Karpos Kalos

Wisdom from above is . . . full of mercy and good fruits

As of this past Tuesday, I’m back at Lamb of God, with people who are glad to see me, people I’ve been praying for all summer, people I’ve missed very much.

But, I’ve got a problem. How do I tell them what I’ve seen? The attitudes of those who are “out there” – in the places I visited - and the inexorable reality of the changes that I see coming, would make a whole lot of these devout, wonderful people in my congregation, as well as in my diocese, very unhappy. They would consider the attitudes to be overly political, inefficient, disloyal to the traditions of the Church, and perhaps even unfaithful. What attitudes do I mean, specifically?

Political. I did not set out with the idea of meeting only with political liberals or progressives. However, that’s what I found in the emerging groups – regardless of their theology. The Iraq war? Based on lies. Universal health care? Absolutely! There’s nothing even hard about that. Consumerism? Measuring an economy by its growth has been the scourge of western society, and cannot be its salvation. Ecology? Global warming? Emergent types are tree huggers, the entire lot of them. Gender and orientation issues? Even the most theologically conservative are pretty darned tired of focusing so much energy on this.

Inefficient. Most groups are organizationally “messy” and actively reject business models as the bases on which to run their affairs. Leadership is shared. Decisions are made by discussion and consensus rather than by voting, so there are no winners or losers. Money is nearly last on the list of things they spend their time on; some don’t even take a collection or have a budget. When they do talk about money, it is in the context of how they can learn to give their entire lives to God.

Disloyal. All of the groups cherry-pick rites and practices that help them connect with God, and freely borrow not only from other Christian traditions, but even other religions. They do what works for that group. Lay people presiding at Eucharist? Why not! Open table? Of course. Rebaptism? If that’s what it takes. A little yoga before the service? Fine! Some groups who do these things are associated with a mainline denomination and are openly defiant; some prefer to fly under the radar.

Unfaithful. Not too many “out there” are worried about who is getting into heaven – that’s up to God, and God is merciful. They are not concerned with winning souls for Christ, or bringing people into the Church, or proving that their version of Christianity is right and everyone else is wrong. Doctrines are for discussing to develop an informed faith, not for swallowing whole because some one older tells you to.

In addition to discovering these attitudes in various emergent groups, I also listened to the Rev. Tony Campolo, who was the chaplain for a week at the Chautauqua Institution in mid August. Tony is an American Baptist, older than I am, and a former university sociology professor. His positions on social justice, politics, church, and faith, though based solidly on Scripture, have made many Evangelicals reject him as a “progressive.” Time and again that week his sermons profoundly challenged me regarding my life choices, asking me to face the many ways that I prefer my comfortable American lifestyle over laying my life down for the people and values held highest by Jesus.

Although I do NOT think other people, my congregation, my Diocese, or even my denomination, necessarily should change, I found myself in personal affinity with many of those overly political, inefficient, disloyal and unfaithful attitudes I saw on the road. My first impulse was to explore them, and what I was hearing from Tony, with folks back home. However, there is no question that these things would make a whole lot of people very uncomfortable. As I thought about it further, I couldn’t fathom having the courage to share what was shaping me with the folks among whom I pray, and for whom I work.

After one of the services, I struck up a conversation with Tony. I asked him whether it was even possible for parish pastors in mainline congregations to say the things that he does and still keep their jobs. He said that being a parish pastor is tough. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the roles of prophet and priest were almost always separate. Prophets such as Isaiah, Amos and Micah were completely outside the Temple. They confronted the political and religious hierarchies (which, back then, were completely intertwined) with God’s demands for a just society and authentic religion. On the other hand, the Torah spelled out in detail what priests had to do in their ceremonial and pastoral duties in the Temple. Few, if any, priests had a prophetic role. In Jesus, however, the two roles were combined. (Heck, as it says in Songs of Thankfulness and Praise, he was not only prophet and priest, he was king, too!) In the early church, when Christian priests were cast as those who “represent God to the people, and the people to God,” they stood “in the person of Christ.” From then on, the roles of prophet and priest were merged in the clergy, even after the Reformation. What happens, said Tony, is that clergy tend to focus on one role over the other. Since being a priest and pastor is much more likely to keep you both alive and employed than being a prophet, it is not surprising which role most favor.

So, my re-entry to that combined role is making me nervous. My heart is in being a pastor and priest with and among the people in my congregation, whom I love. I also believe that, in telling the truth about what I saw and heard in the emerging world of faith, and where I think God is speaking to me, I need the courage of a prophet. Isn’t it interesting, though, that the very word “courage” derives from the Latin word for “heart”?

Somehow, it all ties together.

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Comment by Gloria McVay on September 16, 2009 at 7:03pm
Hi Becky,
I am excited about everything you have learned during your sabbatical! I have been reading the books you recommended to Michael for my birthday gift. I will be attending Lamb of God services while I am in FL (mid-Oct to early January). I am looking forward to seeing you again soon!! :-)
Gloria
Comment by Mary Ann Zager on September 11, 2009 at 10:14pm
Hello Becky,
And welcome back from your tremendous journey!

I have been thinking of and praying for you these past months, and I am happy to hear that your sabbatical brought you a new understanding of faith as it exists among God's people. Certainly your journey brought you what He intended you to learn; if we are still striving to be a "lighthouse" rather than a "clubhouse", shouldn't we all welcome you sharing that knowledge with us? How can we reach out to those that we have no understanding of?
Thank you for sharing what you have learned, it took courage to want this knowlege, to seek it openly, and to accept it as real.
maz
Comment by David Jarrett on September 7, 2009 at 12:26pm
Becky, we are fortunate that you are "out there" learning and reporting back to us (on this website if not in LOG services) what is going on.

Terry and I knew we had found the right church (actually our only church in 25-ish years) when Walter and you offered the open table. And speaking only for myself, I find it refreshing and exciting that clergy in "traditional" Christian denominations are becoming (though ever so slowly) "more ok" with people NOT committed to "proving that their version of Christianity is right and everyone else is wrong".

Now most haven't come THIS far: How arrogant of we Christians to believe that millions of people around this world who live with love in their heart and share that love with brothers and sisters on Earth will be without God for eternity. More than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to be with God for eternity...again, that is MY belief.
Comment by Lorna on September 4, 2009 at 8:56am
Wow. How very interesting. Being one of those "wonderful people in your congregation" I think you should consider that our love for you - our belief in you - and our trust in you, will hold.
Comment by Mary Anne Cresswell Sorrells on September 3, 2009 at 10:39pm
It definitely ties together. I remember Gordon explaining the roles in a mission group. There is a moderator, a spiritual director, one or more intercessors, one or more activists...but one and the same person is pastor/prophet. Gordon said that the person who clearly loves and nurtures should be the same person who holds up the mirror. This makes it easier to bear, face and work on the areas of growth and change that need to happen.

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