Recommended by Jewell-Ann. Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of her aspiration to be an Episcopal priest, achieving the goal of serving her own church in a small town in north Georgia, and finally, leaving the ministry. She had misgivings from the outset about being the priest in a church that professes to believe in the priesthood of all believers, a reasonable concern.I like this attempt to understand what her role as a priest was:
I suppose I could have helped them see how their life histories deepened their distress or given them some more grownup ways of conceiving of God, but few were interested in that. We were engaged in a more ancient drama, wrestling far more primitive fears. Because I was wedded to the One who was gone, I stood in for him. I took many of the blows intended for him and received much of the adulation. I kept the old stories about him alive and told some new ones as proof of his ongoing vitality. I blessed, fed, and forgave the children in his name, reassuring them that their fears were ungrounded and their hopes well placed. The unspoken deal, I think, was that as long as I did this, no one would openly question God's love or existence. As long as I filled in, no one would ask where God was or why he was not more attentive.
She rather randomly throws in a delicious quote from Wallace Stevens, "Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake."
Her assessment of the church is pretty harsh:
...[Jesus] lived and died with such authentic faith in God that he gave his followers the courage to try to do the same thing. For obvious reasons, they could not sustain this alarming freedom for long, so they turned the faith of Jesus into the religion about Jesus and the rest is history. In a quip that makes the rounds, Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom, but it was the church that came.
And we continue the tradition:
We proclaim the priesthood of all believers while we continue living with hierarchical clergy, liturgy, and architecture. We follow a Lord who challenged the religious and political institutions of his time while we fund and and defend our own. We speak and sing of divine transformation while we do everything in our power to maintain our equilibrium. If redeeming things continue to happen to us in spite of these deep contradictions in our life together, then I think that is because God is faithful even when we are not.
While she rejoices in her new freedom to prize "holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty," she recognizes what she owes to the traditions that shaped her. Seeking to live fully in the world and regular dates with the Divine Presence keep her alive now.