Sunday, September 24, 2006

Whose Church is it, Anyway? -

Wife of Bath and I spent pretty much all day cutting the grass and edging the grounds at our Episcopal church yesterday. "About two hours", the guy said. Well, if you've used a riding mower before, and you don't do the edging, and if you don't mow half the grassy parking lot, and get out a blower to clean up the clippings in the street . . .

While doing this we were basically the only members of the parish around, so we were running in and out of the building. Rather than a key lock they have a combination lock, because it's expected that most members of the parish will have access to the building. This was my chance to explore. Not a single room or office was locked, other than the AV room in the balcony. Not even the office or the rector's office was locked. The library was unlocked. I had access to all of it.

I couldn't help but contrast that to my experience in the LDS church. I'm in the presidency of a stake-level auxiliary, and I haven't had a key to the building in years. Even when I had to teach a weekly class I had to wait for someone to let me in. Even as ward clerk I didn't have access to the library. It was easier to get into Ft Knox than our ward library.

One way we know who has "the power" in the LDS church is by who has keys to the building. There are some things in our current building only the stake presidency has keys to. Heaven help us if we need to get to some of the lights and nobody from the stake presidency is there. Yet another thing that reinforces the authority of the leaders. I've begun to notice how much of what we do in the LDS church is designed to reinforce the authority of the leaders, but that's a tangent for another time.

So, whose church is it, anyway? Obviously not mine. I can only get into the building when somebody in authority grants me permission. Even then I'm restricted by whether the person has the right authority for the library, the kitchen, etc. So it's not really my church. It's the leadership's church. I only have the access privileges they give me.

By contrast our Episcopal church is my church. I can get in the building any time I want to. They trust me to use good judgment in what I do with my access.

It feels weird to be trusted, but in the end it's a good feeling.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Progress Report –-
It’s been awhile since I posted anything here, because we’ve been sending our youngest child off to college and taking some extended vacations.

What I initially conceived was a detailed description of the last few weeks, but I’m not sure I have the time to write it or you have the patience to read it. Details available on request, but I’ll provide the Readers Digest condensed version under the impression this is a better fit for both of us.

I haven’t attended my own ward sacrament meeting for four weeks now, and we’ve been away from church for three, due to visiting other churches and traveling. Frankly I haven’t missed it much. The local Episcopal church we have joined has provided spirit-filled worship experiences, and the church we visited in Indianapolis preached an inspirational sermon. His subject was basically throwing ourselves into the arms of Christ as children throw themselves into the arms of their fathers when they come home from work. The scriptures teach us that we are secure in our salvation once we make the leap of faith, so we don’t need to doubt our worthiness or our status continually. We don’t need to live in a state of fear about the state of our relationship with Christ. We just need to throw ourselves into it and look forward and up rather than inward and back.

Nobody in our ward seems to have noticed our absence, although I think people are aware we have been traveling. No phone calls telling us we are missed, nobody asking about how our trip was, etc.. E-mail about submitting my home teaching reporting, and somebody wanted a recipe from Wife of Bath. We haven’t heard from home or visiting teachers in months, although our leadership knows we have a “testimony” situation.

I have been playing “garment roulette” over the last few weeks. Sometimes I wear them. Sometimes I don’t. I can’t tell the difference. I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine with Wife of Bath, and I can’t tell the difference in my spirituality there either, other than a suspicious mild headache the next morning sometimes.

Today I wore my garments for the first time in a few days and read the latest Ensign. Surely I should have been filled with the spirit and inspired to return to a life of orthodoxy.

Basically it was the worst morning I have had in awhile. President Faust quoted a collection of men who have been dead for thirty years about how the father should be returned to a position of authority in the home. Elder Perry talked about what I’m sure must have been a truly inspiring family activity where he took them on a tour of Logan UT. At every stop he quoted a scripture and related a moral lesson from his upbringing, thus teaching that the most important role of fathers and grandfathers is to reinforce their own authority by imposing rigid programs and lecturing their family members. Much as we do in the church. One wonders if senior church leaders run their personal lives like a series of conferences and meetings, where family members are gathered to listen to them preach from the scriptures and personal time is scheduled like a temple recommend interview, as we are counseled to schedule personal interviews with our kids, schedule Family Home Evening every Monday, and “date night” every Friday, except when we can get a “twofer” by taking our wives to the temple on ward temple night as a date, thus freeing up a Friday night for preparing a talk or lesson.

A divorced woman talked about how she got through the divorce by relying on the programs of the church and the temple and applying a series of practical steps, similar to what might be found in Ladies Home Journal. I believe Christ was mentioned somewhere near the end of the article, but I’m not sure.

I find myself drifting out of an interest in activity in the church. It just doesn’t seem that relevant any more. What I find I need is to be brought into a close and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and then patiently led back into that relationship when my human tendencies cause me to drift away. I need to be brought into an awareness of who Jesus was and how he lived, taught, and served, and I need opportunities to be connected with other people with whom I can share those experiences and learn to serve. I need to be led to people different from me so I can practice loving as Jesus did, aware of their faults yet offering unconditional love and personal acceptance. Jesus had a way of accepting and supporting people who were failing, without necessarily condoning their behavior. He could tell a woman taken in adultery that he didn’t condemn or judge her, while at the same time encouraging her to turn away from her sins.

Basically what I see the church doing is striving primarily to reinforce its own authority, involving us in programs and teaching experiences where we don’t have to think or rely on the spirit, and then talking about Jesus as the wellspring of where the authority of all these people telling us what to do comes from. He’s out there somewhere, and during our free time from all these other things we’re encouraged to find him.

I remember reading somewhere that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. What I generally feel towards the LDS church right now is not hostility. With some exceptions everybody is doing the best they can to magnify what they have been taught. They have been taught the church is the Kingdom of God. The general authorities need to cover up the history to keep the weak in the fold, and the stake and ward leaders need to keep people anxiously engaged and busy in the church to keep them connected to it, so they don’t wander off on their own and drift away. Basically the earth is flat, and people who wander away from the mainstream of the church fall off the edge and are eaten by horrible sea monsters and dragons. They have to prevent that at all costs, and the “truth” will work itself out later in the millennium.

No, I’m just indifferent. Good people doing their best, but it doesn’t lead me to Jesus. It leads me to a closer relationship to the church and its leaders. I guess that works for most people. It doesn’t work for me.

Aren’t you glad this was the condensed version?