Social Justice

I See

So many United Methodist ministers walking around today with edges that cut like broken plates. The strong and weighty wrongs they have been done by their creation, in which they placed their livelihoods and their trusts, have broken them.

I have small gifts for healing. My stronger gift is seeing. I see fractures in your faces, the nerve endings raw and pulsing as space opens between you and other members of your fellowship. I see you hunch over while pretending not to care. I see the porcelain make-up masks you put on, the deep, encouraging breaths you take before you say you are resigned to the split in your denomination, blithely. I hear bravado in your posts as you try out ways to speak your truth. I see the love you still feel even as you let go and turn away.

The world is breaking open around us. The limits of our ideas, and the smallness of the imaginations that conceived them have proven insufficient for the challenges of this day. The things to which we gave our allegiance and ceded our authority have forgotten that we made them for human use, not to use humans, and they fight with all the ferocity and violence of living things so as not to die.

They are scoring claw marks and gnawing fatal wounds into their own fleshless flesh. Rick Deckard sets a caution-something in our empathy connects us even to systems and simulacrums that have no capacity to compassion us back. We writhe and weep as they pull the legs from us, one by one, thinking it is these ideas into which we have poured our souls that are God.

I have small gifts for healing, but I see your hurt. I see your bleeding. I see your three-legged wobble, and the damage you do to yourselves week by week in trying to preach a Gospel in your Church while the Nazis spray violent, pornographic graffiti all up and down its walls and the roof creaks, dismayingly on fire.

The other thing I see is a web of connections. These connections run backwards and forwards through time. They pass through walls without a flicker, and cross playfully between the barriers separating the living from the dead. They are made up of words and actions, and they pulse and stab with comforts, betrayals, and the sounds illusions make as they die. I wish you could see it, too.

There is a thing out there people call The Connection, and they are scrambling with everything they have to hold it together. But that thing is a clunky replica of this other thing. Worse, the replica is brittle with rust and moth-eaten decay, and while the earnest faithful work so hard to keep it from crumbling to dust in their hands, their knifeblade edges threaten the delicate strands of relationship that build that other web, that other Connection, the one that runs between every you and every me.

I think Macbeth saw a glimpse of that actual Connection behind him when the armies of MacDuff marched to bring him down. He saw it drenched in blood and pain, and realized what it would cost him to repair it. He glimpsed his culpability and his courage finally failed him. He could not find the fortitude to face the possibility of forgiveness. He chose instead to let his false vision guide him, to put his trust in the system, the simulacrum of power and position his people had designed. By then, he knew it would have no mercy, but it was so much easier just to let it have its way.

I wonder what the story might have been, might still be, if he had chosen to let go of Fate even if with only one hand, so he could attempt repair of one single strand of that web. What breach caused by breach of trust might have been crossed? What betrayal might have been transformed? What relationship might still have held him at the end?

I see you. I see how much you hurt. I have no great gift for healing. I would offer it if I could.IMG_2765


Who Are You, Really?

One of the neat things about my life is that I am relatively free to attend worship whenever and wherever I want. I am constantly curious about how other groups of people worship.  I am always on the lookout for something new, different, deep, beautiful, exciting, liberating, inclusive, expansive, and transformative.  Specifically, I want to know how Christianity lives in different places, so that I can bring those experiences back to my own worship home.

So, here’s the thing.  In order to decide what church to attend, I do what many people do.  I searched the internet for churches in my town.  I scanned their sites for worship times and locations.  I also looked at faith statements, staff configurations, activities and events in an effort to get a feel for their identities.  This is what I learned:

There wasn’t anything new, different, deep, beautiful, exciting, liberating, expansive or transformative going on.  Instead, I saw a rather universal and monolithic Christian presence expressed through many websites.

Though each church promised,“We are Different,”  they didn’t express difference.*  Each church wanted me to know I was welcome.  They all wanted me to know I can wear whatever I want to church.  They also wanted to make sure I knew what kind of music to expect-because God-forbid  I enter a worship service expecting guitars and find myself surrounded by hymn-singers led by a belching organ at the front of the church.

Some churches had columns.  Some churches had carpet.  All of them were going to share something “relevant” from the Bible, and each church had a charter mission to love everyone and to have special consideration for the poor with an emphasis on service.  In some ways, it is comforting to know that Christianity has a skeleton; that its bones are shared by all denominations: welcoming, loving, serving, Bible-educated, family-friendly and engaged in the material betterment of “the poor.”  Let me say, however, that the United Way, minus the Bible-educating part, has a pretty similar skeleton.

After surfing those sites, I chose not to go anywhere else for worship that morning; not because of anything offensive, difficult, or challenging that they had shown me, but instead by a conviction that I wasn’t likely to experience anything different at all; by a conviction that my faith in Jesus Christ, my belief in the Gospel and my experience of the Holy would not be uniquely enriched by worshipping in any of these communities.

I don’t go to worship to predict the message.  I tend to expect a challenge to my understanding.  Honestly, I have worn shorts and jeans into very proper churches, and no one has ever given me the evil eye strong enough to make me decide to go home and change because of shame.  I don’t care about those things.  I want to know whether I am likely to experience a filling of my soul.  I want to know whether God is likely to show up.  I want to know whether this is a congregation of people so committed to Christ, they cannot hold themselves in.  I want to know whether this is the kind of place where not everyone will feel comfortable or welcome.

Are you Dutch Protestants still worshipping in gender-segregated pews?  Are you Quakers, sitting in silence, waiting for God to speak?  Are you United Methodists, known for picketing outside the local casino in moral opposition to gambling?

And let me get to the point-if our Christian identities across the spectrum are so similar as to be indistinguishable, we are participating in the worst kind of segregation there is: the blind separation of human being from human being by cultural markers of race, social status, gender, education, age, material wealth, and location. If the message from our Lutheran pulpits,  the worship from our Vineyard stages, the mission of our Ladies’ Aid Societies, and the prayers from the lips of our congregants are not central statements of our identity, our difference within the wider Christian community, we are only in different buildings, with different hymn books, divided along lines of personal preference and our level of tolerance for differences of opinion in doctrine, politics and lifestyle.

God is bigger than that.  Religion is more important than that.  Salvation is more evident than that.

*It would be dishonest not to mention Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, whose website expressed a Christian identity that is clearly different from the rest.