I get a number of emails each day that are sale notices for ebooks. Yesterday I happened to glace at one of the descriptions of a book that read, “…the Church contributes to society by forming the conscience of people.” I almost fell out of my chair! If that’s not a line straight out of medieval theology then I am the Pope. If the Church is going to form the conscience of the people the way she forms the conscience of her clergy, we are all doomed! There are other issues this statement raises that are at least as bad. Are we suggesting that only people who are members of a particular church have a properly functioning conscience, or that only Christians, or religious people, or any specific group are able to have a conscience that works properly?
The truth is that conscience, ethics, morality, and all similar human functions are not in any way dependent on religion, spirituality, or membership in any specific group. There are completely secular people who are quite ethical and very in touch with when they have transgressed their own values. Then there are religious people you wouldn’t want to leave unattended in your home! We need to move beyond the antiquated notion that spending an hour or so in a church building every now and then does anything for us other than perhaps cause callouses to grow on our buttocks. In fact, most churches do a God-awful job of teaching anything that would cause someone to develop a healthy conscience. You would be better to spend your time and money on a good therapist to explore your conscience or lack thereof.
Let’s do away with the notion that being a church member gives you a leg up on anything, any more than joining a golf club makes you a good golfer. In fact, the two are related. You become a better golfer by practicing golf. Your conscience becomes more functional as you practice qualities like empathy, compassion, and generosity. If you don’t put in the work, whether in golf or ethics, you will soon find your balls in a rough patch!
There can be no denying that all of the world’s great religious traditions were designed by men and for men. At the time of their development, women were second class citizens. If we are honest, we have to admit that in most of the world women still are second class citizens. Women are rightly raising up the importance of the Sacred Feminine, which has been ignored far too long and at the peril of both women and men, and calling for its full inclusion in our spiritual understanding and lives.
We need to remember that feminine is not the same as female, nor is masculine the same as male. We all carry both feminine and masculine qualities, and the path to wholeness runs straight through the integration of our entire selves and identities. It’s certainly true that the women mystics of all traditions have been ignored through most of history, and that women theologians have often felt they needed to be more masculine than their male counterparts. This truth has left us with a distorted spirituality that becomes even more muddled and confused when we walk into a Christian church and find it occupied not by men, as one might expect in a patriarchal system, but rather by women.
The fact that most churches are occupied more by empty space than by worshipers is evidence than the current system isn’t working for far too many people, regardless of gender. That suggests that learning to listen to the Sacred Feminine alone won’t fix things. We have a much more essential problem at hand that’s going to require a massive overhaul of the whole project, if that is even possible, to fix. We might just have to knock the old structure down completely and start over from the foundation. That’s a possibility that scares the pants off of most people, but our fear doesn’t make it any less necessary to consider. As we consider it, we also need to develop a spirituality that is spacious enough to accommodate all perspectives.
You don’t have to be an anthropologist to know that spiritual and religious events across traditions are attended by more women than men. Leadership in this events tends to be more male than female. Both are huge problems. One of them impacts power and control, the other programming. Both alienate half of the population.
The role of religious and spiritual leaders in congregations of all faiths has transformed over the course of my lifetime from pastoral leader to administrator. In the Christian world we can see this in the decline of the quality of preaching in many churches, in the decline and sometimes virtual disappearance of pastoral care in any form, even on the deathbed. These things have happened despite the fact that church attendance is down across all denominations. It’s true that the Roman Catholic Church has a clergy shortage and so their deficits are a bit more understandable, but virtually everyone else has a clergy surplus. What’s the problem?
When your pastor is primarily a business, marketing, and financial manager, he or she simply doesn’t have the time to do the things most of us want a pastor to do. In some settings, lay people have been appointed to fill roles such as parish administrator, director of religious education, pastoral care committees, and other roles in an attempt to take the load off of the pastor. The training these people receive varies broadly, but since the preponderance of regular attendees at houses of worship are women, those filling these roles are mostly women. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s a good thing in a world that was dominated by male clergy – though that trend is beginning to shift.
There’s just one hitch. One of the results of all this is that women are designing programming for women (understandably), and most of that is about as attractive to the average man as an enema administered through a bazooka. That trend continues across religious and spiritual organizations. Retreats and conferences across traditions offer specific programming addressing such topics as the Divine Feminine, and that’s great. Programming for men? Not so much. Presenters at the upcoming 2020 conference of Spiritual Directors International include one man. One. Remind me again why we are supposed to feel welcome?
You see, whether we like it or not, men don’t want to hold hands during the Our Father or sit in a circle facing one another and singing. We certainly don’t want to jump to our feet and engage in some ecstatic dance. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, they just aren’t our things. What are men concerned about?
the changes of aging
job security, or finding a new job over age fifty if we need one
are we still attractive?
why has our marriage become sexless?
understanding our roles in our families
finding meaning in our lives
The truth is that unless and until those issues start being addressed, don’t expect us to show up any time soon.
Sometimes I think that maybe I am jaded, or too serious, or that I have some kind of kill joy perspective that renders me unable to appreciate “good, wholesome church fun.” I guess my notion that organized activities should be age appropriate only applies to the elderly or the infirm and not to adults gathered in the name of their particular (or peculiar) faith tradition. Whatever the reason may be, “good, wholesome church fun” has always left me flat.
Gathering the leaders of an organization together to do childish crap in order to make them seem more accessible seems to me to be both transparently manipulative and counterproductive, but the Church seems to disagree. Instead they trot out their leaders to do things only highly intoxicated people would do, except these people are sober as a church mouse. And while those already on the inside cheer and applaud this foolishness, those on the outside shake their heads and feel like these infants have nothing to offer them – and they are right.
I really believe that people are looking for a community that will understand and support them in the real struggles of adult life. When they see alleged leaders jumping around on pogo sticks, they don’t see people to whom they can relate. Rather, they see what looks like an occupational therapy group at a hospital for the criminally insane.
I’m not saying that we can’t have fun. In fact, I think having age appropriate fun in plain view is vitally important. The Church in all its forms has been reluctant to do that for fear its more tight assed members would object. Apparently it doesn’t want to take on the difficult task of encouraging its members to move into adulthood, and so prefers to act as if they had a role as an extra in a Jerry Lewis movie.
And the decline of the Church is a mystery because…?