Monthly Archives: June 2011
I don’t usually start conversation with new people telling them that I’m a pastor, or that I go to church. Why? My sense is that people tend to associate church – and Christianity, generally – with a negative view of institutionalism, and there’s also the notion that religion is bad, these days.
At the same time, I don’t like to get too far into a relationship with someone I may want to be friends with without letting them know that faith community is a part of who I am. “Church” can be more than institution and organized religion.
People may talk about church – and those who attend it – as that which adheres to out-dated ways of being, or a turn backwards in time. There isn’t a lot of sense, these days in western civilization, that church presents an alternative to the world – an alternative that includes awareness of the environment and matters of human rights in the world. But church, when it’s done well, all about those things.
Church is the alternative. It invites people into community regardless of socio-economic status; it breaks down barriers of division, whether it has to do with political views, gender roles, or facades we may hold up; it invites people into caring conversation and being vulnerable with each other. Where else do we do those things in life? At work? No. At a social gathering? Not usually.
As Christians, we have a way of life that is alternative – when we’re willing to embrace it fully. As Walter Brueggemann has pointed out, primary marks of the Christian life include: showing hospitality, being generous, not coveting, not being vengeful, and observing Sabbath rest. I would say that, as Christian communities, we also must “give ourselves away” – being generous in a corporate way! …but that’s hard for those who have seen the church as something to build up for so long. As Christian communities, we also do things that people generally don’t do in other parts of life, we make ourselves vulnerable with each other through such things as sharing stories (those of our ancestors in the faith, as well as our own), sharing food (ritually in Communion; also in potluck dinners!), and singing together.
It’s true that throughout history, Christian community has taken on trappings of culture (and “empire”) for the edification of it’s own institution – it’s been profitable to be on the side of power! It’s also true that Christian community is making a return to its roots of lifting up oppressed people, speaking out for those on the margins, and supporting causes that help the poor and tear down the walls between rich and destitute.
On June 25, 1530, German princes and theologians gathered to present the “Augsburg Confession” which was created to clarify to the Roman Catholic Church the changes Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther, and others in their movement, wanted to see in Christian life. It was a move to break down institutionalism, and to help Christian community return to its roots of lifting up all people and putting value in the person, not their ability to produce or consume. It meant a break with the church. It meant a risky new path.
In 2011, congregations that try to do a new thing often find themselves struggling. I know this intimately as pastor at a house-church trying new ways of being Christian community for this time and place. We want to connect with those who are looking for meaning in their lives. We want to know what people want when they gather, and what is worthwhile in their lives – regardless of traditions, or non-traditions, they have in their background.
I believe Christian community continues to be an alternative vision, calling all of us to live in new ways – ways that are not necessarily promoted in our culture. It’s a challenge, but one we can take up together and be a movement for good in the world.
A poem for today…
Have you ever noticed that things tend to come in threes?
Whether it’s “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” or “snap, crackle, and pop,” there’s something about threes that seems to tickle our sensibilities!
Maybe it’s that it’s as easy as one, two, three to keep it to this little number. Or perhaps it’s the full-circle of three hundred and sixty degrees – it always brings us back to where we started!
It can be simple like small, medium, and large, or more complex like sine, cosine, and tangent. It can be a literary work like “Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe,” or the victorious words of Julius Caesar when he came, he saw, he conquered.
You may find Peter, Paul, and Mary in the Bible, or singing in the 1960s about peace, love, and understanding. And stories that permeate our culture include not two, but three musketeers, three kings, and three blind mice.
Four seems to be too much – what would we do with four-hole binders in school? And it’s not the butcher, the baker, the candle-stick maker, and the taxidermist – no, that takes things too far: you’d never fit all four in a tub!
And three makes for the perfect waltz – check with your musician on that. Things seem to be meant to come in threes. And so it is with the Trinity. Creator doesn’t capture it, incarnate word tells us part of it, and Holy Spirit is too ethereal for some tastes – so we use all three to develop a picture of the Great Mystery, the Source of Life, the One that is Love.
Game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals just ended. The Vancouver Canucks just lost, 4-0, to the Boston Bruins. Vancouver crowds are rioting – like the last time the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup in the mid-1990s.
I happened to be in Vancouver Friday night when the Canucks won game five of the play-offs. There’s was honking and celebrating until late. Now this.
I understand that people are upset. I get that people were hoping for a better outcome. And perhaps it’s premature to say this, but: it’s just a game! Next year, the Canucks will have another shot at winning the cup – they know what it takes, and they’ve got a good team.
A year and a half ago, I knew a number of people who went to Vancouver (about a four-hour drive from Kelowna, or about an hour by plane) for the Winter Olympics. They described the tone of the city as “electric.” During the Olympics, and in the lead-up, there was a campaign to “Own The Podium” where Canada was going to kick in as much cash to make sure there’d be as many Canadian medalists in the different events as possible. And, it was a success in that regard! Canada came out with the most medals of any single country at the 2010 Olympics.
There was some hope that the Canucks’ run at the Stanley Cup would revive some of that excitement (and splurging). And the finals did… until tonight.
I’ve wondered about peoples’ sense of loyalty. I have relatives in Illinois. They’re Chicago Cubs fans. Maybe it’s the difference between Canadian and American, or westerner and mid-westerner, or baseball and hockey – but it seems to me that there’s still excitement about getting together and enjoying the game, regardless of the outcome, in Chicago, and that doesn’t exist in Vancouver.
And again: it’s just a game! Only a few months ago, there were riots in Egypt over the political system people had had to endure for years. They were under a regime that oppressed, and their freedoms were diminished. They risked incarceration and death to see change that would be lasting.
When Canada had it’s federal election in early-May, not only did we have a low voter turn-out (barely over 60%), I knew many people who did not even pay attention to the results of the election. …likely, more people tuned in to tonight’s Vancouver-Boston game! Yet it’s the outcome of the May 2nd election that we’ll all be living with for at least four years (more if policies are put in place that last beyond the four-year mandate).
It seems to me that we could use an adjustment of priorities in our culture. Instead of paying $7000 for a ticket to be right behind the plexiglass at game seven of the Stanley Cup, go help some people in need. Instead of caring little for our democracy and electoral system, look into party platforms and find out what agendas the different groups plan to pursue on our behalf. Instead of scoffing at those who choose to engage in a church/mosque/synagogue community, go attend for a while and learn about culture and life!
I wish the Canucks had won, tonight. But I hoped for more – either way – from my fellow British Columbians.
It’s the Seventh Sunday of Easter, today – next Sunday is Pentecost. In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus’ high priestly prayer. Here is a prayer for us, in this day, loosely based on the prayer from John’s gospel…
“God, there is a time for everything; show that Jesus’ way is for all of us, and that his life is for each person. There is a timeless way about the grace Jesus lived – may it continue in our living.
Let our lives follow Jesus’. Because of Jesus’ life and presence, we now know a way of life that includes all and desires life for all, even as it may be a challenge to live for us. Jesus’ life is truth because it seeks life for all, and works actively for justice – where all might have enough. Jesus prays for us – on our behalf. We are called to make an effort, to give priority, to good living; what would we be if we were divided? What is important in life? Creating God, protect us in Jesus’ name, so that we might strive for unity and work towards it, seeing that we each have a role to play in that unity – even as God and Jesus, together with the Spirit, are one and an image of unity for us all.”