This is my song…

I’ve had a lot to think about this last week. I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City. It was a wonderful week of music, classes, fellowship, and worship…some very powerful worship!

Since this is the 100th year since the end of World War I, many of the events of last week were connected and intertwined with that event. They were vivid reminders of the desire–and need–for peace in our world…and the difficulties we have in being peaceful.

Yes, the “great war” was 100 years ago, but so many of the feelings and events that led up to it sounded so contemporary…unfortunately. I was reminded of a line from the song that was popular during the Vietnam War–“When will we ever learn?”

Music in its many forms can challenge us. It can give us hope. It can call us to be better people…and help us focus on the better future that we all want. It can remind us that we are all children of one God–whatever name we call the Divine.

May we somehow learn to sing together these words so often set to the tune Finlandia:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation,
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting ev’ry wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

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WWJD

WWJD? Remember those wristbands that were popular a few years ago with those letters on them? WWJD?

What would Jesus do?

If you wore that wristband, what did it mean to you? Was it just a nice thought? Or were you wearing it to say “I am the representative of Jesus to those I meet…and so how should I behave so that they see Jesus in me?”

Jesus wasn’t an easy person to follow! He didn’t just go along with the way things were…he challenged the status quo big time! He spent time with the marginalized…those who were considered unclean, who weren’t welcome in the “nice” settings. He wasn’t particularly concerned about keeping the letter of the law; he was more concerned about the spirit of the law being in the heart. He saw all people as being worth God’s love–and he made sure they knew it.

So…

WWJD? What would Jesus do today?

If you are his follower, what are you doing today so that people see Jesus in you? There aren’t easy answers to that question. But it’s an important question to ask.

There’s another question that I think goes along with this…If you were arrested for being a follower of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

We’re each going to respond differently to those questions. But for those of us who claim to be followers of this guy who spent his entire life upsetting the way things were, how are we upsetting the status quo in ways that acknowledge the worth of each individual? What would Jesus do? What are we doing?

Whose church is it?

In Germany in the 1930s, Christianity had in many ways become a partner to the Nazi movement. Many pastors agreed with the Nazi ideology and supported laws and statements that were issued by its leaders. A major focus of this partnership was a reinterpretation of Christianity as an Aryan religion that had no Jewish influences–and that there were “undesirable elements” that weakened the country and should be removed for the “greater good” (i.e., mentally and physically disabled, members of the LGBT and Romany [Gypsy] communities, Jews).

There were others who watched this co-option of German Christianity with horror, and at Barmen, representatives of various Protestant leaders came together to create a declaration now known as the Barmen Declaration that defined their opposition to any interpretation of Christianity based on racial theories. This placed members of their churches in direct political opposition to the government.

Today there are leaders of American Christianity who see a similar need. Far too many who claim to follow Jesus are supporting statements and actions that are in contradiction to what the Jesus of the gospels preached and how he acted.

In response to this concern, a number of American church leaders gathered in a retreat during Lent 2018 and have created a declaration for this time and this political environment. It is a call to the followers of Jesus to think again about what it means to truly live as his followers.

As in the Barmen Declaration, there are six specific declarations in the document titled Reclaiming Jesus. You can read the entire document at the link, but a short version of the concerns and responses follows below:

  1. We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness….Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.
  2. We believe we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class….Therefore, we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God.
  3. We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself….Therefore, we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.
  4. We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives…Therefore, we reject the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.
  5. We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination….Therefore, we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.
  6. We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples. Our churches and our nations are part of an international community….Therefore, we reject “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.

The creators of this document call us to think again about whose church it is that we belong to…and what it means to go deeper into our relationship with God and with each other, especially across racial, ethnic, and national lines–and deeper into our relationships with those who are the most vulnerable.

Many of us believe that we are living in a time of darkness–but we also have hope in the one whom John calls “the light of the world.” This declaration calls us to share that light…and to live in response to the commandments to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.

What will we do?

 

Church? When?

I grew up at a time when life was–in many ways–less hectic. And there were some times that were sacrosanct…kept free. Wednesday nights and Sundays were reserved…for church.

And the blue laws were still in effect. For those too young to remember, that meant that stores weren’t open on Sundays either. If you’d forgotten to buy something on Saturday that you were going to need on Sunday, that was too bad. You’d have to improvise!

But time moved on…and religion began to take a less important place in our lives–at least, in some ways. And sports began to take a bigger part. There were more and more opportunities for kids…and because more kids wanted to take part, the times when sports were scheduled began to expand…and moved into those previously sacred times.

So here we are now. Often there are rehearsals on Wednesday nights…and games on Sundays.

And yet, we seem to do church the same way we did all those years ago. And it’s not working…not well.

So…what do we do?

