Park Road Baptist Church - Still Christian for a Reason
Welcome to the Park Road Baptist church blog - where we share thoughts and commentary on topics ranging from faith, to current events, to life. This is a progressive Baptist church that emphasizes independent thought, community service, social justice, and interfaith understanding.
It’s an old saw for me at this point, one of my favorite soap boxes. I’d apologize for talking about it again, but I hope you can appreciate your pastor’s vocal advocacy for THE CHURCH! I am an unapologetic fan, and I worry about what it will mean if we as a nation let it slip away.
Last summer prior to that big Scottish wedding, Amy and I met friends from England along the first 12 miles of our 61-mile pilgrimage from Edinburgh to St. Andrews. We were introduced to Kate and Tony when we walked 70+ miles of El Camino de Santiago together. He’s a retired barrister; she’s a former teacher, and we have a lot of common convictions, though active church life is not one of them.
They were both raised in the Church of England, but like most folks there they have moved away from institutional religious life. So, when I asked them, “So… is there anything missing in British life and culture because the Church no longer plays a prominent role?” I braced for either polite criticism or enthusiastic ambivalence. Instead, both responded immediately: “Yes!”
She correlates the demise of church attendance with the loss of family, and the structure that it brings to school children, adolescents, and the youth of England. Attuned to the laws that lead to order and the structured conduct of a society, Tony said, “We have no codes.”
He didn’t mean they have no laws. He meant there were no longer any underlying ethics, no un-written rules, no universal convictions of etiquette or courtesy, much less of right and wrong, good and bad, generosity and vulgarity. According to our British friends, their people live any kind of way they want because there is no longer a basic, shared order – which the Church once gave to their society.
When Notre Dame went up in flames, a world-wide congregation wept with Paris. It reminded me of the global attendance at Megan and Harry’s royal wedding at Windsor Castle, and, in a different way, the sense of global community we experienced after 9/11. But, what were the French masses actually mourning as the cathedral’s spire collapsed, and why did that largely unreligious nation gather to light candles and sing hymns?
My strong conviction is that we are spiritual creatures at heart, embodied souls who long for mystery, transcendence, “God” – whether our Enlightened intellect or our jaded experience will let us admit it or not. The proof I offer for my conviction is that the great tragedies and celebrations of life speak to human beings on such a deep level that no ordinary response will suffice. The Psalmist says, “Deep calls to deep” – so we cry out in ways that are undeniably religious.
People filled churches after 9/11, lit candles, kept silence, sang songs together, made commitments to live and serve better. Bishop Curry’s homily at that Royal wedding evoked a world-wide response – because it was much more than a great speech. As a sermon, it invoked the transcendent conviction of love (born of God!), in an ethic called marriage. Parisians sensed in that uncontrollable inferno much more than the loss of a 900 year-old building.
I’m sure many would disagree with me, but I believe the response of the world proves otherwise. God is real. You can feel it in the deepest longings, the pure emotions, the native utterances of people when the grip of pain or the flight of ecstasy reveals our instinct to worship.
The Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte is THRILLED to be a PRBC campus partner and has had an amazingly warm welcome so far! We are excited to sponsor two plots in the PRBC community garden this year, too. We look forward to getting to know you all better. Feel free to stop by our offices on the First floor of Milford Chapel Building.
Now, a little bit about who we are and what we do…
The Down Syndrome Association (DSA) of Greater Charlotte is a non-profit, family support organization founded in 1986 by a group of local parents. The goal of the DSA of Greater Charlotte and its families is to enable people with Down syndrome (Ds) to reach their full potential and become respected members of their community. Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for all people with Ds by empowering individuals, families, and professionals with information and support through education, social programs, and community partnerships. We serve 10 counties in North Carolina and 2 in South Carolina.
Our supports and services span the lifespan of those with Down syndrome, including families and community members. Through our First Call Program, we work with new parents who receive a diagnosis of Down syndrome (prenatally or postnatally). We offer day and overnight camps for campers with Ds (ages 5-21): Camp Holiday and Camp Horizon.
