Friday, September 17, 2004

Requiem

I had lots of plans of what I was going to do today, but they all more or less disappeared when I got a call from my goddaughter about the latest goings-on at my old church, which I've been calling St. Nicholas just to give it a name.

Just like old times. Another day of the soap opera. Another phone call where you wish you didn't have to say anything, but you realize that you'd have to disconnect your ability to reason and any power of judgment not to.

But finally it will come to an end. It definitely will for my goddaughter -- let's call her Angela. The chancellor finally came for the awaited visit, and though he offered a momentary glimpse of church life as it should be, that glint of daylight was obliterated more or less forever when the same hard-headed group of people who have brought St. Nicholas to its current state of affairs tried to bait Angela into a ridiculous fight before the chancellor had been gone for ten minutes.

The chancellor's visit was one last hope to turn back from sailing this ship onto the reefs forever. Apparently this group just couldn't stand the suspense any longer. They wrested the controls back at the first opportunity in order to behave as badly as they possibly could -- blaming, complaining, twisting facts, dwelling in unrealities, grasping at desperately sad and implausible lies. It's finally more pathetic than it is infuriating.

With this last fiasco, all but one of the remaining families will jump ship. So this Sunday, the group will finally be within sight of the unspoken goal -- a church of the few but like-minded. The word coming back through channels is that the one who has stood at the middle of it all is ... miserable. Not out of any sense of wrongdoing, but from bewilderment, anger, mourning ... anything but self-doubt, honesty or repentance.

I sit here in my living room in quiet at the end of the day. I report it disinterestedly, not caring so very much now what happened exactly. It's over. It's been over. I'm on the other side of the heartbreak that consumed the first part of the year. This week I start going to the new church I've found, feeling a little like damaged goods. Maybe I even feel a little afraid in case any of this ugliness clings to me and infects the new place where I seek sanctuary and fellowship.

I talk about it because it's what happened. And I talk about it partly because I tend to think these days that bizarre and depressing as it might seem, this is the history of the Church as well. Not always glamorous, triumphant or holy. Sometimes weak. Misguided. Broken. Human. It's only recently in my Bible readings that I've realized that the epistles are full of it, side by side with the inspiring and soul-replenishing verses that we love so much to hear.

When we read the stories of martyrs and apostles and councils, I think we envision a world of much easier choices, where the path of the One True Church was easy to see and the bad guys were obvious. But isn't it more wonderful really to think that these early saints had to make their way as we do, one painful step at a time? And doesn't it help more to think that what we do now matters much more than we may think?

The Christians of the first centuries might have had no idea how long the Church Age would last -- it seems like they expected Christ to return any minute. And from this they drew strength to do the right thing, to make their way in spite of martyrdom and schism. We know better now only because it's impossible not to. The age of this battle for humanity has lasted almost two full millennia now. God alone knows how much longer it goes on.

What hope do we have apart from God?

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