"A New Day"
-At the Desert Retreat House-
Yesterday my wife and I went to the theater to see the newly released and high acclaimed movie, Calvary. We thought we were going to see a film about the Catholic Church in Ireland - as it turned out the movie was far more than that.
For hundreds of years Ireland was virtually "ruled" by an all-powerful established church. The church wielded enormous control over every aspect of daily life-spiritual as well as political. Over the years it had become corrupt, bloated and abusive, culminating in the last decade of the widespread scandals of sexual abuse by its clergy. The people got to the point where they weren't going to tolerate it any longer and so today the once-powerful church in Ireland has been decimated - few people attend church any longer and the established religion has now become an object of derision in popular culture.
The movie, Calvary, is a story about a priest and a church in small modern-day Irish village, and it packed a powerful and even haunting message for me. The people of the village had essentially lost their faith, they had lost hope, and they had become openly antagonistic toward the once-respected church that had stood at the center of their town and had been the focus of their lives.
In the movie, it wasn't until the established church and all its trappings (included the clergy) was "crucified, died and buried" that the seeds of faith hope and love were able to be planted once again in the hearts of those lost people in that small Irish village. For faith to be born again, the church didn't have to be changed, it had to be buried.
As I watched this movie yesterday I realized that, for me, this wasn't just a story about an Irish village or even a story about Ireland. It was a story about "established religion," and it has haunted me ever since I saw it, raising many questions for me about the role of any church or synagogue or temple in contemporary society and popular culture.
Every day I publish my blog post on various sites on the social media, and I never cease to be amazed at the strident, virulent and even violent reaction I often get if I even use the word "religion" or "church" in my postings. I keep running into so many people today (especially young people in Western culture) who are so openly antagonistic to any type of established religion that it never falls to stun me.
I used to get very upset and sometimes angry when I would hear those online voices of derision about how bad religion is and how stupid it is to be believe fairytale myths about a man in the sky controlling the world. But now I wonder if these voices may not be the voices of prophets? I wonder if maybe these prophets are telling us that people today aren't hearing the core message of hope and compassion because religion is getting in the way?
I have been a religious person all my life, and although I am now more at the fringes than at the center of the church, I am still "religious." Over my career I have been involved in innumerable programs to pump new life into a dying institutional church - new music, a revised liturgy, contemporary vestments, clever adverting, banners on the street inviting people to "come and see" us, and yet year by year the pews became emptier and emptier. I now begin to wonder if maybe those empty pews aren't a good thing in the long run.
After seeing that haunting movie yesterday I ask myself if maybe the church and established religion with all its historical trappings isn't being called to a "calvary experience" - to be crucified and die if the seeds of faith, compassion, and hope are to be planted again in the hearts of people?
Jesus told his disciples that new wine can't be put into old wineskins because the old wineskins will crack and the wine will be lost. There is a newer translation of this:
No one puts good wine into cracked bottles because the wine will be lost
Historically, religious institutions have been bottles for the message but if the bottle is cracked maybe it's time to look for a new bottle because what it contains is far too important to be lost.