Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Faith is something you pledge--to God, to another. It's a covenant. It's what God, Adonai, extended to Abraham: I will be your God. I will make of you a people more numerous than the stars. You will be my people. It's something we're in together.

So, inevitably, at the holiday dinner table, up comes the comment, "How can you possibly belong to a church that treats certain people as second-class citizens?" (Which people are those? women? gays? non-clerics? lay people? Lots of possibilities here.)
I never just sit there anymore when these questions get asked, no matter how rhetorical. I don't demand to know how you can possibly belong to a country that bullied its way into Iraq with great "shock and awe" against the will of most of the world. I don't ridicule you for remaining part of a nation that allows its poor to die for lack of adequate health care, while dwindling numbers can afford health insurance.
But all my life I've been subjected to this kind of crass comment from people who apparently take freedom of religion to mean freedom to attack anyone else's. Years ago I would sit in silence when such remarks were made, hoping nobody knew I belonged to this benighted church they were attacking.
No more. Perhaps the greatest line in the history of film, as far as I'm concerned, is the one delivered by Olivia Dukakis' character in Moonstruck: "I know who I am." Maybe it's the gift of a certain age. I know who I am now, and I don't mind standing my ground. In fact, it's a game. The sparring is stimulating to the thought processes.
So, why do I stay in this Catholic church that does still take its feudal structure more seriously than the pledge of faith with its people?
Well, it's like what I said in the beginning. Why do I stay in a country that used lies to justify its war in Iraq? a country that tolerates a second-class health care system that excludes a large percentage of its people? one that still resorts to capital punishment, along with a handful of the least-enlightened of the world's nations? that refuses to work with the other nations of the world in reducing pollution?
Where else would I go? Am I going to find another group of people that have managed to get beyond being human, with both the dignity and degradation that state spans? Back in the day, people went to Canada, and I thought about that too. I still think about it. But I've made my lot with America now, and this is where I belong. My country right or wrong? I'm not afraid to see it as wrong, but since I'm part of it, I can only do my part to right the situation.
The same goes for the church. As a body I'm part of, I have to groan with the growing pains--basking in its moments of glory, and blushing in its moments of shame.
But this is what I would say about the church. How can I NOT be part of a church that serves on the front lines in the major disasters world wide? How can I NOT be part of a church that begged George Bush not to invade Iraq? How can I NOT be part of a church that cries out for justice for the poor and down-trodden? How can I NOT be part of Mother Teresa's church? a church that has established orphanages, hospitals and schools, serving the lowliest as well as the wealthy?
Looking at the United States (or China or France or Russia) or at the Church (or Judaism or Methodism or...) and saying "How can you belong to a group that...?" is like looking at a caterpillar and saying, "How can you not be a butterfly?"

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