An innocent lunch – a lovely lunch, with my youngest daughter – interrupted by initial pleasantries following the delivery of a meal to the neighbouring table. Then, the “recognition”: “Hey aren’t you Reverend…” A gracious acknowledgment sparks more pleasantries – harmless stuff…and then, the hook. A brief riff by our table neighbour on ‘the state of the church’, complete with the inevitable Scriptural warrant, from his memory. I’ve seen this show before – it comes in various sizes, shapes and colours. He has, of course, neglected to offer me any means of addressing him; I am known, but he remains anonymous – so be it.
Usually when this happens, I’m ‘dressed for work’; clerical collar or hospital ID badge (or both). It’s not often that it feels like my personal space has been violated. Part of the job, after all, is to be admitted into the faith stories and spiritual journeys of those you meet along the way. But in this case, the hits just kept coming. The church has abandoned the good old gospel tunes – the preachers don’t preach salvation (or else). Then, the plot twist: “I don’t go for that organized religion…”
So, to sum up: Because I’m an identifiable face in the community, anyone with a memory for scripture and a hate on for the church as it is, is free to tell me that I am failing my flock because I believe that the Scriptures contain contradictory episodes. That’s all my education wasted, right there – turns out, all I need to do is read and repeat. I let this guy bother me – and I shouldn’t – but this represents a problem that is all too common, even within my own denomination.
I can (eventually) dismiss one misguided, blithering retiree in a public place (my daughter got up and left as the exchange escalated – I was trying too hard to be polite) but when these opinions dress themselves in ecclesial garb (sports shirts and wireless headsets, to be sure), and declare that they alone have solved the ageless, timeless mystery of God’s revelation to humanity, it is harder to dismiss. Ask them to consider that their opinion might not stand alone, and you are accused of being unorthodox. Dare to suggest an alternative point of view with the same conviction, and you have somehow ignored the sacred text. Those of us who prefer open-mindedness are not willing to ‘play the game’; we would rather not try and shout down those who don’t agree with us, but maybe that’s where we’ve gone wrong. The truth is only the truth, it seems, when it drowns out the opposition.