The Church is a Whore - Love Her

A recent post over at Her-menetics deserves a read: Called to Love The Whore.

Karen Swallow Prior does a nice job of admitting the many ways that the Church is deserving of our criticism and disappointment.

"They have studied history and are rightly angry over the racism of the church.
They have witnessed the present and are bewildered by the continued marginalization of some by the church.
They say the church is too shallow, caught up in outward trappings which sacrifice the substance of the gospel.
They have found the church too unwelcoming of hard questions, expressions of doubt, and spiritual struggles.
They have heard the call for war made in the name of the church."

The article goes on to catalog the sins of the Church. Then, in a fashion oddly prophetic, she reminds us that when we are judging others for their sins, we need to allow the same grace we would covert ourselves.

Is the Church a whore of a bride? Has she gone too far for our grace? Is the church a periodically errant servant or a lost organization?


Gasoline, exhaust fumes and the aroma of God

The heat this month is intense and makes mowing the lawn an adventure. I have one of those old fashion push-it-yourself gasoline mowers and the back yard at my home rest on a steep slope down to the stream. My mowing path takes me back and forth along the side of this hill, in and out of the shadow of the hickory trees, and white barked beech trees that tower above.

My weekly yard mowing has always been a time of physical exertion and spiritual awareness. It was in my back yard that the pains of early recovery and the exhaustion of body were met by the simple truth that one step at a time in the right direction will result in success, in time. It was here that my struggle with the 'weeds from hell' formed the framework for my belief that recovery and life is about helping and receiving help. And, it is here that I got a lesson about the aroma of god.

After my hour long journey over hill and weed in the back yard, I turn my sweat drenched body to the sun owned space known as my front yard. Here there is little shade and as my timing usually has it, I arrive here to complete the lawn mowing task in the peak of the day's scorching laughter, the blast furnace of hell!

My routine path takes me back and forth along the length of the now level ground. This day seemed especially oppressive. Perhaps the combination of heat and humidity, or the burden of the thoughts that my mind carried, or an unearthly union of both found me wishing for an end to this chore. Yes, it was an unseemly chore.

My thoughts had drifted to the past. Memories of days, now revisited, filled with personal failure, broken promises, misdirected passions, and self centered choices. I could see again the faces of those I had hurt with my addiction, feel the trauma of their pain, the poison of disappointments filled me. I coughed and felt the burning in my eyes of exhaust tainted sweat, the fumes rancid in my lungs. I tried breathing shallow, but my lungs screamed for air, for relief.

It was then I passed near a brief spindle of shadow, the transparent touch of the lone Magnolia standing in the grass. For a second it offered relief, and then gone, as my path carried me on. My mind wandered again...regret, remorse, heat and gas blasted me. Onward I trudged. Will this never end?

A turn of the mower and back. This pass brought me closer to the fat leafed tree, still bearing the last of its browning blossoms. This pass brought me more shade, and an unexpected scent, the gentle, unmistakable drifting aroma of magnolia blossoms. For a few steps it followed me, the coolness of its shade and the delicate scent...a blend of magical fragrance that brought back memories of laughter at the movies, and climbing thick closely entwined limbs in childhood. The heat returned in a flash and with it the roar of my mower and, yet, my thoughts remained on sweet magnolia memories and faint hopes of new blossoms. My next pass took me beneath her, that towering column of serenity. I stopped, felt the shadows shelter me, the air stir around me cooling my skin, let the drifting scent arrive.

I let the safety stop on the mower go. It fell silent and with it died the last of those haunting images of failure. I stood, forever, letting the aroma of god and the shadow of the spirit heal me. Another part of me, sometime later, finished the mowing. I think I’ll wait here awhile.


We Are Not Entitled to A Wonderful Life

I read this quote on a blog post recently:

You were not born to struggle. You were not born to live a life where the moments of joy are few and far between. You were not born to toil in your work five days a week, with fleeting moments of happiness on weekends. You were not born to live with limited energy, feeling exhausted at the end of each day. You were not born to worry or be afraid. You were not born to suffer. What would be the point of your life? You are meant to experience life to its fullest and have everything you want and, at the same time, be filled with joy, health, vitality, excitement, and love, because that is an amazing life. — Rhonda Byrne

Life has great beauty. Being a human on the journey of living is nothing short of amazing and inspiring. Sometimes the simplest of things, the fragrance of a flower wafting into the blazing noise and heat of yard chores, can bless us with the pleasure of the moment and make life sacred. Or we might find ourselves marveling at the grandeur of nature as a majestic suns bows victoriously, closing the curtain on a rich and bountiful day. Life's beauty is found all around us. There are too many ways to recount. Consider these...

The giggles of children
The gentle weight of a grandparent's hand resting in yours
The attentive compassion of a friend who is moved to tears by your sharing
The exhaustion after a long hike that wandered through glorious vistas
The simple...rhythm...of the sea...bathing the sand...

You can, and I hope you will, add to this list. Yet, despite my deep and enduring belief in the value and commanding beauty of our living, I find myself aggravated by the quote above. Here's why....

Byrne says:

You were not born to struggle.
You were not born to worry or be afraid.
You were not born to suffer.
You are meant to have everything you want

Really? Does this make any sense at all? Aside from the obvious inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities in third world countries making such a global assertion insane, is this really true? Is life meant to be all roses? What of the hard won affirmations of a number of spiritual traditions that proclaim suffering is embedded in the very nature of our existence? What of the notion that it is not getting what we want but rather an acceptance of our part in the midst of real scarcity, our role in a larger picture, that brings life value? I'm sick of platitudes and hollow affirmations

The only people I've ever met who truly affirmed such crap were either suffering from drug induced euphoria or mentally unstable, walking around in denial of the abuse and pain of their own living.
Sometimes I don't really need to get what I want because my wants are selfish, limited and in truth, harmful to others and myself.

Yes, joy and serenity are worthy pursuits. Yes, being happy most of the time and unhappy only seldom is a better way of life, but are any one of us really entitled to such a life? Aren't the philosophical and theological goals of this life more about finding, achieving, accepting one’s life in the particular context of this moment, this occasion of our living? Beauty is all around us, and so is suffering (and the most grotesque of human malformation) and all of this intersects our living. Is anyone really meant to walk only among the beauty, insulated from pain and tragedy?

It is my experience that the very struggles of my living were and to some degree are a part of my necessary path, my grinding and beautiful life. The quote above speaks as if the suffering is unnecessary, even an indicator of our mistake. We were born to suffer, to toil and to mature in wisdom, compassion and strength. It is not as if there is some short cut, some life hack that we can claim or understand to allow us to omit such journeys. Such an affirmation isn't realistic and is insulting to people who have suffered – especially those who have suffered because of the consequences of someone else’s choices. Stop this insane spouting of platitudes and get real. People deserve more.

Instead let’s develop a methodology for living that empowers us to move through it all – pain, failure, ecstasy and victory – with a level of acceptance and peace that this particular journey is ours to live. Yes, we do get to make choices and learn, but no matter what – we do not get and are not entitled to a free pass through life. I think we owe it to ourselves and others to start acting like it.