Like millions of others, I shall board an airplane tomorrow. First a reasonably quick flight to Philadelphia and then an overnight flight to Tel Aviv. Every step of this journey is an exercise in trust.
We trust the competence and willingness to abide by traffic rules of our driver and other drivers on the way to the airport. We trust the people who check us in that our luggage will actually arrive with us and that we’ll board the correct flight. We trust the baggage handlers and the people who designed that system. We trust the TSA to do their screening jobs with competence and thoroughness. We trust the mechanics who check out the airplanes and the maintenance schedulers to keep the planes in good repair. We trust the food handlers that they are not loading the food with devastating bacterias. We trust the air traffic controllers to get the planes on and off the ground with split second accuracy.
And we trust that the pilots are not in a mood to commit suicide or mass murder.
Life works that way. It works on mutual trust. Certainly, there are always the fringe crazies who think they can manage with utter self-sufficiency, dependent upon no one else for survival and comfort. But the rest have few options but to trust one another.
As I write this, a couple of plumbers are here with the complex job in front of them of dismantling a kitchen sink and cleaning out a terminally clogged drain. They trust that they’ll get paid the large sum this will cost. We trust that they’ll do what they say they can do so the sink once again becomes usable and no longer emits a foul odor.
Because cooking was not an option, I made a run to Starbucks this morning for a quick bite. I trust that my Chai tea was actually made with coconut milk, not cow milk, so I won’t be doubled over in pain when I board the plane tomorrow.
As I write, I trust that the keys my fingers instinctively land upon will actually create the words on the screen that I intend. I trust these unknown people who built this computer to have done so with integrity and not loaded it with virus producing or password stealing malware.
We all live by faith, not by sight.
I suspect, however, all of us have had times of trusting the wrong people, the wrong things, the wrong beliefs. I have spent my life seeking to love God and my neighbor, trying to come to some sense of understanding about the nature of revelation. I have studied and read and practiced and ministered. I went through a rigorous set of standards in order to be ordained in The United Methodist Church, a place I saw as worthy of trust. I love the church, and see it as a place where we can practice our faith and go out into the world with the habits of love and grace firmly entrenched in our souls.
Since last July, I’ve taken on a new career as a Mystery Worshipper and have visited about 35 different churches and religious gatherings.
And I’m just about to lose my trust in the church as a place of holy mystery. While there have been the occasional moments of hope and transcendence, they have been few. Mostly what I see now are either near-cultish celebrity/athlete/charismatic/entrepreneurial pastors who are seeking to build their own kingdoms or sadly ingrown older congregations that can not or will not learn the language of grace and invitation to the outsider.
In the UMC, I see clergy mistreating one another, career ladders instead of lives of service, the incompetent but well-connected moved to high levels and the quiet, faithful ones relegated to the worst possible churches with impossible demographics. Not all the time, of course, but often enough that cynicism becomes the norm.
I see battle lines drawn over ultimately inconsequential things, voyeuristic peering into the sexual activities of others and little self-examination for gossip, divisive behaviors, unbridled pride and self-serving ambitions.
It gets harder to trust.
Yet, in the midst of my despair, I see pockets of light and hope. While trust in humanity can often be problematic and is too frequently betrayed, trust that God holds creation in infinite, bottomless love and intention of redemption provide hope of life and freedom.
In the midst of my despair, these two competent plumbers have now restored the kitchen sink to its freely draining state. In the midst of my despair, hungry are still being fed and naked clothed, the grieving comforted and forgiveness for the unforgivable offered.
In the midst of darkness, light will prevail, although the church as it exists right now probably won’t. And maybe it shouldn’t.