It has been too long since the last post. I do not know yet how much stuff will flow from my little head here but here is what is on my mind today.
How can we as Christians Possibly be taken seriously? Now that may seem a cynical question to start with but really, how can we be taken seriously? Consider these couple of stories from the BBC this past week, with licence to story-tell a little;
The music plays softly in the background and the from table to table people smile and laugh as they consume their gnocchi and fine salads. The village is Rutino in Italy. Population – 950. In the corner a young couple is so in love they don’t even notice the heated argument between the restaurateur and three unlikely strong-arms. What makes them unlikely? Two are nuns, one is a priest and their combined age is 160. Forty-nine year old Antonio Esposito is trying desperately to calm these three. It does not work. Arms are waving and voices escalate and then the most unexpected happens. The priest takes a chair from a vacant table and whacks the priest over the head with it. The nuns then proceed to kick him when he is down. Sound like something from a strange movie? It is not. According to the BBC, these three were upset because they are working to get back the property that has been leased to Mr. Esposito. The property is owned by the religious order and they were in dispute as to the current situation of the lease.
I have had this story in my mind now for a couple of days. It seems too much to comprehend. Three disgruntled religious landlords beating the living lights out of a tenant. This alleged beating with left Esposito with neck and abdomen injuries is disputed by a lawyer for the three. No charges have been laid yet, an investigation continues.
Or how about this –
A ‘vicar’ in England who has a ‘problem with drink,’ comes before a tribunal. The charge? ‘Conduct unbecoming holy orders.’ That gives me pause to read more. What could be ‘unbecoming’ for us clerics?
Apparently she had told two other clerics that she and her husband were swingers. They obviously were not! These other two clerics obviously reported the problem and the church took the complaints seriously. The Reverend Teresa Davies contends that the problem started ‘with the drink.’ Her problems spiralled out of control from there.
The BBC article goes on to say that, “The tribunal also heard claims she had been drunk at four separate church services she was conducting as part of a ministry team in Daventry in 2006. She had smelled of alcohol, been unsteady on her feet on one occasion and on another did not know the order of service, the tribunal heard.”
I am pleased at least that the charge was not simply about knowing the order of the service. If that were chargeable I know a few of us clerics that could be in trouble. She, in any case, was found guilty and her punishment is a ban from taking any leadership role for 12 years. Well at least the Church of England has a process that allowed the church to take serious action where a person in leadership has gone off the rails. The Diocese in fact was quick to add that they had hoped that it would be possible for Ms Davies and her husband ‘to get on with their lives.”
Then there is this story from the weekend–
“Fighting erupted between Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Christ’s crucifixion.
Two monks from each side were detained as dozens of worshippers traded kicks and punches at the shrine, said police.”
The church is ‘shared’ by six groups who lay claim on it. In the meantime they cannot agree who should hold the key to the main door. The big ol’ 10 inch key to the place is actually held by Muslim families. “Two Muslim families have been the sole guardians of the 25cm (10 inch) key since they were entrusted with the task by the Muslim ruler Saladin in 1178. One family is responsible for unlocking the door each morning and locking it each night, while the other is responsible for its safekeeping at all other times.” So we have a Muslim family open the door for us each morning and locks up each night because us Christians cannot get along well enough to hold our own keys.
It is hard to envision really. There are literally thousands of people making pilgrimage each day to the site that is believed to be on or near the site of the nativity of Jesus. On that day the many would have looked on and watched as rival monks and religious ‘threw punches and anything they could lay their hands on.’ (The BBCs page has video of this as well). So those who would be there to say they could witness the place of birth of the “Prince of Peace,” got to witness instead an unholy brawl between ‘holy men’ all over a few inches of territory. This dispute broke out as the Armenians were celebrating the Feast of the Cross. They were apparently offended that the Greek’s were going to place a man in the tomb, where according to ancient agreements they cannot go. So on a day that would be focussed on the 4tch century discovery of what was believe to be the cross on which Jesus of Nazareth died, these holy men fought with each other. There is more than a little irony in that Jesus immediately before assuming his place on that cross admonished his ‘holy men’ who had struck out in violence against his accusers.
So I ask, ‘How can we be taken seriously?’ A large part of the conversation in Brian McLaren’s book EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE is really about just that. How much have we the church lived up to the mandate given to us by Jesus? When we read stories like the three above we should not be surprised that young people, who are more educated and enlightened than ever, see us as a bit of a joke. The frightening part is that there had to be a dozen wild stories on the BBCs religion page in the past week that would be laughable of they were not so sad. You and I also know that these stories are as local as they are distant. We have a problem with how we live up to our message in our communities and in our congregations. We have to ask the very difficult questions about how will we get back to the work that Jesus began so long ago – kingdom building! Can we harness the great energy that is in the church to build a kingdom that is about love and justice as opposed to power and might? Being engaged in a very powerful conversation as we were last week in our study group, gives me hope that we can take on the very message of Jesus and make change a reality.
Or problem is epidemic. Leadership in the church is mediocre at best (I include myself here), change is scary to those who use the church to avoid doing the kingdom building, and the examples from above are a fraction of those that show the challenges that we must overcome to be incredible communities of change and hope. But make no mistake; we have the tools necessary to make these powerful shifts. I remember somewhere in the first couple of chapters of his book McLaren implies that it is frustrating to know that we have all the tools and gifts needed and we keep them locked away in the attic.
The people of God are being called to new integrity and new accountability. Old models of church leadership have failed and no longer work in our face paced rapidly changing and shrinking world. It is time that we clean out the attic and make use of the tools that we have to make change a reality and bring the church back to the place where it can feed the hungry, cloth the naked, protect the orphaned, welcome the refugee, grieve with the mourner, bind up the broken hearted, walk with the oppressed and stand up to the powerbrokers. It can be done, we will have integrity when we do, and we can be taken seriously. It’s no Joke!