Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A CONFESSION OF LOVE

THERE, I’VE SAID IT. I have a confession to make: I love the church. There, I’ve said it. Anyone surprised? Seriously: I love the church. I’m not sure what all that means; trying to unpack such a statement is a challenge.

WHOLE OR PART? It’s not a matter of WHICH church or any singular expression of it in particular that I love. I can no more specifically locate my love than St. Paul could when he wrote: “Christ loved the church…” Whole or part? Persons or institution? Seen or unseen? Historic or contemporary? Pure or corrupt? Magnanimous or petty? Conservative or liberal? High or low? Global or local? Big or small?

A SPIRITUAL EMBODIED REALITY. “I love the church” is contrasted to such statements as: “I loathe the church,” “I disdain church,” “I don’t believe in the church,” or “I’m not sure the church has much to offer.” On the contrary, I think there is a historically present, spiritual reality embodied in the collective lives and communities of faith with which the world reckons, which includes me in spite of my fitful reticences, and which is moved—albeit minutely—by my struggles and witness.

IN SPITE OF IDIOSYNCRASIES. I think “love” is the right word to use. “Endure” doesn’t get at what I mean. Neither does “agree with.” But love is the context of both the Gospel and community. One can love the church even when one cannot respect certain expressions of the church or give assent to skewed assertions. Love abides in spite of idiosyncrasies or foibles on either my part or the churches’.

SELF-DEFENSIVE AND CRITICAL. I realize that within the context of bikehiker blog, I am both self-defensive and critical of the church. The Good News and hope that issue from it—and that it occasionally actually embodies—seems to me to have the greatest potential for personal transformation and community vitality. This does not excuse or diminish the sins of the church or somehow serve as a justifier of the church as an authoritarian institution. Its struggle with idolatry is great and continuous.

TRYING TO CHANGE THE CHURCH. Frequently I have fits of trying to change the church, to somehow save it. I find parts of it very difficult to accept. I grieve over its smugness, its sense of social superiority, its aloofness from the larger community, its “right makes might” assertions, and, yes, its sins. I try to remind it of its other sides, believing that embracing its shadows can be healthy and that attending to neglected or forgotten aspects of its mission can brighten and purify its light. More often than not, the church resists my overtures.

ACCEPTED BY THE CHURCH. Someday I may realize just how much it means that the church has accepted me. I have felt the pain of its judgments and misjudgments, to be sure. But I also receive graces borne by the church—graces such as love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Its Word and table orient me in the world and whatever significance I have in the universe issues from the open invitation to Eucharist.

STILL SERVING. For all my reservations, you will find me serving the church, attending its public services of worship, supporting its financial needs, trying to embody its local and global mission, and offering prayers for its survival, renewal, and ultimate presentation before Christ as what he gave himself for it to be: “holy and blameless.”

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