I read an article, a homily of sorts, I suppose, the link to which was posted on Facebook by my friend, Lori Lowe. The article, written by a reverend, was about her reactions to the “spiritual-not-religious” crowd. Click here to read it for yourself.
I understand and share some of the author’s opinions. I understand and share also the opinions of those she described–the ones who, on Sunday, attend the “Church of the Inner Springs.” For 30+ years, I went to that church, religiously. (That’s a euphemism for staying in bed, by the way.)
I read a fair sampling of the comments in response to the article, too, which ranged from thank-yous to challenges, from applause to defensiveness, and then did what Lori suggested in her post. Chewed on it.
I found it interesting that I’m in the throes of writing a book, and hopefully a series of workshops, about the connections I see between the results of major psychological experiments of the last century and what Jesus and others reportedly said 20 centuries ago. My motivation is similar, I think, to the author of the article/sermon, Lillian Daniel—born of a frustration that the Christian church as a whole seems to be losing ground in terms of membership and for no good reason. In my opinion, Jesus’ message is as vibrant and relevant as it has ever been. It’s ours that is flawed.
My approach is different, though, in that I see something else at the core, not only of the attrition in the church, but in the words of Lillian Daniel–the reflexive response to perceived criticism or attack into positions of “we” vs. “them.” And the equally divisive automatic suggestion of superiority of “we” over “them.” Doesn’t matter which “we” you perceive yourself as being part of.
The tragedy to me is that I perceive the message of Jesus to be, first and foremost, one of unity and the equality of every soul in the eyes of God, the differences among us (especially in belief) a reason for celebration, not rancor.
I, like everyone else, need to be a part of a “we,” and I long for that “we” to exist in the absence of a “them.” Maybe it comes from being a little girl who stood on the fringe of every group, so different in some ways that the ways I was similar weren’t so obvious.
I write in an earlier blog about the fall of 1991, when I went to a World Series game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and literally “drank in” the sound of 50,000 people singing the “tomahawk chant” in unison. I stopped singing for a moment and the goose bumps shot up my arm. Don’t get me wrong, here. I love baseball, especially the Braves, and I enjoy immensely being part of the Braves-loving “we,” but what I felt had nothing to do with the Braves or baseball. It had to do with the fact that 50,000 people, each unique in a variety of ways, each members of different “we” groups, for one moment in time merged into one voice. The power of that voice was incredible, reverberating out of the stadium and beyond.
I realized that night that the feeling I experienced was the one I had expected and sought in the church, thought I’d found, but really hadn’t, as a child, a teenager, a young adult. I would leave the church, searching elsewhere for that sense of belonging I so craved. Even so, it would be another 17 years, in the wake of grief, before I would, by choice, trade the “church of the inner springs” for the one I now drag myself out of bed to attend almost every week.
Though I am no longer a child, teenager or young adult, I still go in search of that feeling, the sense of a place where despite my individual successes and failures, joy and despair, I am equal to those around me. And most importantly, equally loved. As before, there is no shortage of arguments and misunderstandings, no scarcity of criticism–no lack of “I like this rector better than that one, that altar dressing isn’t as pretty as the last one, that sermon was better than this one, she’s a better teacher than he is.”
Though I’m Episcopalian now, I share some of the beliefs, but not others. I share some of the beliefs of the UCC Church (where Lillian Daniel is a pastor), but not others. I even share some of the beliefs of the Baptist church, from which I originally came. Obviously, there are some there I don’t share.
None of that matters when I am kneeling at the altar, with one person to my right and one to my left, when, like them, I extend my hands to receive the symbolic bread and wine of life offered to me by yet another human. I am reminded, instead, of a cool night in 1991. Sometimes the person to my left is a person of color, sometimes white like me. Sometimes the person to my right is Jamaican-born, other times Canadian, and sometimes even a Yankee! Sometimes that person is female, sometimes male. Sometimes a judge, sometimes even a math teacher. Sometimes he’s conservative, sometimes liberal. Sometimes, she’s physically or mentally challenged in some way. Some will spend the next week deciding whether to buy a new car or house. Others will spend the next week wondering where their next meal will come from.
For a moment in time, there is only one “we.”
And my hope survives.