Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where do you belong?

This question cuts to the heart of the divided nature of the Western Church. The culture that some would like to believe "embraced" Christianity actually did much to strangle it. Faith became an elaborate call sign to distinguish friend from foe-- a set of ornate clothes to wear for an hour to broadcast to all who could see, "I am a citizen in good standing."

But our culture demonstrates the mutual incompatabilty of human creations with the Kingdom of God. While our culture created and the church blessed incredible instruments which discipline the human mind and channel human creativity in ways that have literally re-created the world in our own image, they do not discipline the human spirit, or point people in the direction of the God of Abraham, Moses, and David Who came to earth in Jesus Christ.

Culture is interested in using Christ to reach its own ends. We can mark time from His birth at year zero; we can mark our money "In God We Trust," but that does not mean that the money is more spiritual or that Christ rules our time. Christ wants us to follow Abram's lead, and "leave your home... for the land that I will show you." We can't take our culture with us.

Christians found what seemed to be a good compromise half-way through the first millenium after Christ: to belong to a culture which publicly declared that it belonged to Christ. But that belonging is at least one remove away from Biblical faith-- we are either strangers and aliens on this earth, or this earth is our home. We are either passionately in love with Jesus Christ Who has saved us, or we truly do not know Him. There are no apron strings to draw us into Christ's embrace. Our primary comfort and allegiance cannot be to the nest we have been born into if we were created to fly.

This dilemma is not new-- it is as old as the apostles, and it has never changed. Not even in 1950's suburban America.

Do you belong to Christ? Do you belong in heaven-- or do you belong in your house, in your city, in your church, in your family? All the other belongings fade away. Only Christ stands the test of time. And if Christ is your primary allegiance, pride, place, class, race no longer matter. This culture is waiting to encounter that Church.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Christendom

How much time does it take to accept what our senses tell us? I am continually amazed at the anguish that rises from Phyllis Tickle or the last prophet proclaiming what anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind to think can easily perceive: this culture has made its peace with separating from its Christian roots.

This process has taken well over a century. We are not talking some sudden movement! But the final fall is still a traumatic experience. For those who lead the Church in this time, though, we should not be surprised. We need to be able to embrace the opportunities that open up even in this funereal time.

Becoming a Minority means we are no longer responsible for anyone or anything other than ourselves. The Christendom Church felt like the "moral policeman" of the culture it inhabited. Law was the way Christians thought they could lead the culture; if some sin was made illegal, we had somehow accomplished our evangelistic purpose. Christian faith became a kind of cultural self-improvement project-- not only YOUR best life yet, but OUR best life yet. But didn't anybody notice that it didn't work out the way we intended? Jesus always preached saying "those who have ears to hear, let them hear," meaning that some would not hear. AND HE WAS OK WITH THAT. We cannot save this culture. Law cannot change the human heart, or teach it to love. Say goodbye to lawmaking and coercive power. Good riddance.

Becoming a Minority means that we must know where the Church stops, and Culture starts. Wilbert Shenk said that "the Christendom model of church may be characterized as church without mission." Church was just another social instititution responsible to comfort and edify "our" culture. Witnessing makes people uncomfortable; the Gospel might make somebody angry; self-emptying servanthood is dimetrically opposed to "our" culture of self-fulfillment. So we stopped these offensive activities, and fell back into what William Sloan Coffin coined as our mission: "assuaging the conscience of the law-abiding prosperous." And as we did this, the Church disappeared, even as huge stone barns to store people for an hour a week rose across the country.
This is not my culture. This world is not my home. Who I want to be is not determined by the commercials I see, or the appearance or possesions of those around me. I want Jesus. I want to decrease, so that He can increase. I want the same mind in me that was in Christ Jesus, and anything and everything is loss in comparison. Say goodbye to the conforming "church." Good riddance.

Being a Minority means that we must accept irrelevance. The Christendom Church had to be listened to because the people who populated it held the cultural power to force a hearing. But there is no power or glory for Christ in our 15 minutes of fame. Pope John Paul II in his days in Communist Poland led one service of prayer as the loudspeakers began to blare a speech by Stalin over the public address system. Though no one in the room could hear him any longer, John Paul refused to stop praying. In the end, whose words were louder?
We must keep praying and speaking, lovingly, not frustrated at the decibel level of what is shouted against us. Our words have a power beyond what CNN or FOX news can even imagine. Say goodbye to the publicity-chasing "relevant" church. Good riddance.

I believe we are blessed to be alive and called to lead the Church of Jesus Christ in this time, for we are blazing a new trail whose end we shall not see. May those who arrive look back, and find us faithful in these challenging times when things fall apart.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This Little Babe

This little Babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmed wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
And feeble Flesh his warrior's steed.

His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes;
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels' trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight.
Within his crib is surest ward;
This little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly Boy.
Robert Southwell

I'm Tired of Being Afraid

Now that the 219th General Assembly is over, I (like a lot of others) am trying to figure out what happened, what I think about what happened, and what I should do next. One thing is crystal clear to me: I am sick and tired of being afraid.

I am tired of being afraid that I don't have a place. Christ bought my invitation to this party with His blood. No one's going to tell me I don't belong here.

I am tired of being afraid of losing votes. No matter what the decisions that come out of General Assembly, this is where I was planted. This is where I will bloom-- as a minority voice of dissent, or as a gentle voice in the middle, I will speak whether or not I am heard, whether or not my views prevail.