Through our Together in Education Program we offer consultation, professional development, and technical assistance to area schools so they are empowered to support learners with Ds in their classrooms. We host an annual symposium for regional educators featuring local, regional, and national experts.
New in 2019 are programs and support for adults with Ds – focusing on increasing independence and preparing them for the world of work. We are hosting our first Independent Living Retreat May 17-19, 2019 at Camp Thunderbird.
We rely heavily on volunteers and welcome members of PRBC to join us as we work to grow our impact and meet our mission every day in the Greater Charlotte area. For details, visit dsagreatercharlotte.org.
Holly Zipperer, Executive Director Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte
(Joey Haynes is Chaplain and Director of the Davies Center for Faith and Outreach at Queens University of Charlotte and serves as Youth Coordinator for Park Road Baptist Church. He shared his reflections on his recent trip to participate in The Global Immersion Project’s Day of Cross Border Solidarity in Tijuana, Mexico.)
The question posed to our group that stuck with me is one which will be important to consistently revisit. During her remarks, Paulina Olvera, a young activist and community leader in Tijuana asked, “which walls within us or in our hearts perpetuate the physical walls being built in our communities?”
Joining my brothers and sisters in Tijuana through The Global Immersion Project’s Day of Cross Border Solidarity, I arrived south of the border a bit anxious.
As I typically do not support one-off experiences or feel good missions, I was not prepared for such an emotional experience in such a short amount of time. The time in Tijuana provided the platform for those who are on the ground doing the work to speak and for those of us from the United States to just sit, listen, and to learn.
Hearing the voice of a Mexican historian as he briefed us on the complicated and destructive foreign policy of the United States throughout Latin America; of a Latina theologian as she led us to reflect more deeply on the book of Obadiah through the lens of hospitality and the immigration crisis; and of the Honduran mother who fled for her life with her daughter from their country, I was reminded that my role, as a white, US passport holding Christian, is to not come in to these seemingly broken places to fix it or be the white savior. My place is one in which I come to listen, to learn, and then intentionally and more thoughtfully enter into relationships.
It is important for me to check my own ego at the door and be more intentional about how I can assist our brothers and sisters already doing the restorative work in these places. As well-intentioned people from the United States, we forget that there are incredible teachers, activists, faith leaders, community organizers, and non-profits engaged in their communities, actively pursuing the change, and developing the ideas which we think we are excitedly bringing with us.
With the recent news of Jakelin Caal Maquin’s death and coverage from the border on issues facing our migrant brothers and sisters, I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted.
However, as bleak as it may seem, with the recent Advent season, I can’t help but to reflect on this day of solidarity with hope, peace, joy, and love it mind. By showing up and being fully present to listen and to learn, I was quickly reminded that during these seasons of waiting and darkness, I can’t let myself remain in those pits of despair.
Even in the midst of pain and uncertainty on the border, I was fortunate to get a small glimpse of the light that is shining through the cracks of a broken jar. Through the people I met and the stories I heard, I left feeling more hopeful than when I first arrived.
I experienced hope at the Camino de la Salvación Church community. This uncontentious Baptist congregation that has decided to open their doors and expand their facilities to establish a permanent shelter for 120 migrants. Compared to some churches in the United States, Camino de la Salvación is a small and modest community with little resources. Yet it was a powerful moment to hear Pastor Jose Antonio speak about his convictions with humility and the necessity for helping those in need.
Two years ago, Tijuana experienced an influx of Haitian immigrants making their way to the United States but unfortunately Haitians were not able to apply for asylum as they were economic migrants and not fleeing persecution. Some had tried to cross and were deported so many were forced to stay in Tijuana. Pastor Jose Antonio and his congregation recognized the church facilities and rooms were being unused during the week, so they decided to host 31 Haitian migrants.
One of those migrants, Solomon, also shared his story with our group. He and several others walked for 3 months from Brazil to Tijuana but because he was not able to enter the United States, he obtained his documentation in Mexico and serves as a Pastor of a Haitian congregation. It is beautiful to see Kingdom work being done on earth!
