Losing My Religion and Other Interesting News

By Tripp Hudgins 5-08-2012
Church candles, Hitdelight / Shutterstock.com
Church candles, Hitdelight / Shutterstock.com

Some days I wake up and I'm pleased. The sun is coming over the hill. The traffic is starting to pick up. It's all good stuff. I make some coffee and feed the cats then I crack open the old laptop and check the news. Maurice Sendak passed away. That's the news that's on my mind this morning. Yes, there are all kinds of important political events and shenanigans. Great fun there. Very important, too. Oh, and this retired bishop was arrested. That's pretty interesting. Some are calling him The People's Bishop. That will set some teeth on edge, but I found his rhetoric interesting.

''Arrests are not arrests anymore," Packard said as we talked Friday in a restaurant overlooking Zuccotti Park in New York. ''They are badges of honor. They are, as you are taken away with your comrades, exhilarating. The spirit is calling us now into the streets, calling us to reject the old institutional orders. There is no going back. You can't sit anymore in churches listening to stodgy liturgies. They put you to sleep. Most of these churches are museums with floorshows. They are a caricature of what Jesus intended. Jesus would be turning over the money-changing tables in their vestibules. Those in the church may be good-hearted and even well-meaning, but they are ignoring the urgent, beckoning call to engage with the world. It is only outside the church that you will find the spirit of God and Christ. And with the rise of the Occupy movement it has become clear that the institutional church has failed. It mouths hollow statements. It publishes pale Lenten study tracts. It observes from a distance without getting its hands dirty. It makes itself feel good by doing marginal charitable works, like making cocoa for Occupy protesters or providing bathrooms from 9 to 5 at Trinity Church's Charlotte's Place. We don't need these little acts of charity. We need the church to have a real presence on the Jericho Road. We need people in the church to leave their comfort zones, to turn away from the hierarchy, and this is still terrifying to a lot of people in the church and especially the church leadership."

I find this language more interesting having read AKMA's homily on "institutionalism contra catholicism" and the church. He critiques the "hipper-than-thou" attitudes that are out in the ether. 

"Catholicity also entails our committing to some degree of cooperation. While some of us might like to suppose that we could do the church’s work on our own, without regard to what others are up to, that’s not the way that we undertake any other important venture. In the operating theatre; in bringing up children; in military manoeuvres; in orchestral music; even sometimes in government, the great things we attempt involve our working with others and attending to what they’re getting up to. Catholicity doesn’t require that we make ourselves identical to one another, but it entails our understanding that we share discipleship with sisters and brothers from Orkney to Gretna Green, and indeed to Penzance, Provence, Puerto Rico, Patagonia, and Perth (Australia). We are Philip, baptising; and we are Abdimalkah, receiving blessings from far away, and we and Abdimalkah and Philip and St Andrew and St Frumentius of Aksum (the apostle of Ethiopia), all share in the one Body of Christ."

Again, good stuff. And this leads me on to this post on the Ekklesia Project page, Believe It or Not. This is a response to some of the NPR coverage on pastors who are losing their religion. It's a heartbreaking series. I say that not because people are losing their faith, changing their minds about religion. I'm heartbroken because I'm not hearing about any Christian tradition other than American Fundamentalism. That's Christianity according to mass media and, apparently, according to the men and women who have stepped away from the Church. They believe so strongly in the arguments of Fundamentalism that they cannot imagine another form of Christianity. They cannot imagine another God. They believe that Fundamentalism is the only theology out there. They believe in One God, the Fundamentalist God. So, in breaking with that rhetoric, they have to break with the whole Church.

We who believe something other than American Fundamentalism have failed these people. We have failed again and again to successfully offer the alternatives to Fundamentalism. Instead, we sit in our beautiful neo-gothic buildings or in our hip-coffee shops or under the dome of the Pantokrator and wonder why people do not know us. It's simply crap. If all there were in Christianity was American Fundamentalism, I would be an atheist, too. Perhaps the Fundamentalists have won after all.

But I rant...Rather, read this from the Ekklesia Project: 

Perhaps the saddest part of Teresa MacBain’s story was the loneliness of her journey. She wrestled with unbelief on her own, in secrecy, away from her church. She found refuge and community online, the place where so many secrets thrive away from the grounded, complex communities where we can truly struggle and love together. What if she had told her congregation, I’m having trouble believing in God? How they responded would be a reflection of their own belief, their own knowledge.

Belief isn’t the most important thing. What we need, we are told in John 15:1-8, is not to believe but to abide. It is in abiding that we discover truth, it is in abiding that we come to know. Knowledge and belief work on so many levels beyond our conscious and rational minds, it is through practice, through context, through community and imitation that we come to truth. We find all of this in abiding, staying close, not letting go.

We abide. We abide with one another in doubt and loss, in un-belief and in fervent conviction. We abide. There's nothing Christian about a theological litumus test. There is embodiment, certainly, in good works and in liturgy, but there's no "test." But we keep creating tests nonetheless. We've gotten very good at it and in the process made Fundamentalists of us all, left, right, center, green, blue, you name it. We insist that people never change the way they think, grow, mature, degress, become embittered...we insist on changeless minds. It's incredibly cruel. 

We are called to abide. As the good folk of Taize sing, "Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray. Watch and pray." 

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

Church candles, Hitdelight / Shutterstock.com


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