October 11, 2021 Editor

A Handful of Reasons to Join a Church [despite the exodus] – Sharad Yadav

posted in Clarion Journal for Religion, Peace & Justice

by Sharad Yadav

WN: I like what I read below!

One asks though, how can the church accept me with all my _____? The answer obviously is: because everyone else at church has a variation of that _____ too.

During the pandemic, there have been a few churches we visit online. But that does not make us members. At least: “parish” has taken on a unique feel for us. We’re still processing that.

One church that does not cease to challenge, bless and motivate along the lines of what we read below is: Good Shepherd New York. Their weekly Digital Church is beautifully produced, and includes outstanding liturgical offerings from Good Shepherd Collective. The October 10, 2021 service may be viewed below.

Frederick Buechner wrote:

The Church is like Noah’s ark: you wouldn’t stand the stench within were it not for the storm without.

An African Proverb goes:

The Church is hopeless. The Church is the only hope.

Canadian Columnist Barbara Kay wrote this on June 22, 2005 in Canada’s National Post:

The Christian faith, uniquely among the world’s religions, has inspired an awesome tradition of ministering to the lepers most of us cannot bear to look at.

Brian Stewart of the Canadian Broadcasting Commission (CBC), in “On The Front Lines” remarks:

“I’ve found there is NO movement, or force, closer to the raw truth of war, famines, crises, and the vast human predicament, than organized Christianity in Action.”; and again: “I don’t slight any of the hard work done by other religions or those wonderful secular NGO’s I’ve dealt with so much over the years…  But no, so often in desperate areas it is Christian groups there first, that labour heroically during the crisis and continue on long after all the media, and the visiting celebrities have left.

Simone Weil said:

The Church is a great totalitarian Beast with an irreducible kernel of Truth.

J.R.R. Tolkien claims:

The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe [a neologism meaning: the grand turn towards The Ineluctable Happy Ending–the very essence of Fairy-stories] of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation ( J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories)”.

David Cayley cites Ivan Illich who contends:

The mystical experience is a fruit of love, and therefore, it is accessible to any lover . . . awareness [of] meaning is a fruit of faith, and is accessible only to the believer.

Faith is not the acceptance of a doctrine, it is a commitment to search, with dedication and risk, for . . . personal and intimate identification with . . . another person. This other person is, ultimately, “Rabbi Jeshua ben Joseph” whom he calls both his “brother and friend” and “the Lord and Son of God.” But it is always the nub of Illich’s faith that the gateway to this ultimate and comprehensive “other person” may be, initially, any other person.

So the Church about which I have been quoting Illich is never quite the actual institution, but always its subjective shadow and heavenly complement. (The Powerless Church and Other Selected Writings, 1955-1985, pp. 86 & 87; in Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey, pp. 71 & 73.) 1

Hans Urs von Balthasar:

The Church suffers what it must judge and “in the hidden interior” begins the return home of all truth to that Una Catholica: the truth of Goethe, the truth of Nietzsche, the truth of Luther, and of all who took up a fragment of the infinite mirror. For all who have erred did at one time intend to speak the truth. And the reconstruction of the smashed mirror is not the outcome of a gaze of patience (like Hegel’s Encyclopedia) but the outcome of the miracle of Easter in which the patient endurance of the Church too plays its part. Rightly the motto of worldly tolerance, “To understand everything is to forgive everything,” has been rejected as superficial. But perhaps the reversal of this motto is valid, at a much deeper point: where everything is first forgiven (on the Cross) even what is most incomprehensible becomes understandable; the hard outer shells of error break open and release the captive kernel of truth. (Razing the Bastions: On the Church in this Age, p. 88)

David Cayley in: Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey writes:

Mission, therefore, involves making the Church, as a sign, perceptible within a new cultural context. The Gospel arrives, always, with baggage. “Never does the missionary bring the Word of God in a way that is abstracted from culture.” (pp. 43 & 44)

David Cayley again in: Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey writes:

“Under this light the Incarnation is the infinite prototype of missionary activity, the communication of the Gospel to those who are ‘other,’ through Him who entered a World by nature not His own.”

“Indeed, this changed form is so certain, if it is allowed, that missiology, the science of mission, can be defined as “the study of the Church as surprise, the Church as divinely inspired contemporary poetry; the developing of human society into a divine bud which will flower in eternity.”

The vocation of the Church was quite the opposite [to a worldly power]—to be a sign of freedom and transfigured vision.

