Saturday, February 14, 2009

So When is the Church NOT SUPPOSED to be SAFE?

Based on the posting below, one fb friend commented that the concept of the church being safe is a two-edged sword. Because when it is a truly safe place, you open the doors for every unhealthy, off-balance, manipulative, bully who couldn't find another place of acceptance in this world to walk in and be greeted warmly - at least at first.

This begs the question, "Is the church even always supposed to be 'safe' for clergy - or for anyone for that matter?

Well, let's follow a natural path of logic here: The church is the Body of Christ - the incarnation of Jesus in the world today. If that is so (and scripture and tradition say it is) then would Jesus always be a 'safe' person to approach and to spend time with?

Well, let's see....hmmmm...y-No.

Jesus did things like welcome tax collectors, prostitutes, and other notorious sinners to dine at the table with him. Not safe.

Jesus crossed over to the 'other side' and walked among the tombs and the swine, touched a mentruating woman and a dead body, breaking down all sorts walls and smashing purity codes. Not safe.

Jesus ended up literally crucified for taking the stances and making the proclamations he did - and guess what? So did some of his followers. Others died in jail, were fed to wild beasts, or mocked, scourged, executed, and/or tortured in some other fashion. Not safe.

Therefore, neither should the church always strive to be a 'safe' place.

Annie Dillard said it so well:

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.

So it seems to boil down to this: The church should be a safe place in terms of providing an environment that is free from abuse from the institution itself - whether to employees clerical or lay or to parishioners or to anyone - and should absolutely be about preventing and curtailing abuse wherever it is encountered. That has everything to do with God's mission in the world of being a force for life and love.

But, the church should not be a place that keeps us safe from facing the hard realities of our own shortcomings and need for transformation and ongoing conversion of life. Or, in the words of the General Confession, the church should actually help us to "acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed..." [Book of Common Prayer, Holy Eucharist I, pg. 331] so that we can let go of the past hurts and disappointments and begin to move forward with expectation and wonder and the new life that God is working in us through Jesus in his Body, the church.

Can I get an Amen?

1 comment:

The Vagabond Priest said...

Ah-me... wait a second, there, cupcake! You are talking about Jesus and our personal spiritual journey. On that level, AMEN. I absolutely am on board with the guy who ate with the tax collectors, healed the sick, erased the shame, and told everyone that they are not immune from the saving grace of God's love. Absolutely, Jesus was "not safe". (Neither is Aslan, for that matter). The risks of facing our own shortcomings and undergoing conversion of life- no way, not safe. Totally safe lives are boring, anyway.

But Jesus was not abusive.

On another level, we vow in our Baptismal vows to "strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being". The church is not safe. Police chaplaincy is not safe. Hospital work is not safe. Student chaplaincy is not safe. Even GOE reading is not safe. But as God's people, we ought to be held to that standard of respecting the dignity of our fellow human beings. That's what Jesus did when he healed the lepers and touch the bleeding woman.

So, amen that we work in a place where we are given the grace of encountering unsafe people. But also amen to the idea that clergy and lay employees have a right to freedom from abuse, fear, hate, discrimination, and danger **from their own fellow workers**. Somehow, I don't remember Jesus allowing the other disciples to punish Matthew, or instructing James to beat down Judas. Somehow, I seem to remember a guy who instead told Martha to lay off Mary, and to allow herself to be transformed.