I had lunch with one of my best friends today and she was bemoaning the nature of the Episcopal Church in her part of the woods. "They're just to 'self-important'," she was saying.
"Do you mean they take themselves too seriously?" I asked.
"They take everything too seriously!" she said.
Then she reminded me of an ordination to the priesthood sermon I gave for Michael Spencer, about how I made him stand up and told him, "always remember, Michael, that you are an almost irrelevant functionary is a mostly irrelevant institution."
"That's what I like about you," she said.
"My clinging to irrelevancy?" I asked.
"In a word," she said, "exactly...."
And it is true. I don't ever 'not' think of myself as mostly irrelevant. Some people I have told that get rather huffy. "Why, for goodness sake, you're an Episcopal Priest," they say.
And I reply, in a word, "exactly...."
You need to hear me out on this. I'm not saying priests don't 'make a difference' and a contribution to the world. We do, quite often. But so do other irrelevant things. Take poetry--poetry brings beauty and truth and wonder and insight to me...but poetry, in our time and culture, is essentially irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. The economy is relevant. War and Peace is relevant. Poverty and discrimination are relevant. Climate change is relevant. Disease is relevant. The vast distance between the rich and poor in this country and even more so in the developed and developing worlds is hugely relevant. The incredible deep divides among people is relevant.
But poetry and the Episcopal Church? Give me a break.
There is nothing wrong with being irrelevant. Actually it's a great way to go 'undercover' and make a difference in people's lives. Poetry and the Episcopal Church do that--behind the scenes of what is Important and Relevant and Serious in the world. It's that poetry and the Episcopal Church simply aren't that big a deal in the day-to-day relevancies of Life. (My spell check didn't like 'relevancies' though it offered 'irrelevancies' as a doable option--but that would make a really awkward sentence structure to say what I said, so I'll go with my, apparently, new word.)
My bishop at the time, who heard me say the 'irrelevant' stuff, tried to tear me a new one in the vesting room after Michael's reception. But Michael had some very good wine at the reception and I'd had enough that I just said, "Bishop, think about it! You are the mostly irrelevant titular head of a mostly irrelevant institution." And left him gaping at my audacity...or,, perhaps, my accuracy. (I don't think I've used the word 'titular' in conversation before or since. But it cut him short and I went back for another glass of Michael's good wine.
So here's an example: our bishops in CT have been very vocal about gun control since the tragedy in Sandy Hook. I appreciate their stand and find it moving, but it is irrelevant. Gun control is fought out on the political front--the NRA vs. 'gun control groups'. Nobody is ever going to say, "oh, my God, the Episcopal bishops of CT are for gun control, obviously we must do what they want!"
Even more irrelevant are Episcopalians who are members of the NRA getting upset with our bishops. I know a member of the Episcopal Church who has, for all intent and purpose, left the church because of what our Bishops have stood for. In the first place, what Episcopal Bishops say is irrelevant to the larger discussion. In the second place, to, in effect, leave a loving, irrelevant community because of what a bishop thinks is cutting yourself off from the love, affirmation and affection 'church' can give and does give for some irrelevant (in the 'big picture') conversation.
It's OK to be irrelevant. That doesn't mean the ministry of the church doesn't matter. It does 'matter' on the individual level, just not globally. The irrelevancy of the church in no way precludes the church 'making a difference' in an individual's life.
We just have to stop taking ourselves so seriously about everything. In the 'forest', the church doesn't matter, but it matters greatly to the 'trees'.
And that's good. That is healing. That is life-giving in many ways.
We just to have to stop thinking we 'matter' on the Big Picture stuff and deal with the day-to-day of ordinary people stuff.
You can be vital and life-giving and important without being relevant.
Ponder that for a bit....Don't take stuff too seriously, just notice how it IS serious on the micro-level. Just that.
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