Monday, May 24, 2010

On Retreat: Grateful for Readers' Advice and Support

Thank you all, profoundly so, for your replies and encouragement after my last posting.

I'm going through a soul-searching, life-assessment process right now.  I think it wouldn't be a stretch to call it a retreat--a time to think, read, pray.  And just be.

I feel the need for such a process because I'm aware of feeling frayed around the edges these days, and that feeling leaves me thinking that anything I post right now is bound to be off.  Out of kilter.  As unbalanced as are the churches whose lack of balance I'm decrying in some of my postings.

And I myself have to own the primary responsibility for being out of balance right now, and not shift that responsibility to anyone else or to an institution.  I have long felt--most of my life, it seems to me--that inside each of us is a balancing point that we need to safeguard, if we're to live humanely and honorably.

When I have let that balance point become obscured by anything else, or when I've let it tip precariously in one direction or another, I have invariably made unfortunate life decisions and/or have caused pain to others.

I'm feeling the balance tip these days, and so I know it's time to be silent for a while.  To pray.  And to listen.

If there's any "originating point" to this need to listen more intently at present, it's the experience of turning 60 in March, about which I blogged earlier in the year.  In one sense, chronological age is merely a tick on a chart that has little meaning as a map for our existential journey.  But in another sense, these birthdays that have transitional portent--60 signifies the shift to old age for many of us--do demand our attention.

And so I'm asking myself these days how I need to be spending the time that remains to me, using the gift of life given to me.  And it's no secret that my life experience has made me feel a certain sense of worthlessness, when it comes to the institutional church.  Many of my experiences (and those of my partner Steve) with the church have been designed to let us know we don't count.

I can spend my remaining time lamenting and trying to tell our story, in the hope it might become a morality tale of some sort--a story that I hope will induce shame in churches that make human beings feel worthless, so that they will stop doing this to others who share our experience.  To other LGBT persons.

Or I can spend my time battering the walls with my head, hoping that the battering will be noticed by someone who has the ability to change the situation that makes people engage in such demonstrations.

Or . . . and that's where my imagination begins to falter.  There has to be an "or" for our lives that permits us both to fight and shout warnings, and to enjoy life and celebrate its goodness.  That's the balance point that I can't allow to shift too decisively in my life, or I have lost my vocation: so it seems to me.  And to lose one's vocation is to lose oneself.

And this is why I'm spending some time now on retreat (not in a formal sense, but on retreat nonetheless).

As I think, pray, and read, I'm becoming aware (all over again, though the article about which I'm commenting here is recent) of the truth of something that Jayden Cameron posted in response to my last posting, from Chris Hedges at Truthdig.  Hedges writes about the institutional failure of all of the churches at this moment in history.

And I agree with his analysis.  My own writing in recent months has focused primarily on the Catholic church for two reasons.  First, it's my own church.  And second, it's a church whose ongoing implosion is so dramatic and newsworthy that it's impossible to avoid this story as one probes the relationship between religion and culture at this point in history.

But as Chris Hedges notes, what's happening to the Catholic church now is a facet of a broader process, in which the mainstream churches in general have stood by in silence while fascist aberrations of Christian doctrine and Christian life have been permitted to claim the center, and to posture as authentic Christianity.  As that has happened, and as our global economic life is increasingly dominated by a neoliberal economic theory that turns all of us into consuming units, the churches have generally stood by in silence.  To the extent that they speak out, they do so faintly and in such individualistic, narcissistic terms that they are not heard.  And they don't deserve to be heard.

We are witnessing not merely the demise of institutional Catholicism at this point in history, but of institutional Christianity in general.  We are witnessing its demise in the sector of the globe--the developed North--in which it has long been dominant.  The mainstream churches are in death throes, and their death will become increasingly (and dramatically) evident in the decade ahead, as young people leave them in droves.

And what is taking the place of mainstream Christianity is highly ambivalent.  Though it is "successful" in terms of numbers, and, increasingly, in terms of political and economic clout, it departs from core affirmations of traditional Christianity which require the church to adopt a prophetic stance against economic and political systems that reduce human beings to the level of things.

When the church's authority rests primarily not on the power of its prophetic voice, but on its ability to coerce--on its fascist appeal to authority alone, in the face of reason and tradition that move in a direction opposite to that which church authority wishes to maintain--something very valuable is in danger of being lost in our culture.

Since I am living through this moment of transition in global Christianity, I am faced--along with all other believers--to respond.  To situate myself in the transition, and in response to it.

I can (and must) fight against the equation of Christian truth claims with a raw, coercive appeal to authority.  I can (and must) fight against the abdication of moral seriousness by many Christian leaders who are perfectly content to live in the belly of the economic and political beast.

But at the same time, faith is also about living, and I need to recover the balance point that permits me somehow to live gracefully--with a sense that my life is graced and full of gift and call--as I fight.  Because anyone fighting these cultural and religious currents today is almost certain to lose the battle.  We will lose not primarily because those urging mainstream churches to mute their prophetic witness in the face of what is happening economically at a global level are so powerful.  We will lose not merely because the right is powerful.

We will lose because of the indifference of the liberal center.

We will lose primarily because many of our brothers and sisters at the center do not care about what is happening, and do not intend to raise their voices.  They are the gatekeepers to the power circles that maintain the center's dominance, to the circles within which the church's witness is formulated in an official institutional sense.

And they do not intend to let certain voices, particularly those from the left of center, inside.

Last week, I endured taunts on one blog that ranged from telling me I'm a purveyor of hate to informing me that what I write is funnier than Letterman and that navel lint is more Catholic than I am.  But at the same time, I also found myself decisively slapped when I crossed lines invisible to me on one of the blogs of the Catholic center, where I had only begun to consider myself welcome enough to post comments.  I find myself given the message by my Catholic brothers and sisters of the right that I am immoral and bound for hell and by my Catholic brothers and sisters of the center that something about who I am, what I stand for, what I say and have to offer is distasteful.


And so I am spending these days discerning how best to use the time left to me, as I recognize that the exclusion will continue, and that, in the final analysis, nothing that I say can alter that reality.  And that my critics are right to this extent: I am only a very tiny and very replaceable cog in a wheel far larger than my own circumscribed existence--and a faulty cog at that.

I'll appreciate the prayers of readers who value prayer, or the supportive thoughts of those who prefer various paths of meditation.  I already appreciate and feel the prayers and support evident in the comments readers left at my last posting, and of those who have contacted me personally.

The graphic for this posting is from a photograph at Gibbs Cadiz's blog site, illustrating his account of his pilgrimage to San Juan Compostela.