dimanche, décembre 25, 2011

Tear down the walls

It's late at night, Christmas Eve.

Actually, it's early in the morning, Christmas Day, a good time to reflect on the place where faith and unbelief intersect.

Being a parent, no matter how organized (I wasn't organized this year) always seems to entail early morning time on Christmas.

In this case, there are presents I haven't wrapped. But since they are in the room where my son is sleeping (we still don't have the rooms sorted yet), I can't get to them.

I'm sitting here, strengthened with hot chocolate, chocolate peppermint JoJos, and chocolate trail mix (notice a theme here?), reflecting on the evening, and listening to English carols.

It was actually a very nice family evening. My ex and I do the holidays together. We started out doing it for the kids, and now it's got to be such a normal thing we don't even cavil anymore.

Bicker, yes. Cavil, not so much.

And I'm thinking, on one of the holiest nights of the Christian year, of how tangential many churches appear to be in reaching out to society.

As faithful,we seem to perpetuate our cultures.

I have experienced this more and more as I engage those outside the arms of the Church.

It used to be that I could count my atheist or questioning friends on the fingers of two hands (not counting my relatives, of course, a wondrously colorful grab-bag of faith and politics.)

Because I had spent so much of my professional life in the womb of the church (or Church), I had become part of the institution.

I see it with friends, all the time. Good people they are, who sometime along their journey began to socialize only with "their" kind -- other Christians.

Idly rifling through Facebook sometimes, I'll see albums of people who seem to mostly hang out with one another -- and wonder if they want to expand their horizons, or are just comfortable with the folks they know.

It's normal, or natural, for that to happen to people, whether they be artists or accountants.

But I wasn't crazy about the notion when it is applied to me, for a couple of reasons.

I don't like living in a cocoon.

It feels inauthentic. And I also believe that all of us need to have friends who challenge us.

Besides, what is the message of the Gospel if it doesn't mean engaging people who don't believe it - not as superiors, but as listeners, as equals?

Jesus never said anything about superiority. Oh wait, he did -- to the religious authorities of his day.

Part of it was running into guys online who had little experience, or negative experiences, with institutional religion.

Another element was the interviews I did for a number of commentary series -- I became more and more fascinated with the choices people make about what to believe.

(As I've said before on these "pages," people do seem to have to put faith in something, whether it's a god or not a god.)

So many of my Facebook journalist friends are indeed Christians -- but they keep a strong professional line between their practice and their jobs. I guess I feel most comfortable there -- a weird thing for an ordained minister to say, I confess.

I'm not drawing conclusions about secularism or atheism, or alternative beliefs, at least not as yet. But I'm enjoying the dialogues. And I'm learning -- always committed to learning.

I still believe that if religious folks don't try to meet others in the bars, in the coffeehouses, in the workplace, the church risks becoming irrelevant.

Not sayin' that I'm good at having these conversations, or even great at being a listener.

Hostility towards Christians as a class bothers me as much as when I experience hostility from Christians about the not-religious. We can't seem to tolerate difference without wanting to throw up the drawbridges.

But I admit, that, occasionally, I am more excited about what's going on outside the walls of the institutional church than I am about what's going on within it.

And if that's the case for me, imagine, Christians, what it feels like to be searching for meaning outside the walls -- and to have already discounted us as a potential source.

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