pretty good at stumbling on the other two. So if this post is leading us here, then maybe I’ll have to ditch it.

  3. Agreed. I am not too good with metaphors and such, so I was just wondering, hence the question marks.

    But yes it is a mess, however God can use it for good, I wrote a blog post on this earlier today.

    That said, it becomes well shall we call it “problematic”? when we stop calling a mess for what it is. We then will have transformed disorder into a normative condition. It is another way of saying that questions and dissenting voices should not be stymied. Without a real synod we are up the creek without a paddle. It may well be that our condition is worse that we may think.

    • We need a synod. We could use an American Synod as well that encompasses all so we have accountability rather than its opposite. There are times where seeing the list of autocephalies “seized” in the past – most in the 19th century I think – I began wondering whether this actually serves our interests. I’m not sure it’s turned out to be a good model or a bad one… only it’s what we have on hand. There is some sense in the modern sense of cellular construction offering greater resilience and strength as opposed to the strictly linear hierarchy and universal jurisdiction our RC friends have built, but without a strong, charism of leadership in Christ, it seems to follow the principles of thermodynamics and tend toward entropy… i.e. chaos. And in case that’s not clear, I’m in favor of an autocephaly given the present model. But I do wonder that we don’t need a more functional suprastructure of some sort – as Met. Jonah recently was recorded as wondering (so it’s not my idea by any means).

  4. As someone who has worked in a hospital, you need go no farther for metaphors…it a good fit.
    The sick who come to get well, and those who work hand in hand with them toward healing are thwarted by politics, red tape, resistance to change, wrestling those who seem more interested in market share, image, status, competition; emphasis on appearing up to date, new treatments, new drugs (even though the old ones work just fine, thank you very much, seems to carry little weight.)

    Things go on in the church just as in hospitals that are contrary to healing….and usually for the exact same reason as they do the church.
    As a nurse, there’s not a whole lot you can do about the big picture, but there is sure a whole heck of a lot you can do in spite of the circus the administration may be putting on at any given moment.

    And in spite of it all the backroom politics/marketing/ fundraising. etc…. in every hospital, in a thousand little corners and in a thousand ways real people find healing.
    Many times forced by circumstances to come face to face with illness and mortality; they learn health is a continuum….moving toward healing rarely involves miracle drugs or treatments and quick fixes; When it does, the wise person learns gratitude and grows in knowledge that quick fixes are rare, and that health is journey, actually a long defeat. Success is not measured in time, but in what they do with time.

    In my experience, a hospital stay usually a reprieve; and the successes are marked by those who realize that health is mostly a lot of hard work, replacing bad habits with good ones-a lesson that will never be replaced by new fangled drugs/treatments-and may even be hindered by the promise of the new, improved treatments and shortcuts that rarely doing much for the patient in the long run….just teach him to look for the next “quick fix”.

    The administration can be a total circus;but the relationship of patient and healer (a very blurred line) is where the healing happens. Good administrations/institutions may have made the work more pleasant, but in the long run seemed to make very little difference in the day to day work of healing…if those who were charged with that day to day work kept their minds and hearts on the work right in front of them…healing happened.

    • Isabella: Thank you. That fills out a picture quite nicely. With my daughter now looking to move from waiting tables to nursing (school) down Hotlanta way, I find what you’ve written not just salutory (re: the Church), but also quite helpful more broadly in terms of how the pieces fit together in the real world.

      I think you’re right that healing does go on – everywhere. We can and do find our deep heart – even in obedience, persecution, or even benign official neglect… and all the rest of those activities we seldom seem to seek, but often find. I think Met. Jonah mentioned once he found a great spiritual father in a place most folks tried to avoid due to its reputation for harshness. So the distraction of looking for a perfect church is just that: An unhelpful form of “entertainment” complete with excuses for not doing the hard work of reforming our hearts and getting healthy.

      I thought of the other metaphor more because I guess I was thinking of a place we visit more often and as part of our daily lives… something like prayer. Far less glorified, or dignified… but kind of fits into the daily hard work you mention, too. So we have to consider that we can pray rightly with our hearts, and be cautioned that we can also just preen ourselves with thinking we’re being “good”, “religious” and all that. We do need to take care of necessities, and I am one who follows the notion that washing with soap was indeed one of the greatest medical miracles (Louis Pasteur) ever… and it kind of swings with the whole “wash me with hysop and I shall be clean” bit.

      But the way you flesh out the hospital with your experience rounds the original metaphor out much better, and gives it more power. And fairly, maybe we need both: one for well-being and daily maintenance, the other for more severe ailments – but also for just getting those regular checkups, and recalibrating what it is we’re doing back home.

      So thank you very much for your excellent comment. I’m going to pass it along to my daughter, too.

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