Home is where…

There is a cliche, “Home is where the heart is,” and another statement: “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in.”  And here’s where there’s a disconnect between the rhetoric and my feeling on All Souls as a religious home.  First, I cannot say that it is “where my heart is.”  And my own feelings of disease with regard to the church are mild.  I know some for whom the atmosphere has been so toxic that they cannot stand to even enter the building.  If All Souls intends to become a community that religious seekers call “home,” something will need to be done to address this.  Some would counter that I and others who no longer look on All Souls as our religious home have moved on, and that we’re not in the same place as the church.  That, unfortunately, sounds to me wrong for a church, and for a Unitarian church especially.  It suggests that there is a right way of being at All Souls, and those who don’t fit the mold should go elsewhere.  That’s not home, but a club or an association, a place with clear rules and boundaries — if you fit, you’re in, and if not, you’re out.  It also suggests to me that some of those at All Souls are not self-reflective and self-aware — for they say that the church is an open place, open to all, without fully examining those things which would disqualify someone, in their hearts, from full membership.  This might be stated as “He’s too Christian,” or “She’s not Humanist enough.”  Whatever form it might take, there’s a sense, even when the outsider comes to church and enters the building that the door has been slammed shut on him/her.  One feels as if s/he is a dismembered member or a dissed member.  But is it the outsider who’s at fault here?   Or does the church send messages (not always consciously) that some people need not apply here?  And how does that fit with the Unitarian tradition of siding with the outsider — Ralph Waldo Emerson left the ministry because of a disagreement on the “Lord’s Supper” at 2nd Church in Boston.  For him, it was an empty ritual, something he could not assent to, and so he left.  And more than a century and a half later, we think — “they let Ralph Waldo Emerson go?  What were they thinking?”  Clearly, we judge them wrong today.  At the time, I’m sure 2nd Church thought they did right, and many other churchgoers at other Unitarian churches agreed that they were well rid of the troublesome Mr. Emerson. 

How is it that we can keep that cardinal Unitarian virtue (keeping an open mind and an open heart) alive?  I do my own share of condemning this person or that to hell or some such place — our last Vice President I often see in asbestos jammies doing a little dance in h – e – double hockey sticks.  Such condemnation gives me, briefly, a sense of power, as I clearly have the power, in my mind, to condemn someone to perdition.  I’m sure our last second-in-command cares not a whit for what I think or say (and there’s no reason he should, I admit).  But that moment of triumphant sentencing on my part is, at best, a hollow victory.  It indicates that thinking about our heartless cyborg of a number 2 can still drive me crazy for a minute.  In other words, I cannot let him go, and not in a good way. 

That’s sometimes the way All Souls’ unconscious or careless closing of doors seems to me.  People who are leaving were hurt, but, in time, they’ll let go of their anger and move on with their lives.  But the great tapestry at All Souls has quite a few patches in it — something precious has been lost.  Because there is not a sense of awareness on the part of some at All Souls, the damage done which was avoidable will likely, at some point, be repeated (the church has driven away a few ministers).

I hope there’ll be some acknowledgement of what has happened, and that the memory of the events of the year past are not allowed to go easily down the memory hole.  Time will tell.

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