These are tense days for me in regard to the church. I was given two books recently that describe this tension; their titles do, at least. The first is Loving the Church by Larry McKain. The second is Leaving the Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Larry is a Nazarene pastor, now involved in helping people, well, love the church via a non-profit focused on pastors, churches, denominations, etc. Barbara was an Episcopal priest who finally said, "Enough" and now lives on a farm in Georgia and teaches at a nearby college. Larry's book was given to me because I've been contracted to write weekly devotional thoughts based on his book for his non-prof's website. Barbara's was given to me by a trusted friend who knows that I'm struggling with the thought of pursuing ordination in the Anglican church; in other words, getting back on the horse in a certain kind of pasture. I dismounted a few years ago...but that's another blog.
Larry's premise is based on the scriptural exchange between the Lord and Saul on the exit ramp to Damascus. Saul is asked why he's persecuting the Lord. And we know that Saul was persecuting the church at that time. So the connection between the two is made: Lord = church. Therefore, to love the Lord is to love the church. Problem: the earthly church is full of idiots and power-mongers and folks who spend way too much time reading the book of Revelation. Larry's response: Don't say you love the Lord and not try, at least, to love the church. That's the only hope we have. The church will always be a goofy place, but that's who Christ died to save. Don't say you love God, whom you have not seen, and not love the church, whom you can see. Fair enough and scriptural.
Barbara's experience is based on years of pastoring, preaching and counseling. Some would dismiss her immediately because she's a she and "women are not to be pastoring anyway," they'd dismiss. That's unfortunate, because doing so would cause you to miss a very moving and human document, full of genuine love for the church; but alas, finally having to leave a certain definition of the church. Here's two of many "keeper" quotes:
"I wanted out of the belief business and back into the beholding business. I wanted to recover the kind of faith that has nothing to do with being sure what I believe and everything to do with trusting God to catch me though I am not sure of anything."
"What if people were invited to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they were supposed to believe? What if they were blessed for what they are doing in the world instead of being chastened for not doing more at church? What if church felt more like a way station than a destination? What if the church's job were to move people out the door instead of trying to keep them in, by convincing them that God needed them more in the world than in the church?"
I read Larry's. I resonated with Barbara's. But is there a middle here, some kind of loving the church without leaving the church scenario? Or is it either/or? I've heard Larry's viewpoint before; what some would think groundbreaking has been around for years. I've read Barbara's heart before; in fact, I could probably have written most of her book. But I don't want to vote too quickly. Two books given to me with two different perspectives, both focused on one word - CHURCH. And I feel that's where the rub is: How do you define church? Stayed tuned for the next episode, same blog page, same web address.