Ready or Not

All through my first year in seminary, as we studied our way through the Bible, sussing out the meaning of events and the people who lived them, one of my profs would invariably say, “see, again, God calls people who aren’t ready.”  Moses was a young man with a stutter; God said, “Go speak to Pharaoh and liberate my people from slavery.”  David was the youngest son, a kid really; God sent him out to fight the giant.  Paul was on the wrong side of the aisle; God called him to preach Christ.  Abraham.  Hannah.  The Disciples of Jesus.  The list is long and amazing.

For 400 years the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt.  Their lives were awful.  When Moses led them into freedom, I doubt they felt ready; I can just imagine the grumbling that went on under thousands of breathes.  Once in the wilderness the grumbling grew into complaining: we don’t like it out here; we want to go back.  It took them 40 years of wandering in the wild before they were ready to enter the Promised Land.

People in churches all across America today are caught up in the same kind of wandering and confusion.  Ready or not, we’re in the wilderness.  Our faith, our ways of being with God and with each other, these don’t make sense today the way they used to.  A few churches may still practice magical thinking—we’re doing just fine the way we are.  But for them the real challenge is: deep change or slow death.  In most churches the challenge is: rapid deep change or rapid death.

The good news is—the Christian faith is all about catalyzing change.  Check out these words from His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Christian World:

Even though our faith may be 2000 years old, our thinking is not.  True progress is a balance between preserving the essence of a certain way of life and changing things that are not essential.  Christianity was born a revolutionary faith, and we have preserved that…Paradoxically, we have succeeded in not changing the faith that is itself dedicated to change.

In my church we’re having grown-up conversations about that.  How do we preserve the essence of the Christian life: loving God, loving neighbor, seeking justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God?  How do we keep the faith while having the courage to let go of non-essentials?  Is this particular building essential?  This logo?  This hymnbook?  This administrative structure?  In my faith tradition founder John Wesley never set out to create the Methodist Church; his objective was to live a Christian life.  The church establishment called him a dangerous revolutionary.

I’m praying for the revolutionaries to join forces with us as we dream new dreams and realize new possibilities.  That not only sounds essential and true to the faith, it also sounds like fun.

david gilliam, faith united methodist church, austin.  for more about faith church, click here.


Blessed are the Cheesemakers

In the 1970’s Monty Python made a couple hilarious movies with religious themes.  The first reframed the ancient legend of the Holy Grail.  In one scene a priest began to read from scripture: “Takest thou thy holy hand grenade and lobbest it forthwith.”  I laughed ‘til I cried; but at no point did that movie move me to murder.  The next film, The Life of Brian, was a sometimes hilarious, sometimes lame recasting of the Jesus story.  In one scene Jesus is preaching his Sermon on the Mount, the crowds spread across a field like Sunday morning at the ACL festival.  Not blessed with modern day PA systems the people out on the fringe of the crowd had trouble hearing the Lord.  “What did he say,” they asked?  He said, “Blessed are the cheesemakers,” I think.  That movie goes on to poke fun at a lot of Gospel traditions.  I confess—I was LOL; but at no point was I moved to blow up something.  By the 1980’s the social climate was changing here in the USA; Christian fundamentalism was on the rise.  A popular novel was made into a movie, a script with the suggestion that Jesus was interested in girls.  Many Christians picketed and protested and in a few places came to blows against their fellow Americans trying to see the movie.  One of my teachers, Rabbi Ed Friedman, liked to say, we’re in a societal regression, devolving into an age of anxiety.  There’s a thought.

The picture above is of the new building being erected at ground zero in New York.  Eleven years to the day after that terrible mass murder, as many here among us still grieve but also work to heal and re-build, America was once again assaulted with violence and murder, supposedly in response to a movie.  What!  Really?  Have we come so far only to fall back into hatred?  What’s up with the human race?

Well, we humans are a long way from being emotionally healthy and mature adults.  Given the millions of years life has been progressing, regressing, and progressing again, we humans are a very young race.  Watch the news most any day and see if you don’t find yourself reacting as I often do: “man, this is just like junior high.”  On the Daily Show recently, a new insight, at least for me.  Jon Stewart was asking Salman Rushdie what he thought about recent events in the Middle East.  Rushdie pointed out that people in many of those societies don’t hear accurate reporting about much of anything; and in those countries, if you want to publish anything, you must get government approval.  The idea that some guy in America is free to make a movie and post it on YouTube without anyone’s permission is a foreign idea to them.  They blame the USA because, of course, Obama personally approved that message.  Rushdie went on to describe the quasi-Super-Pacs in those countries that spend their lives and treasures looking for ways to fan the flames of public fear, anxiety, prejudice, and xenophobia.  This latest movie was the next perfect opportunity to once again hate the great satan America.  Jesus also said, turn the other cheek.  Okay, and I’d rather not admit this one, but Jesus also said, why do you complain about the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own eye.  Mirrors up, people.  What do we see our own Super-Pacs doing?  What’s going on in some of our own news networks?

I love cheese in all its forms.  I believe the cheesemakers are blessed.  But what Jesus actually said was, blessed are the peacemakers.  Some people have a hard time hearing over the roar of the crowd.  Some are hard of hearing.  Others don’t listen with care.  Too many ears in the world today are linked to immature minds and hearts.  I pray our species will grow up and listen carefully to what Jesus had to say.  If he was interviewed on FOX news today, I’m pretty sure he’d be saying, “puttest down thy holy hand grenade and learn to love thy neighbor and thy enemy.”

david gilliam, peace maker in the making, faith united methodist church, austin.  for more about faith church, click here.