Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Letter to an Invisible Church: No. 4

Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:

I would like to say a few words in praise of errancy. And no, this isn't going to be a theological debate about the fallibility/infallibility of Scripture. At least, not on purpose.

Rather, I speak of my own errancy--my failings and inability to achieve what I and you think is probably a nice way to live, to put it mildly.

A few months ago (ok, I'll admit it, maybe almost a year ago), I was inside the walls of one your buildings. The man up front had some interesting things to say. Among them was possibly the most staggering thing I'd ever heard from behind a block of wood:

People think they should become Christians because it will make them a better person. I'll tell you right now: if you want to be a better person, than being a Christian isn't the answer.

Obviously, there's a little cheek-tonguing happening here. He wasn't advocating that if you want to feel better about your predilection for voyeurism, then you should start going to church. Rather, he was saying--I think--that faith isn't about self-betterment or the pursuit of personal perfection. It's about turning your guts inside out until you have no choice but to be immediately stung by the outside world--meaning, you have to respond to it when it comes to you about unfairly traded coffee, breakups, and oil-drenched pelicans.

This is why I'm afraid of your walls: that I'll stare at the chair in front of me for so long that I start to think I can only see my hideous reflection.  This would then lead to me only focusing on making myself better, as if it was perfectly natural to self-scoop out the rotting cancer behind my bones.

I love the idea of church picnics, and food pantries, and the annual Christmas drive and all, but in the end, it feels like it's designed to make me feel like I'm making a difference. Sometimes, I'm frightened that if I feel this way, it means that nothing is different, and I'm only playing dress-up in the bathroom mirror that's adjacent to the Toys for Tots bin in the lobby.

I, unsurprisingly, am not that great of a person. I spend most of my time checking emails, waiting for someone to say something nice to me. In fact, I spend even more of time waiting. Waiting to feel like a better person so that I can feel up to your standards and equipped to do good in the world. I can pray my psalms in the morning and feel saintly peace as I then eat my yogurt and granola. But I'm giving myself the spiritual slip by acting out the habits you taught me so that I don't have to feel useless by the end of the day. 

But I do. 

Waiting, Always,
a sleeper

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