Monday, October 27, 2008

Forgiveness and Pain

The Shack is an intriguing theological novel, stringing together Biblical rhetoric with dialogue to fit the author’s personal theology. My personal theology fits comfortably with much of the book. Towards the end, forgiveness is mentioned, emphasized and commended …though the book centers on love. (More info on The Shack)

Tonight I had planned to be at a meeting that will probably form a chapter of Integrity for our diocese. The potluck meeting is being held at the Ministry Center of Christ Church, a place where I am not comfortable. Not in the ministry center, not in the parish hall, not in the nave. The Episcopal Church has way too much organization and hierarchy for me – not to mention factions and power plays. Church politics. No thank you.

Yet, I am an Episcopalian through and through. (click on the logo to go to the Episcopal Church home page) I believe in the real presence of God in the Eucharist. I love the music. I feel joyous when I “pass the peace”. I believe in the priesthood of all believers, in healing, in prophesy, in communal worship, and in community. Like magnets turned the wrong way, Christ Church and I repel each other. My discomfort is gut-wrenchingly real, and the hierarchy has made it clear that my kind need to be neither seen nor heard.

This church, like my parents, is not suited to enhance my growth into the person that God wants me to be. The hierarchy is kind and loving – but not the kindness and loving that I need. My past experience with church hierarchy has much affect on me. I remember the pain though the anger has dulled.

My questions tonight are: why should I keep going back to a place (the Episcopal Church) where I am hurt? And did the scripture that commended us to forgive seventy times seven mean that we forgive the same pain and hurt that many times? For me, these two questions are connected. Common sense tells me to stay away from places where I get hurt. Don’t put my hand into the fire again and get burned. However, if I forgive the past hurts each time they overwhelm me, will I not be hurt again? In many theological discussions that relate to therapy, I am cautioned that forgiveness does not mean forgetting or discarding watchfulness.

Forgiving the larceny of the church hierarchy is something I must do on a fairly regular basis. They have taken away my trust, increased my fear, failed to give me guidance, misunderstood and debased who I am and the work that I have done in loving God’s people. Their anger, distrust, misjudgment, and rejection have worked in me resentment (which I work through each time), distrust (which I discard and try again and again), anger (which I’ve learned not to take out on those I love), and a sense of failure (which is probably not true – no one can take from me the love I’ve experienced in ministry, communal worship and community).

So, I am not present at this churchly meeting. My voice will not be heard. My fear of being hurt is too great to chance another time. Maybe after another 490 or 4,900 forgivenesses.


shallotpeel DonnaB said...

Interesting. Makes me think of my own preference for 'high church' mission churches!! LOL

But, I still have a discomfort level having to do with the intimacy of sitting in church with people who think so poorly of me and 'my people'.

Gotta hear about this Integrity chapter. Still behind on hearing about so much, going back to a Support Group planned earlier.

Cynthia said...

Our priest (I think you would be comfortable at our church) preached on forgiveness in September. She preaches well-crafted sermons that leave one plenty to think about. The gist of this sermon was that forgiveness is a process, that we need divine help if we are to forgive anyone, and that the process may sometime take a lifetime. Then she asked what you do about people that don't want your forgiveness, who are so sure of their own righteousness and the "truth" of their convictions that it never crosses their minds that they need forgiveness from anyone.

Judy Vaughan-Sterling said...

I wish you could come to my Episcopal church! I have never been in a more loving place. Our priest is a divorced woman whose husband was gay, and she could not be more loving and accepting.

Integrity is a wonderful organization (I may be the only straight member, but I renew my membership every year!). Please give it a try!

Lindy said...

I too commend forgiveness, though I am often not sure what it means or exactly how to do it. It can be really, really, sticky.

But, you don't have to go back to a place that continually hurts you. I don't know why anyone would be an Episcopalian. They are not our friends.

I miss church too. But, I won't go back.