I received a sense of peace in the early morning registration area as I took a moment to look around at the crowd of 150 people who heard the call, committed to the day of solidarity, and showed up to listen and to learn. As the activists, teachers, parents with children, clergy, non-profit workers, and just folks who are concerned gathered at the border from across the United States, I was reminded of the compassion that still exists.
As misinformation continues to spread through social media and the news, I am convinced more than ever that people are dedicated to know the truth so much so that they’ll travel across the country for a day to be a witness of an uncomfortable reality. I had the opportunity to hear several incredible stories from folks about why they chose to show up and what prompts them to stand in solidarity with our migrant brothers and sisters. It is easy to become discouraged by the news. It is even easier to remain in our own comfortable realities.
But by standing together and recognizing the restorative work that so many folks are engaged in around our country and directly across the border, I believe that we can be a force of hope and change that this world so desperately needs.
I felt joy during our dinner. As we all gathered at the tables, it was announced that our food would be catered by one of the Haitian migrants who arrived in Tijuana 2 years ago. Since living in Mexico, he has started a food business.
As I went through the line, he was proudly serving his Haitian prepared chicken and sides. As the group thanked him at the end of dinner with an applause and cheers, I do not believe I’ve witnessed a smile as big as his!
In addition to sharing a wonderful meal prepared by our Haitian brother, we were hosted at Espacio Migrante’s new building which will become a community center and shelter. Paulina Olvera and other leaders in Tijuana welcomed us with open arms just as they are working to welcome migrants with love and compassion. This heart-tugging experience gave me the space to identify areas in my own life where I fall short in my own commitments to following Jesus.
I witnessed love at La Playa border wall during the 25th annual La Posada Sin Fronteras. One group of worshipers gathered on the southern side of the wall, another on the northern side of the wall. Separated by about 50 yards and a militarized border patrol unit, Christians worshiped together.
Every year, they come together to remember and reenact Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus. This story is particularly powerful for our migrant brothers and sisters. As there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn, there is frequently no room made for migrants. Songs were being bounced back and forth across the fence, stories were being shared, and prayers were in abundance, but one of the most powerful moments for me was happening subtly at the edge of the crowd.
There was a small group of people painting a large heart on the wall. They were wearing “Unified U.S. Deported Veterans” t-shirts. The realization that folks who have called the US their home for their entire lives, have fought in our wars, have families, to then were deported, is heartbreaking. Yet, for them to build community, courage, and strength to advocate for themselves and one another is inspirational.
I invite all of us to not only reflect more deeply on the hope, peace, joy, and love in our lives, but consider how we are reflecting each of these in our own lives. As our society struggles to offer compassion, how as Christians, are we welcoming the stranger just as the world welcomes Jesus into this world each Christmas day?
Recently, I gave a presentation to our church about my Immigration Immersion trip to Tijuana, Mexico. There were many photos to share and stories to tell, but I started with the end in mind.
I tried to answer the burning question: What are the solutions?
I came up with a Top Ten list and thought I would share those ideas here . . .
Change our language. People are not “illegals” or “illegal aliens.” Some people, in our midst, are undocumented HUMAN BEINGS. Changing our language can change our hearts and minds about many issues—including immigration.
Stop living in fear. The Wall is a fear tactic from Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump—this is bipartisan chaos. We are Good News people, and our language and our actions should reflect Love, Grace, Hope, and Peace—not Fear.
Find ways to coordinate with what’s already going on in Charlotte to help immigrants in our midst. Let’s start with church members who already work for those agencies to see how we can help.
Explore what it might mean us for to become a “Sanctuary” congregation.
A Tu Lado—engage more fully in the work we are doing to help one Guatemalan mother and two children in Charlotte seeking asylum.
Invite our representatives to join us on an Immigration Immersion experience so they can see for themselves the plight of many people with horrific stories to tell.
Admit that we can differ in political agendas and ideas and policies while completely agreeing on the role of the Church. We have but one stance: Welcome and Hospitality.
