I was asked recently “Why? Why do you join those dysfunctional institutions like the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party? Why do you stay?”… Actually, I have been thinking about this for a while, since the last spiritual exercise I attended a few months back… I’ve been meaning to jot down some thought about this, and here it goes.
Am I a joiner? I choose to belong and stay in my neighborhood, community, political party, faith, and civic and service groups.
I could choose not to belong. I could choose to go at it along. I could choose not to join. I could choose to quit.
Certainly some do. And they are no less of a good person.
Some choose to go at it alone, yet they are not loners. Others choose to be socially active but not necessarily join in social action. And many pray in private, not community… There are also those who plug in and out of institutions for a particular purpose of a given time… And that’s ok… That approach to life just does not seem to be who I am and simply does not seem to be for me…
To me life is most lived in growing relationships. Relationships amplify life. Love is most found in healthy relationships. I can (and do) love myself, marvel in creation when contemplatively alone, and find my soul in solitude. Yet, it is relationship, companionship, community, sharing moments and stories, discussing wisdom and irreverence in conversation and dialogue, and marking rituals and celebrating together that I find the energy and drive to keep going, work for a greater good, re-examine the missteps of the past and pursue the possibilities of the future.
And so I join others in imperfect and dysfunctional institutions; in sometimes chaotic, difficult, and hurtful journeys… If I was to join only perfect institutions and seek only perfect relationships, I’d be miserably disappointed since none exist.
Clearly we all make choices for how we invest our time, talent, and treasure in relationships and institutions in a way that align with our core values and personal mission. Clearly most often joining most any institution requires choosing to focus on where personal values align and intersect the institution values rather than highlighting where there is discord, conflict, and divergence.
It is not about compromising values, nor suspending focus on them, nor ‘giving in’. It is also not about acceptance or being quiet or not dissenting.
I choose to join these imperfect and dysfunctional institutions because I believe in their mission. And – not but – I also choose to work from inside to create an environment where change is possible, never hesitating voicing dissent, and pursuing the greater good.
It can be tough, lonely, and disappointing for sure. Yet, I choose to remain – mostly. (There have been exceptions.) I choose to remain in light of seemingly insurmountable odds; I choose to remain in light of criticism – stated or not – of people I cherish and trust; I choose to remain even in light of oftentimes being viewed with suspect from some insiders who may think I am not a true believer, weak, or too conciliatory or compromising with outsiders.
I find the structure, ritual, permanency, and stability of these institutions something I welcome and cherish. I respect those that have come before me to create the institution I now belong to – and criticize from the inside. These institutions have firm boundaries, rules, regulations, hierarchy, and protocols that are necessary to their functioning as an institution. Oftentimes it is in these boundaries, rules, regulations, hierarchy, and protocols that I find challenges. So I routinely remind myself that my alignment with the mission is more important than the disagreement with a certain aspect of how that mission is achieved. (Though process still matters. A lot. I could not belong an institution that consistently disregards process or is consistently indecent, lies, cheat, and has no empathy regardless of how laudable the ultimate mission might be. Thus I can not support our President. But, that’s for another posting.)
Here are three personal examples of why I joined institutions that have many faults, yet have laudable, aspirational mission with which I align and enthusiastically support:
The government bureaucracy – I have worked with the public sector all my life. I more than know how inefficient and ineffective the bureaucracy can be. Yet, the mission of serving the collective good is something I embrace wholeheartedly. Sometimes I may feel like I am ‘in the belly of the beast’, yet when I see the many examples of very good people that have devoted their lives to public service, I find the energy to stay and continue the struggle.
The Democratic Party – I choose to be involved politically. And, given the wrapped limiting two party system that we have in this country, Democrats simply best align with my personal believe system for creating a civil society that is empathetic and cares for the disenfranchised people. Surely there are serious points of deep disagreements; yet, there is no question in my mind that the greater civil good is best achieved by electing Democrats.
The Catholic Church – I am a practicing Catholic. That is, I am practicing but haven’t quite got it right yet. I shiver sometimes at the over the top pomp and circumstance, the sometimes seemingly intentional alienation and exclusion of women, and requirements for membership and behavior that seem from another millennium. Yet, the core mission of the Church, particularly with its evident commitment to social justice is totally me. I am all in. (I am totally in particularly with the Catholics Jesuits whom which I choose to join in the journey of faith.)
So I chose to join these imperfect and dysfunctional institutions sometime in the past through a process of discernment now long forgotten. But, I choose to stay through the same, a process of continuous discernment, a daily practice of meditation, and attempts at contemplation.
No institution is perfect. Yet, even in light of imperfection and dysfunction, and knowing they are led by broken souls who are definitively not perfect either, I choose to stay because I too am broken, imperfect, and dysfunctional.
But, in this odd journey of life with companions – some of like mind and some not – building relationships that spark love which sparks action, building relationships that spark action that spark love, and building relationships where we can support and help each other flourish we keep on keeping on, not letting the perfect get in the way of the good and always aspirationally striving for the greater good.