On Spiritual Defiance

On Spiritual Defiance December 28, 2015

Jeremy Bentham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As it happens my blog is surveilled by people who have bigger jobs in the church than me. I’ve always known this  but I’ve never addressed those who by virtue of their church calling or their day jobs find that one of their duties is to protect the church by monitoring  the defiant, the noisy, and the critical.


So, where I usually direct my comments to those in the wavering faith trenches, today I’m talking to the guard house in the panopticon.


Firstly, you are right. I am spiritually defiant and I’ll tell you why.


I was eight years old when I was baptised. I remember the day with clarity – it was beautiful. The people I loved most in the world surrounded me with their good wishes and their prayers.  With their hands gently placed on my head, and their arms encircling me I was filled with a sweet spirit of young commitment to my church, and to Jesus. There was something in the Mormon message that elevated me, that told me I was beloved, that affirmed to me over and over again that my spiritual potential was limitless.


I was 14 years old, when I found myself sitting in a police cell at the Christchurch Central Police Station. I hadn’t done anything terribly wrong except run away from home repeatedly. My step-father was physically abusive and I feared and hated him with a blinding intensity.  I’d been picked up in town by the cops and was made to sit for several hours – just waiting.  Much to my surprise, a counsellor in the then Stake Presidency came through the doors, gathered me up and took me home. He and his wife offered me a place to live and a family who would love me. I remember their generosity with gratitude and humility.


I was 16 years old when another family gave me a home that would become seminal in the development of my intellectual and faith life. No story in that home was beyond telling or listening to. Scriptural and religious scholarship was encouraged and no inquiry about the church was beyond exploration. It was here that I learned how to ask questions – all of which were welcome.


Today Nathan and I are parenting five non-biological children because of a spiritual and cultural impetus to do so born from that Mormon culture of hospitality, care and loving intimacy with one another that I enjoyed while I was young.


I’ve been every auxiliary president in the church.   I’ve spent years venturing out on dark winter mornings to teach early morning seminary to teens who were only grudgingly present. I’ve paid money to the church when I didn’t know where the next meal was coming from.     I’ve been a worker in the temple and have brought people into the waters of baptism. I believed in the church because it believed in me.   In a thousand, million different ways  it believed in me  – all of me –  so I gave my heart to it and to the people who loved me along the way.


I signed up for that church; That beautiful, loving, glorious, crazy church of my childhood and youth. That grass roots, local church that thumbed Salt Lake when their programs didn’t work here;  that talked big beautiful ideas;  that nurtured one another with acceptance, good grace and faith in one another’s best intentions. I signed up for a church that was audacious, plucky, grand in its thinking, spiritually adventurous and generous with its own.


But I don’t remember signing up for the  church that looms large today. That over-corporatized patriarchal religion that somehow poses as a church but behaves first and foremost like an asset rich multinational property development company with spiritual aphorisms as a side business.


I didn’t sign up for correlation that despite the best intentions of loving teachers has become a long repetitive drawl of tedious drivel that gets spewed week in, week out, year in, year out and keeps our minds small and our spirits numb.


I didn’t sign up to a religion that is so many feet deep in the US political scene it doesn’t know where its theology begins and Utah State politics ends.


I didn’t sign up for a church that asks its adherents to constantly evaluate, improve, repent and seek spiritual perfection while holding a deeply flawed system inviolate.


I didn’t sign up for the spiritual violence against each other in the sham ‘courts of love’ that continue to excise decent thoughtful people from the church who loved it enough to challenge it to improve.


I didn’t sign up for conformity, for lock step blind obedience to a regulatory behavioral system enough to set my teeth on edge with its tendrils of thought policing.


I didn’t sign up to a cynical system that thinks of fiscal liability and plausible deniability before it thinks of the growth of a loving and hopeful community.


I didn’t sign up for a church that can be thinklessly insular and fails to respond with urgency and immediacy to the very least.


I didn’t sign up to a church that enjoins obedience as a spiritual mantra and denies our right as children of God to dissent.


And do you know what? I don’t think God would hold me to fidelity to that church either.


So I’m asking my snipers to put your guns down and lets call a truce. Let’s lay our cards on the table and start talking to each other.  Let me start – I’m a servant and a loyalist of the People’s Church; the Saint’s Church not the Corporate or the Leader’s Church and I have absolutely no guilt about that – not a shred.  Could you please explain to me how that’s a sin?  If I can see the spiritual efficacy of your argument I’ll change – that’s my promise


And let me say this also – I’m not alone. Daily – hundreds and thousands of people are paying a new kind of attention to the machinations of the Corporate Church – because something doesn’t feel right. Something is malfunctioning, something is off and this dis-ease is shooting through the church at pace.


You can scramble and scrape and bark orders all you want to clean up and kick out – but this mounting, convulsive outrage will continue until something transcendent happens to arrest this. Until we get back to good faith, love and spiritual generosity with each other we’ll stay on opposite sides of the fence – and I’ve read the Book of Mormon enough to know how that eventually goes. 😉


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