A lesson from my day on a Factory Worker Tour: Remember that every single thing you buy has a story which has multiple human beings behind it and often those human beings gave their health and their safety for each item. The challenge is for us to discover the history behind everything we buy.
Be courageous. Be loving. Take risks.
Pray for wisdom for our leaders. Pray for a change of hearts - that compassion might rule the day.
As a caravan of migrants moves toward the US border, the leader of my Immersion group, Ray Schellinger, posted these thoughts yesterday on Facebook.
It’s worth considering Ray’s thoughts as we watch the news:
“Don't be fooled into allowing fear and hate to rule your heart. The caravan is an attempt by hundreds of families to seek safety. It is not unlike the peace marches of the Civil Rights era demanding justice. They band together to bring awareness to the desperate situations within Central America. They travel together because it is safer than traveling alone.
If their purpose was to try to cross illegally into the US, they would sneak across the border; they would not be publicizing their journey for the world to see. They are not trying to invade the US and overpower our very well protected border. We do not need to force our southern neighbors to violence to stop them
These migrants do not represent a mortal threat to our nation. They do, however, represent a moral threat to our nation in as much as we look upon our neighbors in need and choose to close up our compassion against them.”
Immigration is a complicated issue, but Ray’s words of compassion speak to me about the Church’s response to any complicated issue.
So, I’m purposely writing the day before the hearing of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and sadly just after learning there are accusations from other women. I’m writing now because the outcome of tomorrow’s deliberations will have no bearing on my position. Tomorrow will bring no resolution – and there may never be full resolution, much less redemption.
Such is the power of sexual and political perversion.
The word “accusation” is forever. It sends cold chills down my spine. As a somewhat public figure, one entrusted with a measure of assumed deference and presumed character, the thought sometimes keeps me awake at night. Over three decades of ministry, how many girls and women have I had conversations with in church buildings… youth lock-ins… week-long mission trips… Sunday school gatherings in people’s homes?
At the over-careful instruction of mentors I’ve perhaps taken precaution to a fault. I cannot think of more than a couple times over all those years I’ve even allowed myself to be in the confines of a closed room alone with a female. I’ve perfected the “shoulder hug.” I confused, and maybe offended a female colleague recently by declining an invitation to join her for lunch together at Chick-fil-A.
The thought of an accusation, from yesterday or from 35 years ago, shudders me with horror. The mere whisper of the word “accusation” is a career-ender. I’ve always feared the destructive power of the word; it is fraught with pain – so any thought of carefully-timed partisan scheming is unforgivable, pure and simple.
So is any kind of sexual assault or attempted rape. Even 35 years ago.
We have a serious problem with sex in this country. Serious problems. The Good Book says, “Your sins will find you out…” and the #metoo movement is a “finding out” moment that we cannot take seriously enough. The statistics on the number of women who are sexually abused in our culture are staggering, heart-breaking. That anyone would hide such a soul-deep wound, given the shame and self-abuse that always accompany such violence, should surprise no one. Even for 35 years.
What has surprised me this week are the justifications and equivocations I’ve heard.
I’m beyond despair that we are so frightfully divided that even some mothers will shrug off sexual violence as “boys being boys.” There was a recent interview with a room full of politically conservative women, each of whom essentially laughed at the accusation: “It was all those years ago…” “Get over it…” “They were just drunk…” “ALL boys do this.”
Did a mother just justify sexual assault and attempted rape because “ALL boys do it?” And have I really heard fathers and grandfathers laughing recently: “If they only knew what all I did. HaHa... It’s a wonder any men get jobs!”
For the record, let me state unequivocally: Not me. Not ever.
Pure and simple: Not me. Not ever – and not my father, who taught me how to respect women (and other men for that matter), and not my pre-adolescent or teenage sons, nor my now-college-age sons, who were raised with the same moral rectitude as my father raised me. I’ve spoken with my father and my boys, and they join me in saying…
Not now. Not ever.
