Hope Over Fear

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.


Light My Fire

Meeting a friend at a party recently, I was saying that I wished the whole Church (large "C") would go up in flames so that we could just start over. If Jesus did intend to found the Church--something I strongly doubt--then what we have now is certainly not what he might have had in mind.

However, even with all the weapons of mass destruction that humankind has been able to invent to selectively destroy almost everything else, there probably isn't one that would accomplish what I had in mind. And having given it some more thought after reflecting on worship experiences that have left me feeling singularly unignited, I began thinking of something that Rob Voyle, founder and director of the Clergy Leadership Institute, said in a seminar I took with him. He said that it doesn't accomplish anything to light a fire under people. All that that results in is burnt butts. He said that what we want to do is light the fire that's inside people. Find what sparks them and nurture it into a flame that lights them and the world up.

That's what I yearn to see happen with, in, for, by the Church--to ignite the flame inside people so that we burn to set the world upside down. Poet-theologian Amos Wilder says that going to church should be like "approaching an open volcano where the world is molten and hearts are sifted. The altar is like a third rail that spatters sparks; the sanctuary is like the chamber next to an atomic oven: there are invisible rays and you leave your watch outside."

Second century mystic, Irenaeus said that the glory of God is the human being fully alive. When are we more fully alive than when we're fueled by that atomic oven that is our authentic selves engaged in what we love to do best for the good of all? I believe that falling short of the glory of God is ignoring that core of heat and light and spiritual nuclear fusion that goes on in us that reflects the image and fire of God. Frederick Buechner believes that our ministry is where our great joy and the world's great need meet. Somewhere in this world there's a need that doing what is our great joy will meet. It's a win-win situation.

Like all human institutions--even those which are spiritually motivated and well intentioned--the Church's efforts to be a raging fire of inspiration will vary. But bonding with that authentic soul that each of us has been given by God as a birthright is also an entry into the sanctuary. It's in the hallowed spaces of our soul that we should pray to encounter flying sparks.

Yes, I still wish the whole Church would go up in flames, but perhaps not the flames that destroy but rather light us up so that we ignite the world.

Where can we connect with the process of spiritual nuclear fusion going on inside us--no matter how small--and help change the world?

Catching Fire
by Davna Markova

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not go in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open to me,
to make me less afraid, more accessible,
to loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing, a torch a promise.
I choose to risk my insignificance: To live.
So that which comes to me as seed,
Goes to the next as blossom,
And that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.