It seems like every other parish church is boarded up now, and from what I hear, it's very hard to buy them. I think about St. John's Byzantine in the heart of the east side, with its beautiful murals and the light streaming through its missing windows. There is still a peace there even in the ruins. It makes me sad to see these places fade from the memory of their neighborhoods as the reverberations of white flight and lost faith continue to manifest themselves.
Every ethnic group had to have their own building and when most of those ethnic groups cleared out, they left so many places behind. It might have been "one holy Catholic church" but my Irish side of the family couldn't get baptized at the neighborhood Slovak parish back in the day.
I listened to people talk this week about new congregations and new communities and new directions forming in different neighborhoods and I was frustrated because as beautiful as something like this is, I still felt like I was being sold something. I get squeamish when I hear about five-year-plans and growth projections and recruiting charismatic individuals who will be catalysts in their communities.
It seems too business-like, too franchise-ish. The best people are not always the ones who know how to shake hands and kiss babies. I don't trust a lot of charismatic people because it seems so often that people are so easily blinded by their light and that they themselves can't always see beyond their own halo.
Maybe it's just that my weirdo artistic mind doesn't work that way and I'm being a bit harsh. If I read these words as true that we all say are true, we can do planting and watering all we want, but only God can make anything grow. Somehow that gets lost in the conversation.
Conversely, I don't know how I feel about churches that are trying so hard to be different and not like the often graceless sociopolitical force that came out of our parents' radios, but it ends up being just a bunch of social services where God is a spice rather than the sustenance of our existence. It's easy to feed the body in this society with so much excess but our souls are starving.
It all seems like a business enterprise or a "We Are the World" endeavor rather than something that has a whole lot to do with the Divine. We seem to make so many plans but God with His infinitely strange and fascinating sense of humor seems to turn them back around constantly because it's all about Him and not us.
Somehow it seems like we stopped talking about God and started talking about us talking about God along the way. We act like our stories and sufferings are so damn unique and important, that our generation "gets it," and is going to "change things" but as I look back and listen to those older than me talk, look at movements throughout history, and it's the same things and same cycles with different haircuts and pet causes.
He continues to do His work through so many reluctant ones, people who made bad decisions and made excuses and ran away and got profoundly depressed. It wasn't the best and the brightest and the coolest. I love that. There's a humanity in the scriptures that just resonates with me because these weren't perfect people being awesome all the time, they were just as messed up as anyone I know.
They get mad at God, they question Him, doubt Him, and praise Him, and get fed up with the messed-up-ness of the world and repeat that cycle over and over again.It resonates so deeply because I understand those feelings more and more.
There is nothing that I read that says to blindly follow, to believe everything someone says. It's loving God and others with heart, soul, mind, and strength. It's the difficult path of an intellectual engagement with something that empirically unprovable and yet deeper than I ever dreamed even if I doubt I'll ever have all the answers I want or be able to comprehend everything I see in front of me, but to know that others have been there is so beautiful and reassuring even as it seems like the world grows more cold and everyone around me falls away.