I have never been drunk, so I could never have drunk too much not to remember where I had been, what I might have done when I was wherever I was. I have never been part of a culture of carefree or abusive sex. I have never been violent in any relationship. I have never used a position of power to threaten, anyone.
Not now. Not ever.
I don’t know what happened or did not happen with Judge Kavenaugh or to Dr. Ford or the other women, but I know if we are living in a culture where it is common that drunken boys do not remember forcefully attempting to rape a girl or to shut her screaming mouth with threatening hands – and where this kind of action is being justified by their mothers – and if we are so divided that we allow partisan loyalties to justify laughing about or excusing “all boys” of acting in such a depraved manner, we are in far deeper trouble than the seating, or un-seating of any Supreme Court nominee might portend.
We need to rid “boys will be boys” from our vocabulary, and then we need to commit to removing it from our cultural experience. If you cannot say, “Not me. Not ever.” you need to take responsibility for your actions, accept the consequences for your behavior. Saying “I am sorry” is only a beginning, but it is an appropriate place to start.
“All boys” do not do this. Please tell me I am not wrong, and please join me: Not me. Not ever.
I made a trip to visit our college senior this weekend. Saturday marked his last, first fall college baseball scrimmage. Oh, how time flies. I took him to breakfast: “One check or two?” she asked. “Really? You have to ask!?” When we got to the field, he pointed out the flat tire on his truck. “What do I do about that?” he said. “Really? You have to ask?!”
A few minutes later I walked into the tire shop in town. (Clinton is a small town.) The owner didn’t recognize me, and I almost didn’t recognize him – it’s been almost 40 years. But I called my name, and his eyes flashed, “I thought you looked familiar!”
I told him what I needed, and despite the other three men waiting in the waiting room, the cars lined up at the repair bays, he said, “Back up right here, and let me take a look.” A few minutes later I was on my way back to the field with a patched tire. “ – and you don’t owe me anything, but do tell your parents I said hello, OK?”
I mused over this generosity, which is one of the liabilities of being a preacher and writer. I ought to just say thanks and go on my way, but I’ve never been able to leave things un-considered like that. (Good sermon illustration? Topic of another blog post? Just another key to the meaning of the universe? .
So as I’m driving, I’m processing: “In the grand scheme of things (Wait, it’s just a tire!), yeah, but in the grander scheme of things what does that mean? What are the implications? Why not charge me? Did the other three guys waiting get the same smile and service, gratis? In the grand scheme of things (since nothing is ‘just a tire’) does the owner think some divine favor accrues to his account by helping out minister’s kid? (I’m not sure he knows what I do, but my dad was the pastor of the Baptist church just down the street for almost three decades.) Does he make up for what he gave me by charging the next guy a little more? Enough, already… get to the baseball game!”
In the grand scheme of things, I don’t know what it means. I do know that of all the things my mom and dad gave me, out of their hard-work and modest means was their name.
“A good name is better than great riches…” so the Good Book says.
Which makes me wonder, again, about the grand scheme of things. (I said it was a liability.) What about our names? The name I’m giving my own sons… The name our church has developed in Charlotte … And what about our nation’s name in the sweep of history and among the community of nations?
It seems to me that we mostly have the great riches under control. Maybe we ought to concentrate a bit more on the good name.
One of the truths I have seen borne out time and again in my life, is that when people are in real need, those around them reach out to help. When the hurricane comes, strangers show up in a boat. When its waters recede, donations pour in and church groups drive in from miles around. You can see the basic goodness of humanity, our inherent sense of community. Need calls for response, and when we are at our best, our most human best, we respond.
In communities where poverty is a shared experience, generosity flows even more. Studies show that the more self-sufficient we become, the more affluent, the less generous we also become. Almost counterintuitively, our own need seems to beget our greater generosity to others in need.
After hurricane Andrew I worked with a mission group in a little community in Miami. When we built a 20’ x 20’ utility shed, that a migrant family was thrilled to call their new home, the mother invited us for lunch. Excitedly she showed us her new “house.” One room, one bed, one chair, a hot plate for cooking, and then she spread a feast. I do mean a feast.
