What's good about the Church?

Frederick Buechner tells a story about a young student asking him, in some anger, "So what's so good about religion anyway?" Buechner said that for a moment he was speechless and "couldn’t for the life of me think what it was? Maybe the truth of it is that religion the way he meant it—a system of belief, a technique of worship, an institution—doesn't really have all that much about it that is good when you come right down to it, and perhaps my speechlessness in a way acknowledged as much."

I guess I share in his initial speechlessness when I try to articulate what's good about the Church. I’ve often said that I love the Body of Christ but I hate the Church. I once said this to a former bishop of mine and he didn't know what I was talking about. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about but I do believe that they aren't necessarily the same thing, even though we keep describing the Church as the Body of Christ. I suspect that this is a type of wishful, hopeful thinking, such as I've heard when couples who've come to me wanting to be married describe themselves as the "perfect" match, or declare when asked that they wouldn't change a thing about the other.

They say that love is blind, and there is something touching and even necessary about being able to look past commonplace flaws and shortcomings to the essence of who someone is. And sometimes it's just as necessary to look beyond the initial attractiveness to the hard truths about who someone is or isn't. This, I believe, is true of our relationship with this phenomenon we call the Church.

Though entering a relationship with another human being with the idea that we are going to reform them is just asking for trouble, to be in a loving relationship with another is to continually help the other to become his/her best self, just as the other calls out the best in us. This kind of love is not a feeling, it's a choice we make even when the feeling isn’t there. What does/would the Church at its very best look like? If we could start with a blank page, on which we could write whatever we want, uninhibited by what's gone before or what we "should" include in calling out the best in the Church, what would we put down on that page and be excited about calling into reality?

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