Leaving Church

So, you found church outside of church, funny, that’s where I find it to.

This was a comment from a friend on my Perfume and Ash post. I had left the Basilica early on Ash Wednesday and met a homeless woman who blessed me with, "Have wonderful day sweetheart!"

The universe conspires. I’ve just finished reading "Leaving Church," a marvelous new book by Episcopalian priest, Barbara Brown Taylor.

"Leaving Church" is a memoir not a manifesto. Which should relieve priests and pastors. Then again, as priests and pastors know, stories are more powerful than prescriptions.

Taylor tells of how, against desire and inclination, while serving the church as priest, she became a "professional holy person." The machinery kind of kicked in and momentum did the rest. She speaks openly about how the toxic effects of maintaining the machinery, the expected persona, crowded out the joy and promise of her vocation.

Becoming encased by the “church-system” might suggest that the solution is simply a question of management. For her it was much more. The disconnections were happening with the church at large. Church hardening over issues of sexuality, environmentalism, warfare, compelled her to question old certitudes. Friends from other traditions brought her to face new questions of the creeds. Scripture itself revealed fresh insights when approached from a new angle.

In the honest mess of her passage she found herself surrendering not only her church, but her "faith" as well. But in the process a new faith was germinating. A faith that prized "holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty."

The book is a loving confession, a song of praise, a joyful discovery of new faith through full emersion into humanity.

It is not a diatribe against the church. It is in fact a story of relearning that the church is not a stopping place but a starting place for discerning God’s presence in the world. A simple and agreeable notion. But one that too rarely leavens hearts and supervises the system.

But change is happening. Beyond the walls of the "church," people are finding church. Beyond the surety of static "faith," people are finding faith.

And I would think that one of the points of Lent, would be to find church beyond the perennial seduction of safe walls. To find God without a safety net. To find Her sitting outside the church on a stone step, waiting for us to come out.

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  1. You make me want to read the book, you make me glad to be your friend, and you give me hope for my sometimes jaded spirit!

  2. I must say I agree 100 per cent with Connie’s sentiment; however, I find it difficult to accept your continuing attack on “professional holy people.” There is a legitimate role for these “pros.” Take, for instance, Don Stewart, host of the Power and Mercy Ministry, who I caught on some wayward channel Sunday evening. Sweating like he’s just stepped out of the sauna, Don promotes green prosperity cloths with reckless abandon. These valuable little items, which can be had just by giving Don a call toll free, carry awesome healing power, and look good too, especially if you’re wearing a plum or soft green leisure suit. As Don liberally applied the green prosperity cloth, in obedience to Acts 19, his live audience of poor black women were tossing walkers, going off oxygen and snapping up surprise cheques in the mail for $146,000. Christmas morning at a trucking industry magnate’s home pales by comparison. So I maintain that these holy pros, the one’s you so malign, are the only ones with balls big enough to adhere to our holy text and they eanestly keep the flame alive (the cloths are flame-retardant, I’m told. A good thing, particularly in Pentecostal circles). Ineed, it’s the professional pulpiteers’ valuable how-tos –how to wash your green cloth, how to avoid joy-stealers, how to have great sex without waking the kids – that keep us in line, spirit-filled and aware of our need for miracle-working materials, and who we neglect gathering together with at our peril. How’d you like to miss out on $146,000 just because you were too high and mighty to avail yourself of God’s good green things?

  3. Dang (it’s not a swear) Right! And Thank you Brother! Cause I just had my PHP card laminated and was heading out to pick up my freshly laundered plum velour leisure suit and then hit the C-market with my stockpile of genuine cross splinters, miracle water vials, and fish-sole sandals. Thanks to your support I’ll be dustin’ off my own soles of every unbelievin’, unreceivin’ and ill-begotten questioner that fails to see the healing-glory of the “work,” cause that’s what Jesus tells us to do.

  4. I loved the image that was conjured up by your sentence which says, “To find her sitting outside the Church on a stone step waiting for us to come out.”

    “Have a wonderful day sweetheart” would be exactly the thing She would say.

    Of course you know my journey is partial to this thinking and sentiment.

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