I've never been a particularly happy affiliator.
I was a Brownie dropout; as soon as I found out that Brownies didn't spend all their time camping and orienteering and other interesting stuff -- that, at least in my troop, the typical Brownie meeting consisted of an hour sitting cross-legged in a circle doing nothing except making dorky felt crafts -- I got bored and quit. I got bored with any number of organizations during my high school and college days. During my short and unhappy sojourn at my first post-college "real" job, as an advertising representative for a small weekly newspaper, I was given a membership in the local Business and Professional Women chapter by my boss, who thought it would be a good networking opportunity; sitting there that first meeting, watching some starry-eyed True Believer muckety-muck with a chestful of bejeweled pins from her various BPW conventions, engaging in some kind of quasi-religious kumbaya mojo with candles and singing up in the front of the banquet hall of a local restaurant, I remember thinking, Just kill me now.
As regular readers know, I came away from my last lay ministry retreat feeling disheartened and alienated. Over the past few weeks I've been turning this experience over and over in my mind, trying to tease out the various reasons for my unhappiness that weekend.
My discomfort with the proposed Visions and Expectations requirement is one part of that, sure. But I think another factor affecting my comfort level with my program is the sort of hive-mind esprit d'corps that one finds in denominational interest groups: people who are totally immersed in the organizational busy-ness and political machinations of the denomination, who live for assemblies and the latest issue of The Lutheran.
I don't have much of a stomach for such stuff. I'm not a company gal -- not even when I've worked for a company. For me, when push comes to shove, institutional Christianity is something to put up with because that's what we have...and as soon as someone gets the bright idea of creating a kind of ecclesiastical counterculture for disaffected church members, that in turn tends to become institutionalized.
One of the things that keeps me interested in ministry despite this is the realization that every person of faith who ever inspired or mentored me was someone who treated Church, Inc., with something between wry amusement and contempt -- who played the game if they had to, but who knew it was a game, and didn't ground their faith in it.
The other thing is my sheer stubbornness. Which shouldn't be underestimated.