I am spending Friday and Saturday in Kerrville for a regional meeting of the church known as a Presbytery meeting. At this meeting, as at most Presbytery meetings, I am remembering all I love and hate about serving the church. And I am regressing to that immature ten year old version of myself that sat sulking in the pews wondering how adults had reduced the search for meaning to such dull drivel.
We Presbyterians may not do much, but we keep great records, which means our meetings can be consumed with going over the notes of meetings that weren’t really necessary in the first place. Presbyterians are governed by a kind of democracy, which is wonderful, but also opens the door for a level of strangeness hard to find outside organized religion. Our Presbytery seems to be in a bit of a lull right now, and the leadership has tried to stimulate us by what I call “Christian cheerleading.”
“Christian cheerleading” usually means taking on the style of black Baptist church as best as can be done by people who cannot feel from their neck down.
So our leaders are saying stock phrases and our job is to respond as dutiful parrots:
Leader: “Does Polly wanteth a cracker?”
People: “Verily, she doth.”
Leader: “No, I mean does she really want a cracker.”
People: “As a hart longeth for water, so doth Polly want a cracker.”
And then comes the religious filler. Nonsense words like “Amen” are used as semantic superglue that allows speakers a moment to think of their next line and, if enough such religious words are put back to back, it almost sounds like the speaker has a point.
“Can I get a “blah, blah?””
As a part of my silent tantrum I count the sexist phrases in worship until they become too numerous. Ultimately, the sexist phrases become like a mist that soaks my psyche. I always leave sexist worship feeling contaminated, violated, like someone has left cigarette butts in my soul.
I also wince as bright young seminarians are peppered with questions by smirking bullies. “I know you are terrified standing in front of all these people but I want the people from my church to see how smart I am, so my question is can you explain the atonement in one minute?”
Such questions come from a place of deep unexamined ignorance. The questioner has never thought honestly enough to realize that there are multiple theories of the atonement and that they contradict one another.
Students stumble before their intellectual inferiors because a knowledge of history, and culture a nd languages leaves one unable to respond to such brutal simplicity. They have yet to learn that the knowing smirk of their inquisitors is based on ignorance of the complexity and ambiguity of the text.
But then, in the middle of my pouting, I hear my denomination advocate for immigrants. I see them responding to disasters. I see their genuine concern for children. I see people who genuinely love one another sneaking off from the meeting to visit and explore how the other is really doing. At some point in the meeting I always say to myself, “at least these people are trying to do community and are trying to help our world.
There is an old preacher joke about the church being like Noah’s Ark, and if it weren’t for the rain outside, one couldn’t stand the smell inside. So I get ready for the second day of Presbytery resolving to leave my sulking teenager home.