In Slavoj Žižek’s “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology,” the Slovenian philosopher lisps about Americans’ love of disaster films. We think, Žižek says, the world is so beyond redemption that the only way we can psychologically deal with it is by blowing it up. So we watch all manner of aliens and terrorists destroying the White House over and over again. We cannot imagine a future other than an orgy of destruction of Wagnerian proportions.
This kept coming to mind when writing “National Apostasy: Disaster Capitalism and the Episcopal Church” about our own ongoing denominational disaster porn. My thesis was the Episcopal Church isn’t actually dying, but is only being reported as dying so power and money could be consolidated in few hands. Yet, I have been wondering if these power-hungry money-grubbers (pardon the technical term) only succeed because their lies are lies we already believe. Like Žižek said, maybe we listen to and read their disaster porn because we cannot imagine the Episcopal Church changing. Maybe even because we don’t think it should change. Maybe we all just want it to die.
Every day I researched that essay, I kept asking myself, “Why do you care?” Most days, I didn’t have an answer. I had no clue why I kept researching and reading the litigation documents (if you ever want to ruin your soul, spend an hour with these). But the writing was a turning cog in the working of my salvation. Only a thunderstorm of an eight-page polemic could clear the foul air in my head. Old misdeeds could be examined, forgiven; unintentional transgressions could be overlooked. I cared because I wanted to think clearly about the issue. I wrote it for myself.
But, outside my window is autumn with golden leaves fallen from a backyard tree. Nearby, I sit on my office floor. I face an unadorned wall with my legs like a lotus. I stare open-eyed. One, two, three: I count my breaths until the timer dings and my feet are asleep. I read the Daily Office when I feel up to it. I go to a Mass when I muster the strength. I must admit, I like the Latin ones best. These you can watch/listen and “not participate”—in fact, that’s what I like about them the most. You can really contemplate and the sermons are so terrible they barely interrupt your thoughts.
I used to make fun of people like me, you know the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. The ones who take a little of this and a little of that. They’ll sit zazen like me, and pray the rosary like me, and read the Tao te Ching like me, and maybe show up in the house of the Lord every once in awhile like me. Just look up when the bell rings to see the miracle, then back on our way to pick-and-choose land. I don’t have any Buddha statues yet, but I haven’t ruled it out, though.
I learned in the last ten months not everybody who is “spiritual but not religious” chose it. Not all of these are lazy or lacking in love. Some of these are cast-offs from an institutional religion hell-bent on preserving itself. Some of these are victims of bad pastoral care. Some of these were ignored by good church folk who never understood them. Some of them have been vomited out by the behemoth with the “bullshit jobs.” They left the institutional Church because their lives were better for it.
Ten months ago, I was a victim of shockingly bad pastoral care. And then around Easter, some more shockingly bad pastoral care. During attempts at reconciliation, I was insulted and had my motives questioned. In fact, the motives for my entire participation in the Episcopal Church were questioned. Then, I was just expected to just get over all of it. Some day, I’ll write about this chapter of my life, but it’s still too soon, too fresh, too raw for me to have any kind of perspective. Suffice to say, in the weeks that followed, the knots tying me to the local Episcopal Church unraveled one by one by one. So, I sit facing a wall, counting my breaths: one, two, three.
I had about a half-dozen conversations over the last week with various people. Some are in active ministry, some are musicians, some are laypersons. All were shocked by the recent events at General Theological Seminary, TREC and the direction of the Episcopal Church. All of them have this urge to retire to a mountain to watch the Episcopal Church destroy herself. Watch her go up in flames like a scene from Götterdämmerung. As BLS wrote, the Episcopal Church is drunk and we’re all just waiting for rock bottom. All this denominational disaster porn is right: maybe we all do want want her to die. I’m not convinced anyone thinks the Episcopal Church should survive.
I think it should, though. I don’t write this because I am worried about job security—after all, I’m not a priest. I don’t write this because I’m trying to sell you anything (I don’t even have Powerpoints prepared!). No, I think the Episcopal Church should survive because she has the means of grace for reuniting broken hearts with a loving God. But she has to remember the means of grace and her hope of glory. She’s got to stop crucifying her people. She has to stop breaking hearts.
She’s gotta stop breaking my heart.