I’ve spent the last few days thinking about this post by Rod Dreher and the comments that it inspired. The post, which consists almost entirely of a letter written by one of Dreher’s readers, was intended to be a kind if show-of-solidarity from a middle-class guy with so many others who are struggling in key ways. Only one comment that I saw made note of this. The rest of the comments were either condemnations or recommendations for the man. A sobering paragraph:
I thank God for my dear children and my religious faith, because I could not endure this otherwise. I am a Catholic who is faithful to the sacraments, but my experience of parish life is profoundly lonely. We attend a relatively large but shrinking suburban parish. The priest is a decent man, but his homilies are terrible, and it looks as if he sees his job as trying to get through the days and weeks without offending anyone. I try not to judge him harshly. I could not do what he does . . . We are a gathering of strangers in that parish. We don’t know where we are going, or why we are going there. When my family first began attending it, I tried to get involved in the parish’s life, but I couldn’t sustain my efforts in the face of so much religious lethargy and indifference.
A few weeks ago my church entered into an unexpected time of concern and reflection. The reflection, of course, is happening on multiple levels from multiple directions. In the midst of this, many seem to be handling things well (though the question should be asked: what does it look like to genuinely handle difficult times as a church?). Different people have different coping systems and different splinter communities to help process these things.
I, on the other hand, probably relate a bit too much with the Dreher reader (which would probably put me at odds with many of the people responding to the original post). What’s interesting about institutions in general is the lack of a healthy, verbal framework to genuinely process difficult things. Maybe there is some good to this (of course there is, right?). But maybe there is a price to pay, too. And that price is relational.
Friendship and formation, I think, are at the heart of this situation. I can’t help but think, though, that many (most?) churches might be doing something deeply and categorically wrong with how we are being formed and (as a result) forming one another. I cannot help but think that we have traded the possibility of genuine friendship for a kind of anemic community that rarely transcends its parts. (Don’t get me wrong: it is good and right to step up when things are falling apart, when the budget is in shortfall, when the wheels have come off the wagon. But dramatic surgery is intervention, not health). We might be dutifully starving ourselves of something vital. We might be inadvertently silencing those with something to say, whose experience and concern might not line up with the verbalized concerns of the day. And we press on even though (perhaps) almost a whole generation (or two) has supposedly walked out the door with no intent to return.
If you get a chance, I strongly encourage you to read the original post to Dreher’s site and the comments that it inspired. A great picture of a very sad reality for many (but not that we could tell because most of those that have “moved on” are out-of-sight, out-of-mind). We should be very careful of condemning the guy, for sure. If we were more honest, we’d see ourselves feeling like him more than we’d care to admit. And we’d find some way for those thoughts and concerns to see the light of day in something more like healthy community.
Continued tomorrow in “Walker Percy and the 98%” . . .