Yes, there are many people for whom Sunday morning church still works. I’m not advocating doing away with it, because I know that time and experience are still important parts of their schedules.

But there are many, many others for whom “traditional” church and traditional church time don’t work. Maybe because of jobs…maybe because of school activities…maybe because of sports or dance or other activities that their kids are involved in.

So can we look at some new possibilities?

  • Does church have to be on Sunday morning?
  • Does it have to be formal?
  • What if we set up some meetings in homes (house churches)?
  • What if we didn’t actually have a sermon?
  • What if we did a “chat and chow” activity?
  • What if we met at a bookstore? a Starbucks?
  • What if we met in the evening?
  • Could we create online communities of worshipers?

I’m sure there are other possibilities…I am still tied enough to traditional understandings of church that I find it a bit difficult to think outside the box. But I think it’s important to, because there are a lot of folks who are searching but not finding a spiritual home in our Sunday morning services.

I still love those services–they meet many of my needs. But I’m also excited about the possibilities that are out there…and trying to listen for where the Holy Spirit is calling us (me…) to go.

A resurrected church…

As we begin to move beyond Easter towards Pentecost, I’ve been musing a bit.

At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I know there are many perspectives on that experience…but it got me wondering.

What would a resurrected church look like?

I wonder if that’s what we’re experiencing today?

I hear many people bemoaning the fact that “Christianity is dying”…that congregations are closing…that young people are leaving (in droves)…. Maybe so.

But maybe what we’re experiencing is the death of something that has to die in order for a new, transformed movement to arise. A movement that truly lives out the Golden Rule…that bases its life experiences and worship on what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments–to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. A movement that delights in the diversity of God’s creation…that sees humanity as stewards of creation, not consumers.

Moving towards resurrection is not easy. It’s hard to allow something to die, to let go of something that has perhaps formed us for many years.

But maybe…just maybe…it’s necessary. After all, a seed is just a seed until it dies to what it was…and becomes something else…something new and transformed.

And maybe…just maybe…in the dying of the church, we’ll regain the transformative experience of Pentecost when lives were changed…when the world was changed.

Unity IN diversity…

Unity…diversity. Those two words seem to be complete opposites, and putting them together an oxymoron. In fact, if we were to try, most of us would probably try something like “diversity in unity.” That version might make at least some sense…

But to reverse them? to say “Unity in diversity”? How is that possible?

I’ve been thinking about that because of a class I just recently taught…and because one of the emphases in my faith tradition is just that: “Unity in diversity.”

So what does that mean to me? It’s difficult..but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

If we separate the two words, my thoughts might go something like this:

  • Unity – working towards the same goal; being whole.
  • Diversity – being different

And when I look at those ideas, it’s kind of challenging to see how they might go together.

But there are other aspects to their definitions, according to Merriam-Webster:

  • Unity –  a totality of related parts; an entity that is a complex or systematic whole
  • Diversity – composed of different elements

When I look at those ideas, then the concept of “unity in diversity” becomes much more possible and makes more sense.

We–as a society/church/group–can be unified when we recognize that we are part of a complex system, made up of related parts. But all the parts make one. Diversity recognizes that multiplicity of those related parts.

And when we put that together as a concept of “unity in diversity,” I can acknowledge our differences in background, life experiences, understandings, and even beliefs…but at the same time recognize that there is something as the foundation of that diversity that makes us a whole.

Hard to understand? You bet!

Hard to live? Oh yeah!

There are times when it seems impossible to achieve agreement, but at those times, we need to commit to ongoing dialogue–to really work at listening to each other and not talk past each other. And at those times, it is important for us to acknowledge that our inability to agree on issues that affect each others’ lives is hurtful–both to humanity and to all of creation.

But it can happen…it can be lived, if we allow the Divine to work within us.

 

A prayer for peace

How long, O God? How long before we realize that each life is of worth? that the world we inhabit is incredibly diverse and beautiful? that we are not just consumers but are called to be stewards?

Forgive us, God.

We have looked for ways to divide into groups that call others “less than.” We have said that some lives are not as important as others. We have ignored the beautiful diversity you have created in humankind.

Forgive us, God.

We have trashed and misused your creation. We have exploited the earth’s resources, and we have hunted some species to extinction.

Forgive us, God.

We have decided that because we are humans, we can do anything we want–and we have ignored your call to be stewards of all you have given us. We have instead consumed to excess, leaving some with nothing while others have far more than they need.

Forgive us, God.

Remind us that we are dependent on each other–that what hurts one will ultimately harm all. Help us realize that we must be stewards or we will none of us survive.

We–all of us…humans, animals, our world, our planet…all of us yearn for the time when all the world will live in peace. Give us the courage to work to make it so.

Amen.