Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Leaving Church"

A couple of people asked me what I thought of Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church.

I bought the book after I heard her interviewed on Fresh Air on NPR. During that interview Terry Gross asked her about being a liberal in a very conservative congregation. Because I respect Taylor so much, her response really intrigued me. She said she tried to keep her liberal views to herself and be "neutral" because "I'm the shepherd of all." Words to that effect. If certain people in her "flock" knew how liberal she was then being their shepherd would be very difficult. She's right. It would be very difficult because some people can't see past their political/social views, and they would forever see her as "a liberal" and not feel they could trust her. I know because that's something that I have to consciously work on myself--always attempting to see the whole person.

That whole issue has always bothered me. It just feels so phony sometimes to be neutral. Especially when my views arise and form within me as my spirit grows and forms; they are part of me, an important part. Yet, stating them would, at times, just about automatically cause conflict of some sort. On the other hand, conflict can be good and healthy. Creativity is born from conflict and tension. What I've come to lately, if someone verbalizes some political or social view that is offensive to me, is to simply say that I disagree and then move on. No one, so far, has turned the conversation back to the disagreement, although I'm sure that will happen at some point. Neutral has started to feel so inauthentic that I can't be completely silent.

Anyway, that's why I bought the book (I don't think she addresses that question in the book, however). In general, I love reading anything she writes. I took the book from the shelf this morning; I read books with pencil in hand, and it turns out that I underlined only one part--what she said about the Bible. Her last chapter is "Keeping," and it's about what she will keep from her experience in the church--"In the twenty-first year of my priesthood, I empty the bag of my old convictions on the kitchen table to decide what I will keep" is how she starts the chapter. Here's what she said about the Bible:

"I will keep the Bible, which remains the Word of God for me, but always the Word as heard by generations of human beings as flawed as I. As beautifully as these witnesses write, their divine inspiration can never be separated from their ardent desires; their genuine wish to serve God cannot be divorced from their self-interest. That God should use such blemished creatures to communicate God's reality so well makes the Bible its own kind of miracle, but I hope never to put the book ahead of the people whom the book calls me to love and serve. I will keep the Bible as a field guide, which was never intended to be a substitute for the field. With the expert notes kept by those who have gone before me, I will keep hunting the Divine Presence in the world, helped as much by the notes they wrote in the margins while they were waiting for God to appear as by their astonished descriptions of what they saw when God did. I know that nine times out of ten, the truth scripture tells is the truth about the human search for God. Still, with the help of the guide, there is always the hope of glimpsing the bright dove that splits the sky, fluttering in full view before turning with a whirr and a cry to make its clean getaway."

5 comments:

mompriest said...

I have struggled deeply with this issue. (ergo name of my blog...). I too serve a mostly conservative parish, one that is gradually becoming less so. But this congregation had a 29 year history of a previous priest who imposed his view on the congregation - and was known to tell people "like it or leave" (and many did leave). I do not preach my view from the pulpit, except to say over and over that we are called to look at ourselves first and not point fingers at others. That sin is not about a set of culturally bound behaviors, but about broken relationshihp in all its forms. That includes broken with God, broken with self, and broken with others. And, we are called to love God, love self, love others.

That said, I really grew tired of being "neutral." so, in one on one conversations and in small group discussions I will share my point of view. I think clarity is important. Self-differntiation is important. And modeling a process for there to be a mulitplicity of voices - I can love them with their viewpoints and I hope they can love me with mine, even when we disagree...

It hasn't always worked well. Some people have left, those who simply cannot tolerate diversity. But others have come and stayed. Overall the tone and tenor of the parish is better.

sorry, long post....

Diane said...

will say more later, Katharine.. thanks for posting. I like everything she writes too, just because she is such a gifted writer. and I'll get to your book meme later today.

Diane said...

I finally did the book meme (only a week late!) haven't tagged anyone yet.

Katherine E. said...

I'll pop over and read your book meme, Diane. Looking forward that!

Mompriest, great comment. I appreciate knowing what you did in this regard. I'm totally 'with' you--we do need to model an opening for many voices and opinions to be heard. Thanks!

RevDrKate said...

I like BBT and think much of what she says makes a lot of sense, but not so much in this book, somehow. She seemed to forget her humanity, at least by my reading, and cut herself off from the possibility of a lot of authentic relationship. I totally agree with MP that we are not using the pulpit to cram things at people, but there are so few places for people to see anyone modeling speaking her/his own truth (gently) while also being willing to hear another side, that it seems like that is an important piece of doing ministry. Maybe we are lucky in total ministry...they knew what they were getting when they discerned us!