While attending a dinner party I found myself sitting next to Sr. Barbara, a 75 year old nun.The church’s treatment of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people infuriates and exasperates her.

Indignantly she asked, “How can the church treat these people with such disrespect? These are good, decent and wonderful people. I just don’t get my church.”

I have heard many other Catholic friends express a similar sentiment
not only about LGBT rights but also about the priesthood being limited to men and the proscription against priests being allowed to marry.

I always listen sympathetically.

Clearly, the pronouncements and policies of the current Pope only intensify the frustrations of my progressive friends.

I listen as an outsider.

Pope Benedict XVI has recently rehabilitated a group of schismatic bishops, including one who denied the scope of the holocaust, and subsequently appointed as bishop an Austrian priest who blamed hurricane Katrina on the sins of the people of New Orleans. An uproar within and outside the church has ensued.

When I was Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the Pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, known in earlier times as the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Cardinal Ratzinger was well known for his saucy conservatism so it is not a surprise that Pope Benedict XVI often issues pronouncements and policies that run counter to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

My progressive Catholic friends always impress me with their ability to live in the gap between narrowly defined church doctrine and a more expansive theological understanding of the world. Of course, many are losing faith with the church and seek more open spiritual environments. Approximately 30% of the congregation of the Lake Street Church of Evanston grew up in Catholic schools or churches. Many of them say they will never go back but will always think of themselves as being Catholic. Our early religious experiences have a way of imprinting themselves on our spiritual DNA.

By their very nature, relationships are complex. This is what Sister Barbara was saying to me at dinner that night. In giving pastoral care to LGBT people she was able to say Yes to them while saying No to the rigidly hierarchical doctrines of the church. She lives in the gap between what is and what could be. In her heart she has experienced a spiritual truth independent of the church’s teaching. She has a love/hate relationship with her church.

Over the years I have known many Catholic friends who have skillfully held this tension between the authority of the church and the authentic truth of their own lives.

The late Brother Wayne Teasdale was one such person. He developed the term interspiritual. He said that the dramatic shift in global human consciousness is preparing us to live in a universal civilization in which human beings recognize their spiritual interdependence. We can remain rooted in our own tradition, he said, without being stuck in it. Being rooted in a tradition is what keeps our feet on the ground. But we can also branch out. We branch out because more light is available than can be seen through the prism of our parochialisms. In this way we can cultivate a new and larger spiritual community; one that is rooted in our own tradition but not limited to it. We can move from a parochial understanding of religion to a universal understanding of interspirituality. Brother Wayne lived in the gap.

Interspirituality is based on the realization that the truth is not defined by a few people at the top. Truth, spiritual truth, wells up from the real lives of real people.

The late Senator Paul Simon used to tell the story about a Special Olympics over which he presided. He told this story many times, and every time he told it he could scarcely finish it because it choked him up so.

In the story, disabled runners assemble at the starting line. The gun sounds and the racers sprint. About a third of the way through the race, one of the runners falls. The crowd gasps. With utter spontaneity, the rest of the runners stop in their tracks. They look in horror at the one who had fallen. Then, one by one, of their own accord, they turn around and slowly make their way back to help the fallen runner to his feet. They get him up and the race continues, with all of them running arm in arm to the finish line. They finish the race together. They recognize their inter-connectedness. They are all winners.

We all fall. We all suffer. But we are called by the Spirit to move beyond our suffering to join hands and help each other to the finish line. To move beyond religious tribalism to the interspiritual city of God requires an understanding of what it means to be religious at a deeper level.

Let your heart be your Pope.

Mahtama Gandhi said, “You must watch my life. How I live, eat, sit, talk, and behave in general. The sum total of all those in me is my real religion.”

Real religion is not hierarchical or doctrinal, it’s relational.

I hold nothing but deep respect for my Catholic friends who have a love/hate relationship with their church. I also have a love/hate relationship with my denomination, the American Baptist Churches USA. While I have grown up in this denomination, its theology is too narrow for me and its worldview too small.

A continuing lesson of life is that nothing is perfect and relationships are complicated.

Sometimes the best thing to do is hold hands.