Day of Atonement
If you’re Jewish, today is Yom Kippur. (I admit that I forgot until I saw a tweet from Michael Moore mentioning it.)
In the past week, I’ve delved in to a variety of expression of faith and values. Last Saturday, September 11, there was a multi-faith gathering in support of religious freedom and diversity which I helped to organize with the local Unitarian minister. Last evening, there was an event organized by the newly-formed chapter of Centre for Inquiry – a group geared towards atheists, agnostics, and skeptics – and they invited a scholar to speak about genocide and crimes against humanity (a scholar who identified himself as a ‘freethinker’).
I’ve wondered – perhaps even more this week – about what it is I, as a clergy-person, lead people in doing. As most anyone in my community would tell you, our community gathers people with diverse opinions on faith and politics, and we come from a variety of backgrounds.
As a Lutheran Christian, I read the Bible from a particular perspective. I do not believe it to be “God’s word” as the Muslim people believe the Koran to be divinely inspired. I believe it to be a ‘cradle for Christ,” that is, Jesus’ story is in it and, as Christians, we follow Jesus, so if there is material in the Bible that is contrary to what Jesus is about, then it is of secondary (or even negligible) importance.
As a Lutheran Christian, I understand God in a certain way – and other Lutherans have freedom in their understanding of God, as well. Personally, I believe God to be ‘the source of life.” So, Jesus was God-incarnate insofar as Jesus lived in ways that were life-giving to all people – giving opportunity to oppressed people, showing hospitality and generosity to those on the margins, and speaking out against injustice. And the Spirit is that which draws us together so we can work together – I think everyone’s experienced a “oneness” with others, be it on a building site working together, or at a concert singing together. In a nutshell, that’s how I understand the Trinity, and ‘God’ is how I frame my experience.
Living out my Lutheran version of Christianity, I find prayer helpful. I’m not disciplined in my prayer life in the sense that I pray each morning when I wake up, and each evening before bed. But I do find prayer in community gathering time to be a good thing because it keeps us, collectively, mindful of need in the world – be it individuals dealing with illness, or nations dealing with unrest. Prayer is not a wish-list I expect to be filled, or some kind of direct-line to a divine one who will intervene, but rather it is pause and intentional reflection.
I’ve said it before, and I would reiterate that community life – and that gathering time that takes place (usually on Sunday) – is a time to hear again what our values are and how we might live them out daily. When we gather, we do things that make us vulnerable with each other: we sing, we eat, and we share stories together. In North American culture, we’ve moved away from these kinds of activities: we’d sooner listen to the radio or mp3-player, we’re more likely to grab fast-food, and we’re more drawn in by the sensational ‘reality’ stories on TV or special effects-laden films in the theatre. So the time of community gathering is a time to do something alternative to our usual routines, and then to take that in to our daily living.
Even as a leader in the church, and trying to model good living as well as preach about it, I am far from perfect. That, perhaps, is one of the big criticisms of the Christian church – saying one thing and living another. And that’s another place where the Christian movement needs to change. What is a life of integrity? What do we expect of each other and our leaders? For myself, I might need to make atonement for the hypocrisy in my life – preaching love and forgiveness, and at the same time occasionally flying-off-the-handle at my daughter, for example. For others, maybe atoning needs to happen around expectations and desires versus needs and just living. …we could probably all go for that: working at being what we say we want people to be in this world.