In a truth is stranger than fiction display, I received email notification yesterday that I’ve been selected for publication in the Christian Who’s Who. Clearly they didn’t get the memo that I’m leaving the church after a bitter smear campaign that questioned the Christianity of my leadership.
While the email is clearly an example of spam-style marketing (yes, a hoax), the irony is almost painful. Nothing in all of my years of ministry prepared me for the heresy charge that has dogged me for the past year. Had the charge been officially leveled and a ‘trial’ ensued, I may have had a chance to state my case and clear my name. Because the whole tawdry affair was in the shadows, in the parking lot, with anonymous letters, and over the phone lines, there was no direct conversation, no specific accusation, no chance to defend, explain, or deny. In the end, it was an underground smear campaign with the growing number of people asking the same questions with identical vocabulary bearing witness to it’s effectiveness. Ironically, because it was never direct, my attempts to name the conflict were seen as either paranoia or evidence of personal conflict. Once such a mean spirited and covert attack is waged (perversely in the name of protecting the church!), the pastor is finished.
Still in question was only the timing of my departure and the context. I was able to name both, at least publicly, and for this I suppose I am grateful. Curiously, or not so, the wound was not publicly visible. Those not swayed by the drama have no way to understand the devastation that it has caused both to me and to our community. For those not involved, my departure has been seen as unnecessary and perhaps even unfaithful. My dearest friends, those who did not recoil when the well was poisoned last spring, now in my announced departure have hurt in their eyes when we speak. Typing this truth this brings tears to my own. But the damage is done, whether or not it is yet evident. Having lost all heart for anything bearing the name Christian, the name used to attack and discredit my life’s work, I will relinquish my robe and retire my status as an ordained minister.
As I look at the cruel joke on my screen, offering (for a fee) to publish my name in the (presumably) immortal list of ‘real’ Christians, I wonder about the power of these labels. Words used to label are dangerous both as they intend to include and thereby definitionally exclude. But the email points to another truth, the way we buy our way into seats of privilege. For a small fee, another line on a resume. For a small concession, another day at the table. Each fee we pay, each concession that we make, seem innocuous in the moment. It’s only at pivotal points of transition that we realize that cumulative weight of these costs.
Today I am grateful that my truth is not dependent on a label. My loss of Christianity as a label coincided with my deepening awareness of sacred presence. The more clearly I understood this presence to dance beyond the walls of our words, the more I worked to help other embrace this truth and (more importantly) this presence, the more fuel was added to the war that I recognized only in the rearview mirror. Yet I am coming to trust the placement of the mirror for this sooner knowledge could only have thwarted my awareness of the holy.
Will I relinquish my place in the annals of Christianity for a chance to dance with spirit? Though the choice itself is a tragic commentary, the answer is remarkably clear. Let the dance begin.