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?
. 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.
. 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.
. 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.
. 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.