PROLOGUE DRAFT: CHURCH AND HOLY PAIN
When I pray these days it is to a mystery, a mysterium tremendum that cannot be named but who I call Gracious One as an intermediary. To me it is also guardian and guide. It makes sense to me that it encompasses more than I can imagine and represent. It also makes sense that it embraces human notions of compassion and wisdom, common characteristics among many religious and spiritual expressions. But I make no dogmatic claims this way. The magnitude of uncommon understandings and religious attitudes about this mystery prohibits any singular claim.
Also, the brutality, wars, vicious attitudes and cultural rigidity that have resulted from dogmatic claims about how this mystery may be represented further prohibits a singular claim, characteristics that make absolutely no sense when I consider it in the context of wisdom and compassion.
I write this as both believer and skeptic, as a person who once underwent a late-in-life struggle to be an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church, as one who knows that the story of Jesus Christ has not been accurately represented in scripture and in fact has been misrepresented both in oral tradition and in what eventually became what some argue is the "gospel truth."
My struggle about this, part of the “holy pain,” has been with the "gospel truths" of religion and the dogmatic assertions that have resulted. I prefer to live in the question rather than the answer about how the mystery should be represented. The answers may have provided people with assurances but they have also resulted in unspeakable agony and outrageous charlatanism.
In a sense, the book is about my lifelong difficult relationship with church and its representations of holiness and humanitarianism. It’s also about alternative and sometimes radically outrageous ways to seek an understanding of the holy, research into what I called political grace, human rights efforts I thought to be holy, disappointing difficulties as a pastor over a divided 10-year period as well as with the ordination process, occasional overenthusiastic adoption of theological stances, and a continuing resolve to pray to and try to understand what I call Gracious One.
My own story with religion isn't one of unspeakable pain but has been acutely painful at times nevertheless. It has also been enlightening, passionate, assuring. and at times ecstatic. What is written here is autobiographical then, my notion of holiness and how I relate that to the notion of “church.”