Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jane Spahr on Trial - Presbyterian Church

As I read today's note (August 24, 2010) in the LA Times about Jane Spahr to be tried by the PCUSA, I couldn't help but think of the text for this past Sunday, Luke 13:10-17, Jesus setting a woman free from 18 years of affliction, and doing so on the Sabbath, to make a point (he and the lady could have waited 24 hours) - healing is what the Sabbath is all about.

And then the synagogue leader weighs in - scolding folks, "Hey, we've got six days for work, and if you want healing, come on those days, but the Sabbath is for rest - keep it holy - no work!"

And that's when Jesus lays into the leader and his gang, "You hypocrites. You wouldn't treat an ox or donkey this way - you lead them to water on the Sabbath, so why deny the water of life to this woman on the Sabbath? What better day is there for revealing the love of God and the freedom therein?"

While Jesus stood on the intent of the law, the leader clung to the letter of the law. And according to the law, the leader was right and Jesus was wrong. 

So, here we go again, arguing about our laws.

And missing the point of the kingdom of God.

Jane Spahr is technically wrong, if that's the tact we wish to take. Jesus was wrong, too, and someone might have told him, "Wait 24 hours. Then do your healing. No one will be offended, the law will be maintained and everyone will be happy."

But Jesus didn't wait, because love and mercy and forgiveness and hope can't wait.

So ... we'll drag Jane into the mud of our own foolish little world of rules - rules that keep people bound - hungering and thirsting for a better day.

We wouldn't treat a dog this way.
But people?

Yeah, keep 'em tied up, and tie 'em up all the more with rules upon rules, until no one knows which way is up.

Sure, I am what I am - a supporter of marriage equality, comfortable with the biblical work done by Jack Rogers and others.  

And I've been called an apostate, a heretic and a servant of Satan.

No one has the final word, and I surely don't claim that, but with prayer and study, I've made my decision some years ago to no longer wait, and just to keep myself honest, I continue to study and think about these things.

But I write this note with a certain conviction, that Jane Spahr is pointing the way ahead, reminding us what the church and our faith is all about - setting people free. While the charges fly and the legal briefs are prepared, the PCUSA finds itself in the uncomfortable place of the synagogue leader.

That's how I see it these days.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Enemy Within

Have ya' read the latest "Layman" (August, 2010) and its "Letters to the editor"?

The anger runs deep.

And I'm sympathetic ... there have been times in my life, more than I like to admit, when anger, self-righteous anger (which, of course, all anger is, right?), ruled the day, and the night as well, violating the advice of Scripture, to not allow the sun to go down on one's anger.

The problem with long-standing anger is that it's never accurate in its assessment of the situation. Anger, like a magnifying glass, focuses the heat of a legitimate concern into a white-hot beam that destroys.
The letters in this issue reveal a loss of control. Anger has simply taken over mind and heart.
The enemy, the PCUSA, is all wrong. Which, of course, in even the worst of all times, wouldn't be true - after all, even a broken watch is right twice a day.

I feel for the letter-writers. They've painted themselves into a corner, and there's no way out for them right now. So the corner becomes home, and though the corner is always an uncomfortable place in which to live, it's defended with growing intensity, until all the corner-dwellers have convinced themselves they're living in theological luxury.

There would be a way out, if they could rise above their anger and temper their opinion with the simple reality that the "enemy" is more within them than anywhere else.

And a good dose of humility. But corner-dwellers cannot afford humility, because humility requires some sense of appreciation for the very people being vilified, and a sense of personal incompleteness - that whatever the opinion, the judgment, the theological point of view, no one has a full and complete grasp of God's truth and God's Kingdom.

We are what we are. Fully human and deeply sinful. And all the creeds in the world, and all our protestations to the contrary, our frailty and our fault remain.

Self-righteousness, amplified by limited conversation with other corner-dwellers, exits on all sides of any given question.

The challenge for any of us is this: how to hold an opinion (and that's what it all is, after all) firmly and faithfully, without drifting into ideology (always the danger, and let's just call it idolatry).

My heart goes out to the letter-writers. They're profoundly unhappy, and if they're pastors, my heart goes out, as well, to their congregations. That kind of anger walks into the pulpit most Sundays, for sure, and spills out into the pews, tainting the gospel with the aroma of rot.

So be it.

Church history is the story of our fightings with one another. I guess such will be the case until the final trumpet is sounded.

But until then, does not the gospel call us to something other than merely being angry with one another?
Is there not the Holy Spirit upon whom we can call, and whose influence might temper our restless hearts?
After all, said Paul, our enemies are not flesh and blood, but spiritual powers and principalities.

I think there comes a time when God walks away from a persistently angry person or organization. As in Paul's letter to the Romans, God abandons us to "shameful lusts," and there is no greater lust than the lust to be right, and no greater shame than the willful condemnation of one another.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Much Ado About "Believing"

American Christians have made much ado about "believing," which is just fine if there's adequate knowing. But in the last 50 years, large portions of American Christianity have settled for "believing" with lots of emotion, and even commitment, without the knowing (both progressives and conservatives have surrendered the depths and heights of the faith).

I'm inclined to think that believing is a good thing, but one can't always believe - sometimes we doubt, and sometimes darker moods prevail. 

But what can never be taken away, never waver is knowledge. Knowledge of the creeds and doctrines of the church. Of course, this isn't belief, but knowing well what scripture and tradition offer us is a genuine foundation, and if someone knows well what faith is all about, in terms of belief and behavior, the believing occurs, I think, more naturally. It no longer needs to be reinforced by hype and drama, but grows evenly and surely, if not surprisingly.

For pastors to be rabbis, above all else. Teachers!

And for congregations to pledge a new loyalty to learning - not always the most exciting thing, but let's not measure things by their excitement factor. 

If we could liberate our congregations - indeed, our American congregations, and youth groups and Sunday Schools, from their addiction to "entertainment" and "excitement" and "fun" and all the other bloated adjectives and adverbs we use these days and just be about "our Father's business," we'd do everyone a huge favor, and might, once again, become for our land "the salt of the earth and the light of the world."

All of this must be done, of course, without the harshness of dogma - but with the sweetness of Christ. 

For our congregations to become places of great learning, we need pastors and elders committed to great teaching - a renewed passion for discipleship, student-ship! To be covered in the dust of the The Rabbi!

Let's free our pastors from the hideous pressures of "building the numbers" and "seeing to the lawn" and forever "calling on Widow Brown." Let's recover the "teaching elder" dimension of our tradition so that our congregations will be repositories of good knowledge, that our pulpits will be sources of steady and, yes, even inspiring, knowledge of the texts, the traditions and the times! That our youth groups and our Sunday School classes will have serious dimensions of learning the faith - catechesis and reflection, to buttress the legitimate "fun and games" that children and youth deserve.

At first, visitors might well sample all of this, and turn away, seeking a much more intense version of the "fun and games" so peculiar to American Christianity, but I believe in God at this point, and God will save those whom God is saving, and we can rely upon God ... if only God can rely upon us!

That when a visitor should come our way, they will meet depth and height and width and breadth, the likes of which will intrigue their soul and invite further inquiry ... and who knows, one-by-one, "lost souls" will be given, by the Holy Spirit through out faithful and thoughtful witness, a vision of the Kingdom of God.

posted originally at the Presbyterian Outlook.