Like millions of others, I was deeply moved by yesterday's inaugural ceremonies, and especially our new president's inaugural address. Much of what he said was equally applicable, in my mind, to the state of the Church, as well as this nation. Choosing hope over fear seems to be a concept that has fallen by the side of the road in some parts of the Anglican Communion, or what used to be the Anglican Communion, as well as other faith traditions.
I seem to recall that Jesus incurred some of the same type of criticism that The Episcopal Church and others who have chosen to be inclusive are getting. "He eats and drinks with sinners," was the rap on him. One doesn't often hear the corollary to that: if he didn't eat and drink with sinners, whom else would he find for company? He consorted with prostitutes, spoke openly to women in public (something that was simply not done in the Jewish culture of that time). He touched the untouchables, he let children interrupt him at work. He was accused of eating and drinking too much and having too good a time. And we've looked at all that and decided that it couldn't really mean what it seems to mean. We would rather have a Jesus who is more discriminating in the company he keeps. We want to make a rules-keeper out of the one who was constantly being maligned for breaking every rule there was. We want a Jesus who knows where the boundaries are instead of one who invites even criminals to share Paradise with him.
In other words, we want Jesus to be like us. Author, Anne Lamott, writes "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." We fear that the undeserving, the unlike, the un-us might get to be at the party, too and, like children, we fear that they might eat up all the goodies and drink all the wine so that our share is diminished. Or perhaps we fear that being seen in their company will be misinterpreted to mean that we actually accept them and that we might actually be of the same species and even, heaven forbid, neighbors!
Quoting from Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, President Obama said "The time has come to set aside childish things. . .to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift . . .the God-given promise that all are equal."
To choose our better history, to choose hope. Does the Church have a better history? Perhaps not, since it has been and always will be a human institution. Yet, that it continues to survive after 2 millenia is a sign of hope that there is something about it and its better message that has managed to live on despite all our efforts to kill it. I hope we can find and choose that better message and put aside our childish fears that in finding it we might have to share it with everyone.
I was reflecting yesterday that there's an African-American family in the White House and they aren't there to work in the kitchen or clean the bathrooms or wait on the President at meals. They are the President and his family--the rightful residents in their own home. I hope that the Church--all of the Church--can one day choose a better history and a better hope and see all God's people as the rightful residents in their own home.