Things Done and Left Undone
The Rev. Steve Snider, mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Church of the Holy Apostles
Wynnewood, Diocese of Pennsylvania
What a change has come over us. Us? The Church. The whole Church. If you are over 50 years old you have seen it, too. If youíre not, allow me to describe something of the change. Much of it has to do with ambiguity and how one sees the health of having more than one view on the issues that affect us individually and as a community. It seemed easier 50 years ago. Issues appeared to be more clearly defined; we had not yet entered the ďInformation AgeĒ; trust in institutions seemed to be at an all-time high even among the Depression era generation who knew how quickly life could fall apart. Ambiguity? Of course it existed; yet, there didnít seem to be much clamor for it. Then came the 60ís. Like it or not, it was the decade that forced us to ask if all things in our life were really as they appeared to be. What a scary question that was. What a scary question it still is. In the 60ís everything we thought of as established became fair game: race, economics, just war, civil rights, equal rights and so much more. Uniformity? Consensus? Not on the books. A little goofy, too? Sure. Take a look in the wardrobe of that decade and youíll see what I mean. And crazy things like streaking? Yep, even in seminary but thatís another story for another time. Looking back on it all, it is clear to me that we were both helpful and hurtful in the life of our national community. We were far better at diagnosis than remedy. Of course there were those who believed nothing was broken so why all the fuss in the first place? I began as one who believed nothing needed fixing. I evolved. I didnít like Richard J. Daley but I didnít care much for Abbey Hoffman, either. I represented the ambiguous middle in a time when being in the middle made one liable to the charge of having no convictions.
What I wanted was less dogma and more tolerance. Ironically, it was the Church that said to me such a thing was possible.† The Church was where I began to learn that the phrase all are precious in the sight of God was not just a high-flying generalization. It was a principal to be acted upon particularly in regard to those who I judged to be different from me. Who taught me that? Among many others, they were my Sunday school teachers and seminary professors who themselves had experienced the deprivation of the Depression and the loss of things by which the world judged oneís value. I learned it from the only student of color at my own Church-governed alma mater as he was passed over by 12 of the 13 fraternities on campus. I learned it from women who showed me the hurt caused by an exclusive ordination tradition. I learned it again at the trial of a bishop charged with heresy for ordaining an openly gay priest living monogamously with his partner. And after nearly 30 years of ordained ministry I have also learned where my ministry has helped Ė and where it has hurt Ė those in need of reconciliation and affirmation from we who are called to be the Body of Christ. What I know now is that my convictions, at the expense of ambiguity, hurt more often than they helped.
Following the turbulence of the 60ís & 70ís, life in the Church seemed to settle in for awhile. For some, it was a respite from the struggle over changes. For others it was a time to implement and embrace new or renewed realities in our lives: the role of women in the Church, prayer book revision, religion and ecology, the Churchís role in issues of justice and fairness. We began to face these things with determination if not always with civility and today they have become accepted by most if not all of the wider Church.
So, are we done? Do we rest here? Have we done all the justice, loved all the kindness and walked humbly with our God, as the prophet Micah says God requires of us? Looking at the last 10 years of the Churchís life, the answer for me must be, ďNo.Ē Why? Because de facto segregation continues in most institutions including the Church; human sexual orientation still defines arbitrary religious barriers; war continues to trump diplomacy; Christians and non-Christians are still wary of each other. And equally important for the Church is the growing number of people who regard the institutional Church as irrelevant to their lives. These realities remind me of my need for renewal and re-commitment to Godís call to justice, kindness and humility. The Center for Progressive Christianity convening in June here in Philadelphia may be helpful to me. I plan to attend. I believe the Center is on course for the Church to address the changes that are not just coming to the world but are already here. The 8 points the Center uses to define for itself what it means to be progressively Christian already energize and stir me: (1) Proclaim Jesus Christ as our Gate to the realm of God; (2) Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the gateway to Godís realm;
(3) Understand our sharing of bread and wine in Jesusí name to be a representation of Godís feast for all peoples; (4) Invite all sorts and conditions of people to join in our worship and in our common life as full partners, including but not limited to: believers and agnostics, conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, homosexuals and heterosexuals, females and males, the despairing and the hopeful, those of all races and cultures, and those of all classes and abilities, without imposing on them the necessity of becoming like us; (5) Think that the way we treat one another and other people is more important than the way we express our beliefs; (6) Find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, in the questions than in the answers; (7) See ourselves as a spiritual community in which we discover the resources required for our work in the world: striving for justice and peace among all people, bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his brothers and sisters; (8) Recognize that our faith entails costly discipleship, renunciation of privilege, and conscientious resistance to evil Ė as has always been the tradition of the church.
As I re-read these points, I see in them the means of our Lordís grace and the hope of salvation both personally and in community and I wonder, is one possible without the other? The proclamations also humble me. What a long way I have to go. And I realize itís time to begin the journey, again.
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