A reader writes: the church game

A reader writes …

Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you. Though I have to play the church game for the sake of inspiring a larger group of people to bless their neighbors… your wisdom and intellect in your books allows me to feel ok with how opposite my mind/heart works from the traditional evangelical hearts/minds I spend time with. I appreciate you Brian! I admire your tenacity for what matters most!

I just got back from a wonderful long weekend in England at the Greenbelt Festival, an amazing time which further inspires me to dream big things for the “daughter of Greenbelt” festival here in the US, Wild Goose. While there, I had so many people come and express similar feelings … that they are hanging in there with traditional churches, doing what good they can, but their hearts have moved on to a new vision. I know that “playing the game” will sound disingenuous to some, but I think this writer expresses his deeper desire well: “for the sake of inspiring a larger group of people to bless their neighbors.”
This situation of inner division is not sustainable, of course. Eventually, something within us cries out to be “divided no more,” as Parker Palmer puts it. The frustration of “playing the game” or “living divided lives” will eventually give birth to a movement. It is already doing so … as Greenbelt, Wild Goose, the Cana Initiative (now the Convergence Network) and many other movement-building collaboratives demonstrate.
So a word to all those who feel like this writer … get ready for your frustration and weariness to give birth to something beautiful, creative, productive. Here’s how Parker Palmer describes it:

The first stage in a movement can be described with some precision, I think. It happens when isolated individuals make an inner choice to stop leading “divided lives.” Most of us know from experience what a divided life is. Inwardly we feel one sort of imperative for our lives, but outwardly we respond to quite another. This is the human condition, of course; our inner and outer worlds will never be in perfect harmony. But there are extremes of dividedness that become intolerable, and when the tension snaps inside of this person, then that person, and then another, a movement may be underway.
The decision to stop leading a divided life, made by enough people over a period of time, may eventually have political impact. But at the outset, it is a deeply personal decision, taken for the sake of personal integrity and wholeness. I call it the “Rosa Parks decision” in honor of the woman who decided, one hot Alabama day in 1955, that she finally would sit at the front of the bus.
Rosa Parks’ decision was neither random nor taken in isolation. She served as secretary for the local NAACP, had studied social change at the Highlander Folk School, and was aware of others’ hopes to organize a bus boycott. But her motive that day in Montgomery was not to spark the modern civil rights movement. Years later, she explained her decision with a simple but powerful image of personal wholeness: “I sat down because my feet were tired.”
I suspect we can say even more: Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus because her soul was tired of the vast, demoralizing gap between knowing herself as fully human and collaborating with a system that denied her humanity. The decision to stop leading a divided life is less a strategy for altering other people’s values than an uprising of the elemental need for one’s own values to come to the fore. The power of a movement lies less in attacking some enemy’s untruth than in naming and claiming a truth of one’s own.
There is immense energy for change in such inward decisions as they leap from one person to another and outward to the society. With these decisions, individuals may set in motion a process that creates change from the inside out. There is an irony here: We often think of movements as “confrontational,” as hammering away at social structures until the sinners inside repent and we contrast them (often invidiously) with the “slow, steady, faithful” process of working for change from within the organization. In truth, people who take an organizational approach to problems often become obsessed with their unyielding “enemies,” while people who adopt a movement approach must begin by changing themselves.