I heard about Anne Rice’s departure from the church a few years ago. I hadn’t read any of her books, just noted the ruffle in the Internet conversation.
This week when Skye Jethani made a comment about her fictional books on Christ’s life and given my new enjoyment of audio books I decided to listen to her second one. I’ve been quite moved by it so far. That’s unusual. I usually have too many issues with what’s presented for all the expected reasons.
Interest in her book brought me to research her departure again and I found this fascinating interview in CT.
She sounded very transparent and honest about her reasons for leaving the church which for her was the Roman Catholic Church.
There were a number of last straws. It was a mounting discomfort with the public face of Christians and Catholics. I have no quarrel with any priest or bishop who doesn’t want to marry gay people or doesn’t want to have gay clergy. That’s fine, that’s the church’s decision. When you step into the secular culture and attempt to interfere with people’s rights, that’s something else.
The damning of the secular culture is upsetting and embarrassing. Secularism in America has done great things. It’s allowed people to live here whether they’re Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim, and it has protected people from the extreme beliefs of their neighbors.
More interesting for me was her “plan” or sorts.
I don’t feel called to examine various denominations and decide what is the most comfortable or the best. I don’t feel called to have to defend that kind of decision publicly. I feel called to declare that I’m a believer. I have my Bible, and I’m deeply committed to Christ. I don’t contest people who do it the other way.
There may be a time in the future when I’ll feel the necessity to join a community. Keep in mind that I am 68 years old. I live in a Christian household. My two assistants, members of my family, are believers, so I’m not isolated at all. I am with people for whom Christ is the center of their life. I also have a community online. Since I made the decision, it’s become very clear to me that there are thousands of believers who have walked away from organized religion. The body of Christ is much bigger than any one organized church. The decision to walk away from the church is just as valid as shopping for a denomination that you feel more comfortable with.
She has within her home her Christian community, she’s got plenty to read and by the appearance of her book she seems a very fair and competent scholar. I also appreciate her desire to resist Christian consumerism, finding the church to fit her taste, etc. It doesn’t really sound, however, like this is really a matter of taste but a matter of people and the things we do.
The article will be four years old this year and I have no idea where Anne Rice is at this point. When I hear her complaints I hear the complaints of many. I hear the more recent Donald Miller conversation rumbling around, another high profile author who has expressed his withdrawal.
I’m not going to condemn these individuals. I think actually pastors are not in a good position to do so, partly because it appears like we’re lobbying for job security and because pastors in a real sense aren’t as “in church” as the folks who are subject to our ministerial offerings. We float a bit too.
Since the death of my father a year ago we’ve been working our way through the hoard of slides he left us. It’s been good therapy. Together with Facebook it’s also put me back in touch with a community of people that were my church family for my first 18 years. I realize now as I look back how they shaped me and how I would not be who I am today without them.
Our Isolated Age
A facet of contemporary, affluent, Western living is the ability to withdraw, to divorce ourselves from those around us who cause us pain. We don’t really have to run away any more, we just get a different apartment, filter our email, screen our calls, and we are left to a smaller world that we can control and suit to our tastes. This bears an unfortunate resemblance to hell in CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”. Divorce as both a marital reality and a metaphor is perhaps the emblem of our age.
What struck me about Anne Rice’s divorce from her church was that I see little subsets of the church do it all the time. My own beloved denomination, the CRC is itself a subset of divorce. We wished to have a space we could control to achieve the ends we desired.
All of this is directly opposite of the incarnation. Jesus sought out lonely places to pray probably as a coping mechanism out of his frustration dealing with us. He also knew the temptation of divorce. It is, however, immersed in the messy vulnerability of human community where God does his work among us. I’ve always believed that the Holy Spirit is given to live among us (plural) even more than within us (singular).
I don’t know that we can have much hope of learning to tolerate God, the real God, not the god of my imagination that I want him to be, if we can’t figure out how to tolerate others. If we can’t tolerate Him, how will we be able to live with Him.
Jesus of course set the bar not at toleration, but at love.