I can’t say that I expected to return to this topic, but I suppose it was inevitable.
I can say that I never expected the reason I am returning to the topic of sanctuary to be the one that has arisen this week.
When last we left the topic, I had left the track of my panic attack and would up square in the midst on the physical sanctuary of my church. Now, if you recall, I also rejected that space as a sanctuary, even if I still apply that term to describe a specific physical space.
I knew I would be leaving the church. I’ve known for some time, but it took quite a while for me to say it to Rev. Dean, who, of course, saw it coming at least a dozen miles off. I feel more sadness and anger than justice and peace there, and I am not willing to sacrifice myself further for a cause I no longer believe in.
This is not to say that my faith collapsed; it has not. I believe we can work toward a just world and that we are called to do so, but I do not believe such work can–at least for me–come out of that particular environment.
I imagine that I got over-involved, in the end. Had I stayed at the fringes, I might have been able to work through the vipers in the pit. But, I didn’t. I threw myself in with what might be called a characteristic Quixotic-ness: that is, give me a windmill, I’ll tilt away, thank you. Give me a real monster? Give it a face and a name and a tendency to be more of a windbag than me–oh yeah, baby. That’s where I’m at.
The levels of hostility that have grown in the church in the years since I joined (a statement that makes it sound like my fault, no?) have grown to a degree that is simply untenable. And each one of us, myself included, bears some part of the complicity in that hostility, be it through our silence, our anger, our unwillingness to see past the ends of our noses, our failure to forgive, our failure to listen, our passive aggression in avoiding board meetings by walking the dog.* Each of us bears some weight of the guilt, though, quite clearly, some bear far more than others.
This past Friday, a member of the church received an unsigned letter in the mail. The letter called the receiver out for trying to change the church and declared him not a Christian. It also, and most outrageously, threatened his life should he stay.
Yeah, you read that right.
To say that people have been left reeling would be a significant and unreasonable understatement. How does one react to such news?
Do you stay and fight the insanity?
Do you close up shop–shut the doors and disburse the assets and move on, because there is nothing, nothing left to save in the face of our own complicity.
In the face of madness.
To be sure, the writer is mad, in both senses of the word. Of that I have no doubt and would not quibble with the description. But I also hear voices saying that this could be a good thing–the church will rally and once and for all rise to glory.
Which is horseshit, if you ask me. To lay this at the feet of one mad soul, to call him or her out as the source, rather than a symptom, of a greater disease is both erroneous and foolhardy. That one voice (or many, should it have been a group of mad souls) is a clarion call–one of several– of the corruption of the sanctuary space of that particular church. What breeds such rhetoric is not just a single voice in the wilderness, but the complicity of silence and scheming that has become as much the hallmark of our ministry as the brilliant outreach and the gorgeous attempts to create a just and safe space for all comers.
And you know what is worst of all? So many of us recognized our guilt and we tried to operate against it–to be just, to offer wise counsel, to be good stewards of the call that brought us to these doors. We fanned the flames of madness because we kept giving it voice. We were helpless in the face of those who wished to feed the beast, because we were too nice, too reasonable, too fucking willing to listen to all sides of the story.
Apparently, that was a grandly foolish error.
And, if I remain, I won’t learn, I think. I’ll do the same damn thing again, and I suspect I won’t be alone. Because granting voice is the right thing to do, isn’t it?
I have some actual attempts to work through this–to ponder how we can create sanctuary and if it is even now possible, but I needed to get this out first.
I don’t want to leave on a note of “we’re all complicit,” because though I do believe it, and I do believe the corruption is down among the roots at this point, I also believe in putting responsibility for unjust, ugly actions where it belongs–with the letter writer and his or her cronies (should there be any). For that person or those persons bear the weight of guilt for the horror and pain they have caused so many people this weekend. And they alone bear that weight, though it will be the rest who have to figure out how to move on or move away.
*Yeah, that last one is me. I own up to that decision, and I don’t regret it. The pooch was far cuter and a great deal less likely to leave me feeling hostile.