But all of this is misleading, for we miss the thousands of faithful moments and even noble efforts played out daily by women and men of good faith, with a universal sense of things, a sensitivity to the immediate, to the neighborhood, to the people around them, the people they seek to love, even as they find love waiting for them in every human being.
I've been affected by negativity - it's easy to be critical of everything associated with religion and church, it's easy to dismiss all of it. And I've done that a time or two. But such dismissal is inaccurate - like plowing down a field of corn because parts of the field are overrun by weeds.
Yes, plenty of weeds, and some parts of the field have been, or so it seems, overrun.
And it's easy, then, to get all worked up about the weeds - who and why and how come ... and maybe the whole crop is lousy, the whole field isn't worth it.
But I do myself a disservice with such thinking. Something more is needed, something more nuanced, something honest that sees the weeds for what they are, but also celebrates the essential health of the whole field, the crop that feeds so many with wholesome awareness - the strength of faith, hope and love, the stuff of grace, mercy and peace.
With that said, I salute the work and faith of the church - the good it represents, the love it shares, with most of it unseen by the world at large, ignored by the media, but so appreciated in the local setting, adding to the welfare of the world with its care for justice and its ways of kindness in a corner of the world.
Whatever the religion, I salute those who live and work out of the deepest impulses of human kindness and hope.
I write as a Christian, for that has been my world, into which I was born, in which I reared, and in which I have lived my life to this very moment. Not only a Christian, but a Protestant Christian, and of that, of the Reformed Family.
I grew up with fine pastors and strong churches, models for much of my work over the years.
I have known and continue to know religious people of great faith, great hope, great justice and kindness and mercy, willing to work long hard hours for the welfare of others, devoted to God, tirelessly working, and sometimes, often times, working bone tired, to realize something good in someone else's life.
To the women and men today who have worked on a sermon and will today give it to a congregation - in a mighty cathedral or in living room ... to those who gather to sing and pray, in the ageless quest for meaning, for hope, for encouragement to keep on keeping on ... to those who lead choirs, who play organs and make music, who manage the sound, who take up the offering, who teach Sunday School, who pour the coffee and slice the fruit, who hang around to talk with one another, who greet the stranger, who put on a smile for others even when their own heart might be tearful ... to all those who grasp the best of things and embrace the world.
To all of them, my gratitude ... and a simple prayer: that they will not give up on the venture ... and will serve with integrity and humility. The integrity of the faith given in the Cross and Empty Tomb, in the life and words and ministry of Jesus ... and the humility of knowing that every human expression of that faith falls short of its ideal, yet trusting the ideal to be revealed all the more.
Have a good Sunday! And like my beloved father-in-law always said to me upon parting, "Tom, preach the gospel!"