Monday, February 11, 2013

Christian Nation vs. Emerging Church


I know people who continue to complain that we are, or were, a Christian nation, and attribute everything they don’t like about modern day life to our rejection of God in the corporate life of the country.  They are counterbalanced by my emerging church (or whatever it’s called this week) friends who delight in any worship scheme not connected to a tradition, which, it seems, excludes any practice in use for more than two years.

There is not much point in arguing with the Christian nation group over the finer points of history, civil or theological.  Actually, they have a point, up to a point.  Until the last half century or so, most Americans assumed that the U.S. was at least nominally Protestant, in a generic sort of way, with significant infusions from Roman Catholics and Jews to add color and depth.  I doubt that the majority knew what that meant; it was just what they believed. 

The other side is thrilled with new opportunities provided to us in this post-Constantinian era where the Church is at last set free to be Church.  Good for them.  Now if they could quit yaking about structure, polity and what emerging means, perhaps they could get on with the business of following where Christ has led.  I suppose following a two thousand year old Son of God whose record was set forth in problematic scripture could be a high hurdle, but they can do it if they try.

The Christian nation side is pugnaciously angry about (Protestant) Christianity’s loss of status, and demands a return to frivolous symbolism that carries no weight; things such as posting the Ten Commandments (Protestant version) in court houses, requiring the Lord’s Prayer to be said in school, and installing creches in front of city halls. How much better if they too just hunkered down to following where Christ has led.  

I wonder what things would be like if all of them, all of us, you and me, simply turned our attention to becoming agents, in God’s holy name, of healing and reconciliation not only of persons, but of community and society?  About the time I get this far, whoever I’m talking to representing either side, huffily explains that that is exactly what they are doing, which I think misses the point altogether.  What I mean is to focus on policies and practices that address conditions of injustice, poverty, oppression, abuse, exclusion, illness, violence, and injury, and to do that as advocates for public policy, and, even more, as agents of holy love, healing and reconciliation among our families, friends and people we encounter each day.  We need to do that, not because it is the right thing to do in some sense, but because it is what God in Christ Jesus taught and commanded us to do.

If that seems like a good idea, then let’s meet up to learn a little more about what it means to be Christian, maybe read and study a bit of scripture, include God in our conversation, and share some time in Holy Communion with God and each other.  Being a curmudgeonly sort of old fuddy-duddy about these kinds of things, I’d like our time together to be led by a qualified person with some training and education in these things.  Hope that doesn’t throw you off.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Random Thoughts on the Last Sunday in Epiphany


The season of Epiphany is coming to an end, giving way to Lent.  Throughout these weeks we have witnessed the flickering light of Christ entering into the world, as promised by prophets whose unfocussed visions could dimly see what was to be.  We have witnessed this flickering light through a baby born to a virgin, wise men of uncertain origin, an old man and woman who spent their lives hanging around the temple, and through our own flickering, often uncertain faith. 

This Sunday, the last Sunday in Epiphany, it will all change.  The flickering light will become blinding illumination, the light of God’s presence before which all the stars in heaven fade into insignificance.  Only a few will be there to see it.  For them, and for us, it will be only a foretaste of what is yet to come on Easter morning.  But first we must all go to Jerusalem and to the cross.  

We are reminded by the psalmist that “with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Ps. 36)  Yet it’s often hard to be in that light with confidence.  Voices of discontent predict the end of Christianity, of the Church, of God.  Friends and neighbors grind their political axes on wheels of bible verses with polarizing rhetoric that bears no sign of the love and teaching of Jesus Christ, no matter how often they use his name.  Our own lives and prejudices are problematic.  The light always seems to be flickering.  Where is the brilliance of the transfiguring mountain top light?  Is God hiding?

More likely, and like Peter, James and John before us, the light never has been flickering, it’s just that we see it only through half opened eyes, as if waking from a deep sleep, unable to fully comprehend what we dimly see.  This is God’s world, this is God’s Church, we are God’s people.  The powers of darkness cannot prevail.  And so, let us go on to Jerusalem.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Candlemas and Groundhogs


Today, if I get this posted on time, is Candlemas.  It’s the fortieth day after Christmas, and, according to Luke, the day Jesus and Mary, after her “cleansing,” were presented at the temple.  I wonder how many of us have made the celebration of Candlemas a central part of our midwinter worship?  

I recall a parishioner in a former parish who was a true Candlemas aficionado.  Each year, shortly after Epiphany, she began organizing the upcoming Candlemas liturgy.  It was frustrating work.  Few came, mostly those coerced into it by her persistence.  After too many attempts, she resorted to organizing car pools to another parish in another city where Candlemas was celebrated the way she thought it should be.  That had mixed results as well; attendance depended on the day on which February 2 fell, and whether a good dinner with fine wine might be part of the outing.  She eventually left the parish to attend elsewhere, where Candlemas had a higher priority in the liturgical life of the church.  

I was among those who was not keen on Candlemas as a day to be celebrated with more than a sideways glance at the calendar, and mild curiosity about what groundhogs had to do with it.  However, there is something to be said about a day set aside for the faithful to symbolically act out what it means to be bearers of the light of Christ in a dark and dangerous world.  How should we recognize what it means to bear the light of Christ, if not Christ himself? 

Now and then I think about the Ark of God being borne into the newly completed temple as sign and symbol of God’s imminent presence among God’s people, and how, centuries after that Ark disappeared, God in Christ, was borne into the second temple, not as sign and symbol, but as real presence, heralded only by two (crazy?)old people.  No parade of musicians.  No king dancing.  No king offering an overly long self-laudatory prayer.  God, not symbolized by golden images of cherubim and seraphim, but God embodied in a forty day old baby cradled in his mother’s arms.  How utterly unlikely and unbelievable is that?  

I do not think that a high church liturgical celebration with all the vestments, smoke and bells is the right way to observe Candlemas, but my habit of ignoring it doesn’t seem right either.  Maybe the simple act of lighting a candle, remembering Simeon and Anna, and sharing a prayer with friends is the right way.