It’s an old saw for me at this point, one of my favorite soap boxes. I’d apologize for talking about it again, but I hope you can appreciate your pastor’s vocal advocacy for THE CHURCH! I am an unapologetic fan, and I worry about what it will mean if we as a nation let it slip away.
Last summer prior to that big Scottish wedding, Amy and I met friends from England along the first 12 miles of our 61-mile pilgrimage from Edinburgh to St. Andrews. We were introduced to Kate and Tony when we walked 70+ miles of El Camino de Santiago together. He’s a retired barrister; she’s a former teacher, and we have a lot of common convictions, though active church life is not one of them.
They were both raised in the Church of England, but like most folks there they have moved away from institutional religious life. So, when I asked them, “So… is there anything missing in British life and culture because the Church no longer plays a prominent role?” I braced for either polite criticism or enthusiastic ambivalence. Instead, both responded immediately: “Yes!”
She correlates the demise of church attendance with the loss of family, and the structure that it brings to school children, adolescents, and the youth of England. Attuned to the laws that lead to order and the structured conduct of a society, Tony said, “We have no codes.”
He didn’t mean they have no laws. He meant there were no longer any underlying ethics, no un-written rules, no universal convictions of etiquette or courtesy, much less of right and wrong, good and bad, generosity and vulgarity. According to our British friends, their people live any kind of way they want because there is no longer a basic, shared order – which the Church once gave to their society.
When Notre Dame went up in flames, a world-wide congregation wept with Paris. It reminded me of the global attendance at Megan and Harry’s royal wedding at Windsor Castle, and, in a different way, the sense of global community we experienced after 9/11. But, what were the French masses actually mourning as the cathedral’s spire collapsed, and why did that largely unreligious nation gather to light candles and sing hymns?
My strong conviction is that we are spiritual creatures at heart, embodied souls who long for mystery, transcendence, “God” – whether our Enlightened intellect or our jaded experience will let us admit it or not. The proof I offer for my conviction is that the great tragedies and celebrations of life speak to human beings on such a deep level that no ordinary response will suffice. The Psalmist says, “Deep calls to deep” – so we cry out in ways that are undeniably religious.
People filled churches after 9/11, lit candles, kept silence, sang songs together, made commitments to live and serve better. Bishop Curry’s homily at that Royal wedding evoked a world-wide response – because it was much more than a great speech. As a sermon, it invoked the transcendent conviction of love (born of God!), in an ethic called marriage. Parisians sensed in that uncontrollable inferno much more than the loss of a 900 year-old building.
I’m sure many would disagree with me, but I believe the response of the world proves otherwise. God is real. You can feel it in the deepest longings, the pure emotions, the native utterances of people when the grip of pain or the flight of ecstasy reveals our instinct to worship.
I hope you will be in church on Sunday!!