Friday, November 28, 2008

Clearing the Air

It has felt like living two lives – the antithesis of integrity. Ironic because it was Hans Tiefel, the professor who first intrigued me with the possibility of combining a life of intentional faith with a vocation of academic rigor, who defined the word for me years ago: getting all parts of one’s life in sync.

So here I am, two degrees and five years later, working for the church while living in simplicity and community. Attempting integrity and finding instead that life’s fragments only fall farther apart the longer you live and the more you try. My volunteer lifestyle – treading lightly, spending little, eating together, sharing our resources – clashes almost violently with my corporate workday – working in a cubicle, readily using up the church’s income, walking fine lines of politics and exclusion, keeping up appearances.

I woke up Monday morning writing my final report. It must have started in my sleep and spilled over into consciousness, because as soon as I opened my eyes sentences were forming and structure was working itself out. It’s Friday now, though, and the report remains unwritten. Out of practice and out of grace, I haven’t been able to find the right words or situate them in the proper order.

It’s more than that, though. I don’t know how to say these things, these disappointments and frustrations, in ways that acknowledge my gratitude and offer some hope. My explicit and stated reason for doing this was, naively, to become further disillusioned in order to find a more authentic hope. Further disillusionment – check. More authentic hope – in progress. I guess.

Here’s what I don’t doubt: that these people who work for the church are committed to what they do. That the work of the church is necessary and important and ought to continue. That the witness of the Church of the Brethren, in particular, is needed. That I, like many others, have been and continue to be deeply formed and practiced into the life of the church, the Body of Christ.

The list of what I do doubt is significantly longer: that the ways we do things are the most faithful. That we think, intentionally, about how our organizational practices fulfill the call of the gospel. That we hold one another accountable. That we expect excellence in any form. That we are willing to hear or speak truth. That we are open enough to be broken. That we ever read scripture together in community. That we can see beyond political repercussions. That our heritage and history are enough to enliven us. That we listen for the leading of the Spirit. That we have enough creative energy to find another way of living. That we are any different than the rest of the world. That the Church can ever exist as a corporate institution.

Karl Barth famously said that if we really hope for the Kingdom of God, then we can also endure the Church in its pettiness. Maybe I’m asking too much – my grandma reminds me that we’re all only human. It’s true, I know, and the struggle is as much personal as it is ecclesial.

But really, is this the best we can do?


Erin said...

I ask this question every day. Can the church be institution and still be the church?

Most days I doubt it, and yet I put on my suit and sit at my laptop to try to make it so.

Meredith said...

The lack of expectation of excellence is what drives me crazy. In my situation, it seemed like budget crunch/economic meltdown was going to be an inadvertent driving force to spur folks to do 8x more with 2/3 the material resources, but it is amazing how quickly that fire simmered down. But then again, is "lack of funds" really going to motivate those for whom "the Lord's work" did nothing?!

(Not that you're probably interested, but the COB around the corner from me is looking for a new associate, and their senior pastor is a kickass kind of person who, between you and him, makes me think there's something amazing going on in your church!)

Dana said...

I do it too, Erin, and the disconnect between belief and practice is about to drive me batty.

And Meredith, the lack of expectation is far and away the largest of those frustrations for me, too. There's got to be some balance somewhere between grace and accountability.

(And I think I know the church you're talking about. We're using this sermon as a starting point for a big young adult conversation on ministry that I'm hosting next week. Kickass, indeed.)

Dana said...

And, thanks for the commiseration. It's a comfort to know I'm not alone.