Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sally Brown, Jed Bartlet and the church

I know a lot of believers who don't belong to a church community. There are a lot of reasons for this...many, but not all, of them resulting from a combination of these two themes:
  • "I think the institutional church is a mess, and Christians are a bunch of hypocrites" (for many thoughtful reasons, and some based on untested assumptions or bad experiences) and
  • "I can meet God as easily on a walk through the woods on Sunday morning...maybe more easily than in a worship service that doesn't feed me" (one part love of nature, one part frustration, one part consumerism, several parts institutional cluelessness, in my estimation).
There's something missing in the woods, though, and that is community. We are shaped by the experience of seeing the same people every week...of trying, along with them, to live out our lives as followers of Christ. There are lots of things about this that are important:
  • the experience of communal gathering around word and sacrament, and SINGING about it :-)
  • intergenerational contact (which is less and less available in our lives with every passing generation)
  • the opportunity to NOT act as consumers in one arena of our lives, but to "ask not what our community can do for us, but what we can do for our community"
  • the ability to accomplish more as a group in mission than we can as individuals
  • a place to work out the moral/ethical questions of our time (not to pontificate, but to really knock ourselves up against the hard stuff and try to understand it and fix what's broken)
  • and MANY more things, not the least of which is the gift of knowing and being known...of having a group of people that gently reminds you that maybe (just maybe) you don't see all the boats...and it might be good if you learned to count 'em, to look more deeply at a question, to change your angle of approach.
I think this is one of the elements of community that is most critical for our development as human beings. Here's a clip from one of my favorite episodes of The West Wing, in which President Bartlet is playing chess with various members of his staff. He's given them all chess sets that he's received over the years, and playing a game with Toby, one with Josh, one with Sam. The games also become teaching moments...in that gentle way that grandparents and tribal elders and leaders of many kinds have passed on wisdom since there have been younger generations.

I was particularly moved by Jed's nudging of Sam to "look at the whole board." To find as many well-thought-out perspectives as you can to a question. To incorporate as many pieces of truth as you can get your hands on, when you are making a leadership decision.

Of course, none of us can see the whole board alone. And that is why we need a community. There's a wonderful story in the Jewish tradition about how truth is like a giant mirror that was shattered at Creation, and now we each hold a piece of that mirror...a piece of the truth. The more pieces we put together, the closer we are to seeing a larger truth than that which we can hold onto alone.

I think that almost all of us are more like Sally most of the time, even when we want to be like Jed. It's certainly true for me, and the older and wiser (!) I get, the more grateful I am for community. And I pray that the church may be a place that lives up to that vision of community, in which everyone holds a piece of the truth, whether they're two years old or ninety-two, whether they're homeless or gay or poor or an immigrant or a person with an illness...where we recognize that the truth can only be fully realized if we commit to picking up all the little pieces and putting them together.

And where we remember that we follow a God who DOES see the whole board.


Songbird said...


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This is a good reminder. THis is why I keep going to church, even though I have had enough disappointments to change denominations a few times. I believe we need community.

Diane said...

Amen amen amen.

I can't see the video where I am, but you are so exactly right!

FranIAm said...

What an extraordinary post and one that touches my own heart deeply.

I had stayed away from church for a LONG time and for many of the reasons you pointed out.

Ah community. With all of its entanglements and discomforts, community with all of its riches and its love.

The Kingdom is a messy place and one I believe found in other people, in our "common union" together and less a place caught up in time or space.

Thanks Choral Girl and thanks for coming by my blog.

Peace to you my sister.

Cecilia said...

Yes, Amen, you are so right here. This is something that I appreciate more with each passing year.

And oh, I loved the West Wing! But because of seminary I missed the last several seasons.