"Can We Talk?"

What follows was my most recent contribution to the Parksville-Qualicum News' "Faith" column. Hope we get some conversation as a result.


“Can we talk?” That was how comedian Joan Rivers would signal that she was about to say something with a bit of an edge. It was how we all knew that we were about to go to a difficult place. So, can we talk? Or more precisely, if you want to talk, we are prepared to listen.   A teacher of prospective clergy whom I have followed for a good number of years tells of getting to know his new students. He regularly asks them why they were thinking of going into this particular field and he continues to be surprised when they answer, “Well, I like to work with people.” He has said that he has had to restrain himself from going over to them, grabbing them firmly by the shoulders, looking squarely into their eyes, and saying, “I take it that you’ve never actually worked with people before.” We people are complicated and, truth be told, sometimes rather difficult to work with. Or so those who work with me might tell you.  


Our congregation is right now in the midst of a study of some of the basic teachings of the Christian Church, and we have been exploring such things as the notion of a Trinitarian God, the idea of redemption, the place of the Scriptures, and the more. Last week we had a look at the role the Church itself plays in the life of a Christian and I was reminded how this can be a challenging conversation. The discussion can be difficult because there is a problem we continually face: the gap between the idea of the Church and the reality of congregational life. Congregations are made up of, well … people, and we humans are a most fallible, difficult, and fractious bunch. Or to come at it in another way, St. Paul used the rich metaphor of “the body of Christ” to describe the Church. The problem is that our real life encounters with that body can sometimes cause us to wonder if it is carrying a clear likeness of Jesus. The distance between the ideal and the reality can sometimes be substantial.  


To state what is obvious, at times churches mess up mightily and the results are most unpleasant for those involved. Conflicts, misuse of power, betrayals, institutional flaws—there are lots of ways we have fallen short of the mark, and sadly, there are too many in our community who bear the wounds of these experiences. That doesn’t sit right with me. I know we can do better. If you are one of those people, I wonder … can we talk? Coffee’s on us.