Challenging the coffee shop confession
the Rev. Torey Lightcap
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Haunting the coffee shops around these parts while wearing the familiar white collar and black shirt of a priest, I often find myself hearing confessions before I even know what’s happening.
Since these aren’t your typical knot-in-the-throat confessions that take place in the church proper, and since the participants are all pretty much saying the same thing, I feel safe in giving you the general gist of what I’m hearing these days.
“Everything is unified, is all one,” goes the usual opening gambit, and how could anyone argue. “I have known it from a very young age, that the divisions we make for ourselves are just illusions to make us feel better. Everything is deeply connected.”
Here there is a pause for a swig of latte. I nod. All is well.
“I do believe in God, and I used to go to church. But now I just feel like the church is full of hypocrites” (those last three words being interchangeable with “too hot in the summer,” “way outdated,” and “not paying attention to my needs”).
I nod again. These may or may not be prejudicial considerations, but heck, why can’t they be valid in the experience of the complainant?
“Nature is my church. When I go out walking/jogging/climbing/biking, I can sense divine presence just by being out of doors. Sundays are my day. That’s why I haven’t been at church for the past 10 years.”
And so a friendly chat becomes an opportunity either to seek absolution for neglecting church or a platform for dismissing church altogether.
All of this has become weirdly rote. The first several times I heard it, I just let it be. Now, though, because of the persistence of this logic, I have a new tack.
First, I don’t much argue. The church does have its hypocrites, for example, and I’m one of them, so you can have that point. I believe, too, that all the constituent parts of the universe are deeply and radically interconnected, so why go looking for a fight there. Finally, nature is an incredible teacher and makes herself a fine place in which to worship. Why not affirm what is patently true?
What I do is simply create a little challenge for my conversation partner. I ask: “If your spiritual life is really being enriched by your experiences, why in the world wouldn’t you want to share that?”
Anyone on a spiritual path needs ” indeed, I think, even privately craves ” to be in a community of fellow pilgrims walking on a similar journey. Members of healthy faith communities know how to love, support, challenge, uphold and care for one another. When we neglect this part of our seeking and growth, we allow sensitive and important parts of ourselves to atrophy. Without the check provided by others, our own pious and religious sensibilities can become grossly skewed until they merely support what we desire to be true, rather than what might actually be happening.
It is certainly true that to some degree, all faith communities have their share of neurosis, heartache and gossip. You just have to decide whether it’s worth all that to have a family of faith in your life.
If you have a tribe of folks whom you think of when the word “church” comes to mind, give thanks for them, and stop to tell them how glad you are for their presence. If you don’t yet have a tribe, give it a good think, weigh your options and give it a try.
The Rev. Torey Lightcap is Priest-In-Charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs, (www.saint-barnabas.info). The Rev. Lightcap and his wife Jacqueline moved to Glenwood with son Gabriel last summer after serving St. James the Apostle Episcopal Church in Conroe, Texas. They are expecting another child in August.
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