These are all images of something evanescent or, like the mustard seed, potential. The Church, for Illich, is an intimation—a whisper, a scent, a smile. As a sociological reality, it can only create a hospitable space for these solicitations and surprises. It cannot command them or guarantee their punctual appearance.

“The Church interprets to modern man development as a growth into Christ.” How does the Church do this? In Illich’s New Testament imagery, the Church is a seed, a yeast, a “divine bud that will flower in eternity,” “a sign lifted up among the nations,” “the worldly sign of other-worldly reality.” “What the Church contributes through evangelization is like the laughter in the joke. Two hear the same story, one gets the point. It’s like the rhythm in the phrase that only the poet catches.” The images and metaphors he uses are necessarily elusive because he doesn’t believe that the discernment of which faith makes us capable can be reduced to any definite principle or analytic scheme. It is a way of seeing, not something seen. “Faith,” Simone Weil says, “is the experience that the intelligence is enlightened by love.” Illich, I think, agrees. Faith is the light and the conviction that it shows us things as they are.

The Church is an object of faith, and faith, as the apostle Paul says, is the substance of hope, the evidence of things unseen. So, the Church about which I have been quoting Illich is never quite the actual institution but always its subjunctive shadow and heavenly complement. (pp. 44 & 47; 72 & 73)

Ivan Illich:

I think I can provide historical evidence for my belief that that angel, you know, that Gabriel who suddenly appeared in front of that Jewish girl and said “Ave” cannot be neglected by the historian. And, at the very same time, he did something which doesn’t fit in the ordinary sense within history, or the study of history. I believe that that angel told that woman that she, from that moment on, was to be the mother of God, that He whose names the Jews never wanted to pronounce was from that moment on to be a human being as really human as you, David, and I. I believe in that. I therefore listen to Him as nobody before this event could have listened to another, looked at another. And this is what I live by. I therefore believe that the Incarnation, the ensarkosis, the Greek word for the enfleshment of the biblical, the koranic, the Christian Allah represents a turning point in looking at what happens in the world. And this is an extraordinary surprise and remains a surprise. It is not knowledge of the ordinary kind. It is knowledge which, in my tradition, one calls faith. And I do not cease to live in my faith when I study history.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Through the call of Jesus people become individuals. They are compelled to decide, and that decision can only be made by themselves. It is no choice of their own that makes them individuals: it is Christ who makes them individuals by calling them. Every person is called separately, and must follow alone.–The Cost of Discipleship

Sharad Yadav is Lead Pastor of Bread & Wine church in Portland, OR.

As I try to remember why the hell I do this for a living, here is a handful of reasons, dear friends, to consider joining a church:

1. To join a church is to commit to a social circle you do not get to choose and can therefore show you whether your spirituality is bullshit or not.

2. Joining a church is a way of practicing – among a small group of people over a significant period of time – what you’d like the world to be like.

3. To join a church is to live in rebellion against the neoliberal and capitalist forces which are brainwashing you into making your consumer desire the center of the world, reducing all your experiences of the world (including all the people in it) to instruments and resources.

4. Joining a church is to organize your life around a time to confess your limitations, culpability and imperfections together with other people so that you can get used to receiving divine forgiveness and hope in response to your honesty.

5. To join a church is to resist all traditional loyalties to state, party, culture, family or affinity in an act of loyalty to a group that transcends all natural categories.

6. Joining a church organizes your financial priorities around supporting an inclusive community for vulnerable people . . . that you actually have to live with.

7. To join a church is to cultivate an environment unlike your home, work, or play where your life is not measured according to any other purpose or goal than to discover and enjoy your own humanity.

8. Joining a church is a way of maintaining healthy skepticism about human knowledge and capacities in the language of divine mystery.

9. To join a church is to cultivate an imagination for how your unique talents and creative potential can be offered on purpose for love instead of money.

10. Joining a church is a life lesson in how to deal with assholes without retaliating, dehumanizing or running away (in the desperate hope of not becoming an a$$hole).

Views: 88

  1. An epigraph in Cayley’s book on Illich goes:

    On the table . . . there is always a candle? Why?
    Because the text that shaped my understanding
    was . . . a treatise on spiritual friendship by the
    twelfth-century abbot Aelred of Rievaulx . . . It
    begins with the words “Here we are, you and I, and,
    I hope, also a third who is Christ.” If you consider
    his meaning carefully, you understand that it could
    be Christ in the form of Brother Michael. In other
    words, our conversation should always go on with
    the certainty that there is somebody else who will
    knock at the door, and the candle stands for him or
    her. It is a constant reminder that the community is
    never closed.–Ivan Illich


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.