Friday, August 26, 2011

We belong together...

I write this on a plane flying from Madrid to Chicago, returning from a business trip.  Many Catholics returning from World Youth Day (WYD) are also on this flight.  I’m sitting behind kids from the Sioux City, Iowa diocese in the United States.  Some of them are wearing t-shirts that advertise their diocese and commemorate their WYD trip.  Their shirt backs sport a quote from St. Paul about building the faith.  The following words appear below that quote: “creed”, “prayer”, “sacraments and liturgy”, and “moral life”, suggesting that these are foundational elements to building the Roman Catholic faith. 

I had started to write wondering why they chose those words to represent the Catholic faith versus words like “service”, “care”, “forgiveness”, “hope”, or “love” - things that I find more foundational to the faith than the ones they chose.  I pondered who had a more correct understanding of Catholic faith or whether our different approaches mattered. 

Thoughts led to thoughts and I became fixated upon increasing divisions in the church, particularly between conservative, orthodox and progressive camps.  Each side tends to stand in judgment of the other based upon a belief that they have a superior grasp of truth.  Instead of building the Body of Christ, the Body is tearing itself apart based upon ideology.  Thus, “division caused by those who believe they build” was becoming my theme for this article.

However, I am listening to my iPod in random shuffle mode while I write and the Pat Benatar song, “We Belong”, just played.  I had understood that song to be about two individuals suffering interpersonal brokenness and a plea to retain a covenant-like commitment simply because they belong together.  That might even be the artist’s intended meaning; I don’t know.  But the intersection of hearing the words while I wrote about church division prompted a new interpretation that, in turn, altered my theme.  If you’re not familiar with the song, the lyrics are at the bottom of this article.

Opposing sides of church divisions think they express their concerns; “Many times they try to tell” the other side what’s wrong.  Each side professes to weep over the brokenness and blame the other side for their hurt and pain; they believe they more accurately understand God.  Some believe the pain would vanish if only those who disagree with them would either agree with them or leave. 

Many people do leave the church due to pain.  Others teeter on the brink.  They feel enough pain that they contemplate leaving but they remain because they think they’ve “invested too much” to abandon it.  Many remain in the church simply because being Catholic has “become a habit”, a recurrent unconscious pattern, repeating ritualistic practices detached from their conscious thoughts or actions.

Accusations fly as to who is worthy to bear the moniker “Catholic”, based upon various “doubts that complicate” people’s minds.  Some doubt infallibility doctrine, some doubt Jesus gave a damn about priests’ gender, some doubt Jesus would label any of God’s creation as intrinsically evil.  Others doubt Jesus really meant we should not judge, have detachment from worldly goods, care for the poor, ill, vulnerable and stranger in our midst, tell the truth, or passionately and unrelentingly forgive each other.  Some doubt clergy should be given special privileges and almost unbridled power.  Some doubt those who doubt have a right to doubt.

People build arguments to “prove” their version of “truth” is God’s version of truth.  But, do they “distort the facts”, sacrificing truth for being correct so as to resist growth and change, and thereby justify remaining in their comfort zones? 

Comfort zones seem appealing so people surround themselves with other like-minded individuals.  They can then delude themselves into thinking they promote unified harmony.  But harmony does not arise from singing in unison.  Harmony comes from taking different tones and assembling them together.  Harmony and unity require stepping out of the insulated comfort zone of a monotone society and embracing those singing different tunes.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the September 11th tragedy, I recall times when people temporarily overcame division because everyone was ripped from their comfort zones.   With everyone forced to abandon comfort zones people seemed more capable to remember that at the heart of everything, “we can’t begin to know it; how much we really care” for and about each other. And for a short while, there was unity.

Whether we stay or leave the church, and though we might profess to shake the dust of the opposition from our feet, we are haunted by their faces and voices. That is because, as One Body, we do “belong together”, “for worse or for better”, “whatever we deny or embrace”, be that “creed”, “prayer”, “sacraments and liturgy”, and “moral life”, or “service”, “care”, “forgiveness”, “hope” and “love”.  Because we belong together, we cannot shake their dust from our feet.  Their dust is our dust.  Our feet are their feet. 

“Belonging together” is a key gospel message and a key way to build the faith.  Why then is unity so scarce?  Why is uniformity preferred over unity?  Why must it take massive destabilizing tragedies to realize unity is actually not that hard to achieve?  Is it any wonder people flee organized religions when they see such poor examples for togetherness practiced by those in organized religions?  No wonder Jesus preferred the company of outcasts to that of the religious leaders and pillars. 

“We Belong” – Pat Benatar
Verse One:
Many times I’ve tried to tell you
Many times I cried alone
Always I’m surprised how well you cut my feelings to the bone.
Don’t want to leave you really
I’ve invested too much time
To give you up that easy
To the doubts that complicate your mind

We belong to the light
We belong to the thunder
We belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under
Whatever we deny or embrace
For worse or for better
We belong, we belong
We belong together

Verse Two:
Maybe it’s a sign of weakness
When I don’t know what to say
Maybe I just wouldn’t know
What to do with my strength anyway
Have we become a habit
Do we distort the facts
Now there’s no looking forward
Now there’s no turning back
When you say


Verse Three:
Close your eyes and try to sleep now
Close your eyes and try to dream
Clear your mind and do your best
To try to wash the palette clean
We can’t begin to know it
How much we really care
I hear your voice inside me
I see your face everywhere
Still you say:


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