Sunday, March 08, 2009

Spirituality and Structure

After Jesus death, the 12 male apostles didn't take long to form a heirarchy with Peter and James vying for leadership. Peter was the apostle to the gentiles and James stayed in Jerusalem. Both died as martyrs. Their followers should have learned from that that heirarchies just don't pay; however, during that first century or two the Christians, as the began to be called, seemed to be heavily into S&M. People kept getting thrown to the lions or tigers or whatever hungry beasts the Romans could find - mostly because they claimed that Jesus was King. Other terminology might have suited them better. Maybe they could have practiced expansive God-language, a choice that more and more liberal churches are using now.

When I took CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) in seminary over 15 years ago, the model was to be abusive of your peers in sessions - because we learn from pain. No, no. My group agreed up front that we would not be abusive toward one another, that we would work together to help each other learn the best ways of being pastoral, of being the hands and feet and mouth of God in helping people. And, we did. We did not set up the heirarchy of the leaders being in charge; we saw that they were teachers and learners just as we had some things to teach them and were willing to learn from them.

Structure in the organized church seems to mean business-like goal-setting, heirarchies, and formal meetings. Much good is done in the world by these organizations. Even evangelism in the mega-churches is done this way. However, some studies show that one to one invitations work better than anything else. Word of mouth is better than advertising. Smiles at the door are better for getting people to return than ushers who seat people formally.

Spirituality is done now with spiritual directors instead of people journeying together. While our teens are encouraged to be leaders within their groups, they meet the full force of structure when they are invited to diocesan conventions - mostly as observers of how to do it right. Delegated authority quickly becomes heirarchy, even when it's rotated every few years. The position holds the power, and some of that power rubs off on the person who holds that position. More often than not those people who have held the position in the past are elected again when they become eligible. That's structure. Leaders form positions, groups set mission statements, goals and actions. When someone strays from the structure the positions gently encourage the person to return. If the person does not return, the structure goes on.

About spirituality in structure: very seldom works, especially for the loners. We loners often have a spirituality that is inclusive and works in mysterious ways in all sorts of directions. We understand structure and organization, positions and goals, but they don't apply to our understanding of spirituality or pastoral care or being with God. We stray or we rebel. We are left to wander or we are kicked out (either in reality or ignored until we leave).

More about spirituality: Being with God is what spirituality is all about. Conveying that experience to others and helping them find it is pastoral care. We do it every day of our lives. Being alone with God is wonderful, but we also need to be with others who understand spirituality as we do. So, we go to church and we tolerate the heirarchy, the structure, the organization until it overshadows our souls. Then we feed elsewhere. Balance is hard to find.

Lord, help me find balance.


PseudoPiskie said...

I wish you were closer.

Janis Bland said...

Me too. I'm having a hard time with church right now. That's not exactly right. I feel bereft of God at the moment. I have for some time.

Your previous entry on Gratitude I certainly agree with on an intellectual level. But I'm one pissed-off bitch, and I really don't have a reason to be.

God help me.