A Pain in My Heart

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Creative Commons Why” by Ksayer1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The concluding paragraph of Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian” (delivered on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall):

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world — its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. … We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.”

How easy it is to get lulled to sleep by centuries of repetition. Repeat the same religious bromides year after year after year and they seem to become embedded in individual and corporate DNA. Stray from these “truths” and you become classified a heretic, an outcast, a despised blot on society’s good name.

I have joined over 200 participants in the Atheism for Lent venture. Some of us are recovering from the constraint imposed by conservative or fundamentalist family and church backgrounds; others are from more ‘mainline’ traditions that have not been willing or able to grow beyond traditional understandings. All of us are hungering for more as we enter on this quest to advance our spiritual formation.

It is wonderful to have access to others who are willing to push against the boundaries and limitations, but it begs the deeper question – How / Why does the church, founded on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth incessantly move toward conspiring with the principalities and the powers to box in the very people that Jesus tried to break out? Why does the church settle for uninspired collaboration (imprisonment) with cultural values that are antithetical to its very existence? A mild challenge from the pulpit with a “we’ve got to do better, people” doesn’t machete its way through the jungle undergrowth that has infiltrated the church. When did calcified belief systems replace the plasticity of compassionate trust tending toward restorative justice for the salvation (that is, the well being) of all in society? Have we so gotten so far off the path (the Way that Jesus lived and taught) that we are never likely to find our way back?

A pain in my heart
but, to what end?

What will it take for me / us
to “stand up
and look the world frankly in the face?”

Can I / we conquer the world
with knowledge, kindliness, and courage?
Or will I continue to
hanker regretfully and fetter?

Where is my / our
fearless outlook and free intelligence?

A friend asked,
What is shape of your pain and anguish?”

My pain is seated
in the memories of
the years of active ministry

when I was trying
to walk the fine line
between traditional teaching
and new ways of understanding
Christian faith…

when I was preaching and teaching
people toward productive membership
in the institutional church..

when I thought that
a simple massaging
of theological ideas and practices
would reform the church

I anguish over the reality

that I was a shill
for organized religion…

that I refused to challenge
the culture of mediocrity…

that I was afraid
to trust that the church & I
might be transformed

And yet I am
an expectant romantic
that the impossible possibility
might happen…

the blind seeing
the lame dancing
the marginalized inheriting the earth

the church alive –
a trusting community
of restorative justice
actualizing salvation (well being)
for all in society

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