I have worked in the Christian church for the whole of my adult life. Church occupies many of my hours, most of my energy, and much of my imagination. At times in my life, church has been my all-consuming obsession. As a result, although I know you exist, we have seldom met.
But I know you are out there. In fact, you make up by far the majority of the population in the community in which I live.
Unfortunately, you and I do not talk often and never about anything more significant than the weather. This is probably mostly my fault. My world does not make much sense to you and I have seldom tried to explain myself in terms you might be expected to understand. Rather than seeking ways to bridge the gap between us, I have withdrawn into my secluded enclave of religious self-interest. Understandably, you have completely lost interest in what I do or what I believe.
In some cases I have actively driven you away. I have been arrogant, self-righteous, opinionated and demanded that you adopt my world view. I have drawn a circle around myself that excludes you unless you choose to enter by agreeing with me and conforming to my standards. I have failed to listen to you. I have not taken a genuine interest in the concerns and realities that shape your world. At my worst I have done violence to you, judged you, and rejected you as unworthy of the value and respect I demand for the people with whom I insulate myself from your world.
The sad thing is that I believe you and I are not all that different.
Like me, you love your family. You care for your friends and neighbours and you try to be responsible in your work. You seek to live an ethical life and to follow a high moral code. You want to be kind and gentle. You try to make a positive impact in the world. You are concerned about the well-being of the earth we all share and the damage we inflict upon our beautiful planet. You care about injustice and inequality. You value peace, truth, beauty, and goodness. Sometimes you struggle and you know we share a tendency to fall below the high standards of human behaviour to which we aspire. You believe in the deep mystery, beauty and wonder of life that exceeds any human ability to define.
But, except possibly for a wedding or a funeral, we never share in the enterprise I call “church.” You view me and my little church, at best, as completely irrelevant to your life, and, at worst, as an unhealthy force of manipulation and abuse.
If I was able to talk with you, I would want to ask you three questions:
1. Can you imagine anything I could do that might help rehabilitate your image of church?
2. Is there anything positive you can ever imagine church might contribute to your life?
3. Can you imagine yourself ever feeling drawn to share in a corporate expression of reverence for that deep sense of the mystery and wonder of life that we share?
I would like to ask you these questions, not as a thinly veiled scheme to coax you into my church, but because I believe my life would be enriched by our conversation. I believe I have a great deal to learn from you. I think our community as a whole would be enriched if we could trust each other and take joy in the many things we share in common.
I am sad that the way I have done church has contributed to you becoming so profoundly alienated from a community I cherish so deeply.
I know my church has failed you. It has let you down. It has betrayed many of its most deeply held values.
Yet, at the same time, in my experience, for all its failings, my church has been a place in which my heart has been broken open to the startling potential for beauty present in human community. I have been challenged in church to embrace the radical diversity of life and to persevere with people with whom I might never normally choose to be associated. Church has been a place for me in which I have encountered the ineffable presence of Mystery and the inexpressible beauty of the Divine.
I wish it was possibe for us to speak about ways in which we share in common experieces of the deep mysteries of life. I wish it was possible for us to recognize and affirm the connections that unite us in the extraordinary wonder of the human community. I hope you can help me learn to listen. I hope that, through listening to you, I may discover the many unexpected ways in which God is present in the world and at work in all of creation.