Sunday, June 3, 2012

separation of church and church

Here in the United States, there is a spoken (if not actualized) belief in "the separation of church and state." It is written into law and sometimes, when the blurring of church and state becomes annoying enough, there will be a lawsuit reiterating or redefining the principle.

But sometimes I think that for those inclined to the church (and I mean this is the widest sense of spiritual life), there needs to be an equally powerful principle -- the separation of church from church.

If I am not mistaken (and I am too damned lazy to look it up), polls in this country suggest that a majority of people identify themselves as in some sense spiritual ... perhaps they believe in God, for example. But a far fewer number identify themselves according to any particular church or denomination. This, to my mind, is utterly appropriate and sensible. It is people who give life to institutions and not the other way around. Institutions and their dogmas may bang the pots and pans for a very particular and sometimes useful direction, but those institutions serve and find meaning only in the people at whose behest they exist.

As in the realm of church and state, it is sometimes hard to separate church from church. The two -- one institutional, the other personal -- sometimes become hopelessly entwined. And there is no Supreme Court to winkle out the proper separations. It is up to individuals to recognize and assert the superior role they play ... and some are too frightened or confused to do this: It is hard not to imagine that someone or something else has a better bead on the road to a peaceful life; an institution and its teachings can seem to offer a port in the storm; and the longing to sail life's seas freely and without fetter is set aside.

OK ... there is the church and there is the church -- the spiritual affinity and the spiritual institution. Both may have a role in the dance, but a distinction needs to be asserted without fear of contradiction: It is the individual who brings meaning and power to the institution. The institution serves at the behest of the individual. The dance is the dance but ...

Sailing the open and edgeless seas is more important than refuge behind the tentative breakwaters.

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