When I retired from 38 years in ordained ministry, I started writing almost immediately: journal entries, poems, songs, personal essays, and eventually the beginnings of a memoir. I was trying to sort out why, after a lifetime in the church, I was feeling that I was “done“. After all, I felt loved by my church family, growing up; I loved the people in the churches I served along the way; and I loved my ministry itself, at least, most days.
I am 25,000 words into the memoir now and an answer is slowly presenting itself. It’s a tentative answer, a place holder, until things become clearer for me. But here it is: I don’t want anyone else telling my story for me. That’s it. I don’t want anyone telling me that my story is wrong or misguided or heretical, or anything other than the divine mystery it is. And I don’t want to have to bend my story so that it fits someone else’s story, in this case the church's, however grand or glorious that story may be.
Behind all the church's best intentions—its good works, its social conscience, its support for people in need, even its interfaith dialogue and cooperation—there hides this ominous agenda, that everyone should adopt the church’s story as their own, even eschewing their own story to do so. The church is built, from the ground up, on this assumption.
I think the world has figured this out and, rightly, it has turned away. I think the church’s own members suspect this to be true, even as they resist admitting it. And I think this is why I’m feeling “done”. Our stories are sacred. They are also unique, as each one of us wrestles with how to live out our time on this earth with purpose and meaning. Where my story joins that of others, we have a communal story. But the communal story, in this age, doesn’t come first.
At any rate, this is my story. And for the moment, I’m sticking to it.