Why Am I Alone?

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I can’t get this woman out of my head. I’ve seen this video embedded at a lot of different online venues yesterday, but I was busy and didn’t take the time to actually view it until this morning. As it turns out, my “lack of time” is part of what makes this Episcopal Priest’s plea so poignant.

To give credit where it’s due, I clicked a link at Derek Leman’s blog, which took me to the actual embedded video on Scot McKnight’s blog. If you frequent either of those places, you’ve probably already seen the video. If not, and if you haven’t already watched it here or someplace else on the web, please do so before continuing to read my blog post. The video is less than ten minutes long and it is so worth it.

Reading the various comments on Derek’s and McKnight’s blogs, I was taken aback at some of the criticism expressed by a number of the commentators. Granted, the Episcopal church isn’t my cup of tea either, but there’s a lot more going on here than just how we view one version of Christianity versus another. Also, as was pointed out repeatedly, most of the approaches this Priest felt had failed in bringing in and retaining people to a religious and spiritual experience have to do with “programs”. It’s as if, because her methods and her techniques weren’t successful, it meant that people didn’t care about the cause of Christ.

I mentioned on McKnight’s blog that…

I have sort of the opposite problem. I’m sure she and I would disagree about a good many things, but I would *love* to sit down with her (or someone) and talk about Jesus. I just can’t find a person or a place (face-to-face as opposed to online) where I’ll fit in. It’s not a matter of the details, but the honesty and passion this Priest has for what she’s doing and who she is as a person of faith is exactly what I’m looking for.

To me, her specific religious “bent” or her reliance on programs and methods are all secondary to what she’s really saying and particularly, what she’s really feeling. I’ve felt that way too, sort of. No, I’m not an ordained minister of any kind and I haven’t been “called to lead” (although I did a bit of teaching for several years at a small congregation), but I do feel frustrated and isolated, as if no one understands the drive I have to do what I’m doing. She has a drive and a need as well, and she keeps hitting a brick wall. You can only take a good run at a brick wall and smash into it so many times before the pain and lack of forward progress makes you do what she said: “So we cancelled it all…”

In a way, I “cancelled it all” too, but my reasons were very different. I “cancelled” my former way of leading a religious life, not because I wasn’t happy and not because I wasn’t making a kind of progress, but because of where my progress lead me. It’s really a lot more complicated than that, and to find out more, read Why I Don’t Go To Church. I left, not because I hit a wall exactly, but because I realized, in order to avoid hitting a wall, I had to change course.

And so I did.

And then I hit a wall anyway. I recognized the possibility that I might hit that wall, but I was banking on managing to avoid it. I didn’t. So I’m sitting at the base of the wall, as I imagine this Episcopal Priest is doing, taking stock of my options and looking for a way around, over, or under the wall. I’ll need to change my course again, but that’s what life is all about: change. Change is always painful, even when it’s beneficial.

I’m not sure what this Priest’s answer is. I’m not particularly sure of what my answer is. I do know that I’m not inclined to criticize her for her religion or her approach to her need to teach, even if I disagree with them. I do know she’s someone I would really love to talk to about Jesus, not because we would agree with each other, but because, in spite of our extremely different backgrounds, we are at the same place on the trail. We have the same experience. We’re asking the same questions. We’re looking for the same answers. And that tells me something I hadn’t let myself realize before.

It tells me that, in the mess of all of our different religious traditions, and all of the subsets of our religion, and all of the splinters and fragments and offshoots we inhabit because we are so unalike in how we conceptualize God and the Bible and faith, we are all the same. I spend a lot of time focused on how different I am from everybody else around me and what an oddball I must look like to all the other Christians, but today I found someone in a video who helped me realize that we are all the same, too. We travel different paths and occupy divergent trails, but all of those trails intersect between the question and the answer of “who is God” and “who am I”. When we take off our pretenses and our masks and our religious self-delusions and are brutally honest with ourselves and with everyone else, we are all alike when we ask, “why isn’t this working for me?” “Why isn’t this working for everyone else around me?” “What’s wrong and how can I fix it?” “Can I even fix it at all?”

We are all alike when, even in the presence of God, we cry out, “Why do I feel so alone?” That’s why I want to meet her. To tell her she’s not alone. And I want to meet her so I won’t feel alone, too.

But there is hope, even in emptiness, as Rabbi Tzvi Freeman cites from the teachings of the Rebbe:

The beginning of all paths and the starting point of every climb is to open yourself to receive from Above.

How do you receive from Above?
By being empty.
For a vessel that is full cannot receive anything.

A person that is full of self-concern, of “what will become of me?” of “where life is taking me?”—such a person leaves no room for life to enter.

But a simple, open spirit is filled with joy from Above.

Addendum, Friday afternoon: I realized I had no idea who the Priest in the video is and decided to try and find the original source or at least something a little closer to that source. I discovered that the Priest is Rev. LeeAnne Watkins of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. I traced the video as far back as February 16, 2012 as posted at the Episcopal Story Project. If I find out any more, I’ll update my information here.

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4 thoughts on “Why Am I Alone?”

  1. I do applaud her candor and the backbone to just stop with all the programs. On the other end of the spectrum, and every bit as disconcerting as apathy, are the megachurches that are drawing them in by the droves presenting a “Jesus just like YOU!” A gothic Jesus, a heavy metal Jesus, a cowboy Jesus, an off-road Jesus, a Palestinian shahid Jesus, the SHACK Jesus, every flavor of bizarre theology Jesus … anything BUT the Messiah of Israel who said that He came NOT to abolish the Torah …

  2. I actually thought about that. There are churches that have tons and tons of people attending and participating regularly, maybe because not much is required of them and they are accepted unconditionally. But I’m not sure that makes sense because the Episcopal church is extremely liberal and also accepts everybody unconditionally. Then again, I don’t know anything about the internal dynamics of either church model.

    This whole “faith walk” thing can be pretty discouraging, but then I do get my little reality checks. Just saw a post on Facebook from a (virtual…I’ve never met him) friend named Joe and his wife Heidi. The next time life seems to have you down, remember their story:

    My beloved wife has metastatic breast cancer (spread to lungs, bone, liver).
    I have both bladder cancer and prostate cancer.
    We are both treated at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
    But we love God, we love life’s adventures, we love our family and friends.
    And will do so until God takes us home.
    We are followers of Christ.

    I still feel what I feel, but Joe and Heidi remind me that there is a faith and trust in God out there that far exceeds mine.

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