Saturday, April 2, 2011

Twenty-first day of Lent: Follow the light, not the lantern

Cold rain falling. Walking down Amsterdam to the church, my head is still swimming from my travel from  Louisville to Cincinnatti to Philadelphia to La Guardia today. But more so the the General Assembly Mission Council meeting I just left. It’s clear that the sense of crisis has truly been absorbed by this national body of decision makers. Words like radical change, risk taking,boundary crossing have become the working vocabulary. Programs like New Directions have been launched to help congregations assess where they are and envision a a new future. Or death and rebirth. Of course we all agree that strong and healthy congregations are the base for all else must grow. But what is, who defines, a healthy congregation?
Yet our goals and priorities remain general, non-specific and mushy. (Except for a pledge to add 1001 new faith communities. But how?) Although a New Form of Government, ending the exclusion of lgbtq leadership and approving the Belhar Confession all will add up to a new church, what does that new church actually look like, feel like? How do we bring it about?  It’s one thing to talk about coffee shops and tatoo parlors. But what will we do there when we go there? Does anyone know what radical change really is? How we actually  connect with those who have  been hurt, wounded by the church? Our own children? 
How can we continue to maintain a hierarchical corporate form of ecclesiology and at the same time honor Belhar with its call to reconciliation,peace and justice? And even more specifically, as Belhar states:
*  that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
  • that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

In a world where both conservatives and liberals continue  act as if those with money and numbers know best for everyone, where specifics of budget and program are always to be left to the executive branch, we are living cognitive dissonance as the church that was collapses around us. My guess is that what God wants to be done is already happening . It’s our job to discern  and foster, nourish, support. 
That’s all in my head as I meet Jane Galloway at Popover’s. My own age, she has the shine of a professional actress, which she is. First production of Vanities off Broadway.  She smiles when I say Go MEAT, and she knows I know the play well. Yes, that shining quality, but also a toughness that comes from walking a long journey. With  years engaged in all the struggles that  have defined our years. Which ultimately are the same struggle. 
We share Pittsburgh roots. That reoccurring connection with Portland. And more. She has lived her life as a Presbyterian child and as an adult minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church  (that’s right) and the United Church of Christ. Her mom still a Presbyterian in Portland, a brother who has been barred from called PCUSA ministry by virtue of Amenment B. Tried to create and live out a vision like mine in Long Beach, California and now has been called as Spiritual Director of the Sacred Center, a new thought congregation that worships at SPSA, where  we lived for three years. 
She shares their story birthed by a charismatic leader. Quickly attracting lgbtq folks wounded by traditional church.  You are amazing, you are beautiful, just as you are, was the much longed for message.  And their children. And African-American women blocked out of leadership in traditional churches.  And a vibrant gospel choir. Now in their second stage of life post founder, they called an actual seminary educated ordained pastor see if they can become a real congregation.
Our visions are very much the same. Especially as to what our centre could be, the kind of place it could be.  From my left wing reformed position, I agree when  she quotes the Bahai idea that we should worship the light and not the lantern. How often do we make that mistake? 
I am excited about the idea of collaboration. But have questions. How does a new thought congregation and a community committed to following in the path of Jesus collaborate?  She speaks of Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s mentor, who combined mysticism and social activism. Who said that following  the path of Jesus  was ultimately more important than believing any  doctrinal theological propostion. What do we have to offer that they don’t? To those wounded by the church? Would we be overwhelmed by their size? Are such communities a witness to what we have ignored around us?  How can we be partners in a common  vision, if that vision is a common one? More questions than answers. But worth pursuing. 

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