I am tired of being afraid of the fearmongers. Fear seems to be a great opener of wallets on all sides; it is a great form of discipline to keep people in line; it works well as a motivator for the next line of gladiators. But John tells me that "there is no fear in love;" fear is the opposite of what we are to live out of and what we are to give to the world. In Christ, I can love anyone without condoning their actions. There is too much fear in those with whom I agree. We seem to have lost our faith in the God who writes history.

I am tired of being afraid of what God is going to do next. Whether it was the vote to send a revision of G-6.106b to the presbyteries again, or the vote to defer the vote on changing the definition of marriage, I found myself strangely at peace. I trust God for what will happen, and for where I/we will go. I don't have to know, I don't have to understand. Wherever God's plan leads us, I will go without being afraid, and I will testify to the Truth (as I understand it) in Love the whole way.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On the Minority Report of the Marriage Committee

As the 219th General Assembly draws nearer, the only question that I have heard raised about the committee whose name is too long to mention is the differences between the committee report and the minority report.
Some suggestions of those differences have emerged lately that need some rebuttal. The minority report is basically an alternate introduction, conclusion, and recommendations; the body of the report is identical.
The minority of the committee opposes the existence of the conflict within the Church; its proposal is that there is one view of sex, marriage and family life (with which I happen to agree). The difficulty with the position of the minority is that the existence of the disagreement is not something to support or oppose: it is simply a fact.
I can oppose the rising of the sun, or its setting-- but that opposition simply leaves me in the position of trying to deny what is plainly clear to everybody who has eyes to see. The sun will continue to rise and set while we spend our time debating whether or not it can or can't-- facts, as someone once said, are stubborn things.
The committee report documents the fact of conflict over how the Church of Jesus Christ reaches out to LGBT people with the Gospel message of hope and transformation. That documentation requires that both the traditional doctrinal understanding and the understanding which is challenging it be acknowledged.
Acknowledging facts is not the same thing as endorsing views-- neither those who oppose equivalency of marriage nor those who support it can avoid the conversation that is well-represented in the majority report.
I hear in the minority report the same voice I heard in so much of our feedback-- how can this be where we are? How can we be debating what is so clear? I would challenge those who are dismayed to remember a few things:
1) Either God is the God of history, or He isn't. God is not looking over our shoulders at where we are saying, "how on earth did this happen?" God wrote the pages that led us to this moment. We are not off the map, or out of the book. God is the God of history; we got here because for some reason, God wanted us to get here. We are not forsaken.
2) We need to mature into a willingness to acknowledge that unity and uniformity are not the same thing, and that Love in this life and in this world is always spattered with dirt and blood. Loving as Christ loves is not clean or comfortable. It is not easy, and often it requires us to accept the unacceptable, to see the invisible, and to believe the unbelievable.
3) One hundred years from now, we will be dust on this earth, and together worshipping Christ in heaven. Wouldn't our short time here be better spent bringing more voices to the choir than trying to shout each other down? Is Christ not enough to keep us together?

That is the real question that the committee report poses-- and none of us knows the answer. The God of history will reveal it in time. Until then, no matter what happens, we will have to learn how to deal with-- HOW TO LOVE-- one another.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Reflections on the GA Special Committee Experience

So, now that others have weighed in on what they perceive the work of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Special Committee on Civil Unions and the Definition of Christian Marriage to signify, I think I can safely comment here on the experience without trying to defend myself or what we have done. Some random reflections:
  1. It is really hard to talk to somebody when you know that you are being watched, and your words are being recorded. Some conversations are difficult when they are put into a gladiatorial arena. Part of what I feel best about what we accomplished is our ability, which grew over time, to not give in to the crowd, but to actually talk to one another without concern for the spectators.
  2. Disagreements, even disagreements which are impossible to resolve, do not have to devolve into warfare. The fundamental disagreement among us did not require any of us to forsake relationship, or worship, or fellowship with each other. Just because we cannot agree does not mean that one subset of us has to leave.
  3. I am heartbroken, but thankful, to learn how much I do love and appreciate being a part of Christ's Church, the PC(USA), in which for 30 years I feel that I have been perceived as a dangerous stranger. I hope and pray that something of what we have said and done will bless this Body of Christ, if not now, then some day.
  4. I cannot even begin to plumb the depths of my first statement when Frances picked me up from the airport-- "I am SO GLAD to be home!" So much of what Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church has taught me is in what I wrote; so much of how I participated in this process (that I participated at all!) was due to the witness of the saints who worshipped and fellowshipped, and built friendships across racial barriers even while their own neighborhoods were falling apart in fear and anger. I am home here. I know where I belong.

We tried to call the Presbyterian Church (USA) to remember our First Love, that Love that has broken down the walls of hostility between us. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Answers to My Questions to the Moderator, and Thanksgiving

A couple of posts down, you will find 3 questions I asked the Moderator of Presbyterian Church (USA), Bruce Reyes-Chow. I've put his answers in to that post, to keep it all together. I do not have many words today. The best friend I have ever had, my sister in Christ Donna Gann, who brought us here to this wonderful place, and did so much to heal so many (including me) with a heart filled with unconditional love, is no longer sitting in her office opposite me. She is with Jesus Christ, after only three weeks' notice of what we had hoped would at least be one more year.
The hole is agonizing, and huge for all of us. But two people today can see who were blind (thanks to her retinas). What a perfect end to a Christ-filled life. Pray for her husband James; daughters, Shannon, Jamie; Gene and Byrdie (her parents); and Joe, her brother