June 13, 2016

A Church that Fails (Reprise)

When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”

Peter, Paul, and Mary sang these words in protest against the war in Vietnam. Today, in the aftermath of the terrible hate crime in Orlando, leaving too many dead and tragically affecting so many more, I find myself again asking, “what can I do?”

My answer: “More.”

To start, I’ll share this Vital Post Jeremiah Sierra published in December 2012. He reminds us of the importance of facing our failures and asking ourselves what might we do differently going forward:

The church has failed.

A few weeks ago I listened to Joan Chittister give the keynote address at Trinity Institute. Evolution, she said, teaches us that we are all participants in an ongoing creation. It shows us both that we have tremendous responsibility as participants in creation, and that failure is a natural part of growth.

In a time when we are reeling from tragedy, when we are facing problems as large as climate change and increasing economic inequality, and as our communities are shrinking, it’s time to embrace and face our failures. They are staring us in the face from the pages of the newspaper and the empty pews.

I came across a New York Times article (via Episcopal Café), which also reminds us of the importance of facing our failures. “’Not talking about [failure] is the worst thing you can do, as it means you’re not helping the rest of the organization learn from it,’ said Jill Vialet, who runs the nonprofit Playworks.’”

Failure, Chittister said, is how we grow and should not be feared. This doesn’t mean the consequenes of our failure aren't often terrible, and that we shouldn't mourn our failures (and I also don’t mean to say that the tragedy on Friday necessarily could have been prevented if we just had different gun laws or better mental health care).

We should acknowledge and learn from the places and times we have fallen short. Our gun policies and mental health policies have failed to prevent tragedy. We have failed to be stewards of the earth and we have failed to preach our message in a way that reaches many people. The problem isn't only the world we live in, it's us, co-creators and participants who have some learning and growing to do.  

We are responsible for this world we have been given, and for each other. Gathering for prayer and worship and reading the Bible are not enough. If that’s all we ask of each other then we are shirking our responsibility, failing to keep each other accountable, and failing to follow Christ.

What we’ve been doing isn’t working, and the response isn’t despair, it is asking questions of each other. What should we do differently? What new thing can we bring into the world? How can we grow to love and live better?

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