Thursday, March 14, 2013
Why My Church Needs Pope Francis
These words are the words that started the best admissions essay I read in my four years as Director of Admissions for Duke Divinity School. The student who wrote these words ultimately chose another school. I cannot remember his name, but I'll never forget his brilliant essay. He was an exception - and so are his words.
Though I was raised in the church and went through confirmation classes, I had no idea what the words "transubstantiation" and "consubstantiation" meant until I got to seminary. I knew there were differences between the Protestant United Methodist Church of my upbringing and the Catholic Church but I could not tell you what they were.
It did not matter.
My parents found enough of the spiritual life they needed at the Methodist Church, and I went right along. Why did I need to learn about the Catholic faith? It seemed more important to me to keep on going to what made sense to me while others continued to go to the church of their own choosing.
I continue to value diversity when it comes to our faith. There are many Sundays when I long for the fresh winds of the Spirit that blow through the Assembly of God Church in tangible ways. There are other Sundays when I would not mind a little incense when we think about the aroma of the offerings we make towards God. There are still other Sundays that I wish we had an immersion pool to use when we baptize adults so that we could see the power of dying to our sins and being raised with Christ. As I look at all the different denominations founded on Jesus, I believe we have more in common with each other than we allow ourselves to believe. Though we are far from being one, there are many things in which we find a oneness.
And to the outside, we are one. We are simply "the church" which means that when one member suffers we all suffer together.
One of the most compelling books I have read by someone who left the faith is William Lobdell's "Losing My Religion." I found the book in a local Busboys and Poets, started to read it and could not set it down. Lobdell tells a powerful story of falling in love with God, having a mountaintop experience with Jesus, and then being assigned by the Los Angeles Times to cover the child sex abuse case in the Catholic Church. His eight years on the religion beat exposed him to a giant cover-up overflowing with hypocrisy, efforts to cover the church's ass at all costs, and deep corruption. He lost his faith completely and there are countless others like him. Even my search for the book on Amazon just now paired Lobdell's book with two additional books about preachers who left the church and became atheists. Sometimes the closer we get to the fire the more we get burned.
"If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." Paul wrote these words to a church that had no idea how many divisions awaited it. But we do. I know well what happens when one part of the body is going astray, and how this one part impacts everyone.
I see it every time Westboro Baptist Church shows up to picket with signs full of hatred. Many of us know that Westboro is the farthest thing from Christ's love, but they still call themselves a church, and their actions impact me and my church.
I saw it when a member of the United Methodist Church compared homosexuality to beastiality on the floor of our General Conference last year, when delegates to our church's meeting could not even agree to say that we disagree. Our actions impacted countless other churches whether Methodist or not.
I see it every time a member of the cloth gives into the temptation we all face on a daily basis whether it is an extramarital affair or sins around money.
And perhaps even my life has been a stumbling block to others at times whether it is how I choose to spend my money, the words that come from my mouth, or the choice of beverage in my hand.
Our actions matter. Most people have no idea what the difference is between transubstantiation and consubstantiation and most people don't care. They see one church - a church that is constantly falling short of the glory of God - a church with leaders who are regularly falling and sinning - a church that is a long way away from what Jesus created it to be when he said, "You are my body."
Pope Francis did two incredibly prophetic things yesterday within the first hour of his life being transformed. First he took the name Francis. He took the name of a Saint whose legacy continues to have a profound impact today. It was Francis of Assisi who said, "Preach the Gospel at all times and use words only when necessary." It was Saint Francis who had a life-giving ministry to and with the poor. It was Francis who said, "make me an instrument of your peace."
Our church - our Protestant and Catholic Church - can learn a lot from Saint Francis. We have come a long way from his simple life amongst people we consider poor. We could use more of Francis' legacy in our churches.
Pope Francis then asked an overflowing crowd to bless him - to pray for him. Our church - our Protestant and Catholic Church - could be transformed if all our members took time to daily pray for their pastors, priests, bishops, nuns and pope.
The eyes of the world are upon the church once more. They are upon the Catholic Church, waiting to see if Pope Francis can bring about reform and healing to a church known for monetary and sex scandals. What Francis does matters - not just to Catholics but to my United Methodist Church, too. I'm praying for Pope Francis, that he may be a saintlike leader just like his namesake, having courage to make much needed changes. And as I pray for him, I'm also praying for me and my own church. Forgive me for all I have done to ever lead someone away from God and the church instead of towards it. Forgive us for our hypocrisy, for being anti-homosexual as a denomination, for not always being like Christ. Forgive us for building a fortress when we had an opportunity to instead set up a foundation that gave money away where it is much needed.
There's a lot at stake. I love the church. I believe Jesus still has the power to change and transform lives and that he does it best through the church. The city in which I live desperately needs the church. I need the church. Our world needs the church - at its very best - Christ's body reaching out, bringing in, loving, serving, caring and transforming.
God, make us all instruments of your peace....and love, and mercy and grace. Make us like you. Amen.