The generosity that poured out of their poverty was humbling.
Amy and I have never been poor. Thank God. The poorest we have ever been, however, marked one of the best periods of our lives. When we were both seminary students, there was at time we juggled five part-time jobs and two full-time course loads.
Our neighbors were all in the same boat. We lived in Seminary Village, an off-campus housing complex that was the closest thing to a slum we’ve ever known. Several nights a week during those years, we shared dinner with friends who would show up with either “potluck” or with their own selection of meat for our grill. They also brought their own dishes so we neither had to spend our own water nor our own time cleaning.
Many nights when we went to bed we left the door unlocked, and after midnight we would hear a friend open the door and slip in. We had a computer, he was just glad to get to use ours from midnight to sunrise! “What's mine is yours,” was very nearly a reality. Need begets generosity.
That is, until you become self-sufficient.
Sadly and ironically, as studies show, the more we get, rather than opening our hands even wider, self-sufficiency tends to foster selfishness. Affluence begets anxiety – rather than having too little to share, it seems we have too much to be willing to share. Abundance often turns in on itself, sometimes even to the point of greed.
I live in the most affluent nation in the world has ever seen. I wish I could say we were an exception to the rule, measured in those studies of generosity. We do provide assistance in many ways, in which we can take some measure of pride.
True generosity, however, is never measured in terms of raw numbers (how many dollars), but, in what our giving actually costs us. Jesus made this clear in his vivid parable about the rich folks in the temple who gave out of their abundance, and the poor widow who gave what probably amounted to her next, and only guaranteed meal.
I have a listened today to several stories, listened with astonishment and dismay and great sadness, that at a time in our world’s history when the number of people seeking asylum and refugee status is at an all-time high, as masses of people are fleeing dangerous, even life-threatening situations, our country is slamming the doors shut.
In 2016 we welcomed 85,000 refugees, according to an Associated Press article published this week, but so far in 2018 we have received less than 21,000. And we just lowered the number for next year to the lowest cap of admissions since the program began in 1980.
According to the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, we are “prioritizing the safety and well-being of the American people.” Sounds like the studies are still right: we’ve got too much (affluence or fear) to be willing to share.
I wonder how much of it we’ll have to lose, to get our humanity back.
We’ve just gotten back from an amazing week of vacation.
We were at the theater. It was Broadway and Holly wood, the Silver Screen and the community playhouse all on one stage. The stories were raw and moving, each one unfolding a deeply spiritual saga. There was wisdom from ancient lore, contemporary dramas enacting the eternal human predicament of sin and redemption, and there were modern, avant-garde tales filled with ecstasies of joy and the blinding pain of suffering and death.
Interwoven into the theatrics was the festive panoply of a grand parade. There was pageantry to beat the band: flags and rifles and batons, spectacular dance and intricately woven choreography. The colors bespoke the spectrum of emotions told in all of the stories: lush, dark shades and somber earth-tones, a rainbow of vibrant hues and the soft tones of the pastel spectrum. The stage was a visual carnival, a feast for the eye.
Tying together the message and the color was the music, and it was a concert venue to beat all concert venues. In one arena we heard it all: the driving, edgy pulse of rock-n-roll, the fanciful melody of the musical stage, the triumph of classical harmonies, the syncopation and dissonance of the big band, the proud patriotic anthem, the soaring strains of the opera house, the cadence of the marching band, and the brash brilliance of the brass band.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, put all of this in a covered dome big enough for a franchise in the National Football League, and wrap it all into a national championship, and you get 25,000 screaming fans and all the excitement befitting such a competition – all the athletic strain, all the strategy, all the tension, all the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Someone with an untrained eye might scoff: “It’s just a bunch of marching bands. Sissies… band geeks… music nerds…” The operative word there would be “untrained” – through it doesn’t take much training to recognize that the 154 competitors that make up a Drum Corps International corps are anything but sissies.
Our younger son just completed his second DCI summer, and the rigor and discipline and stamina and perseverance and coordination and strength required to run and jump and plank and leap-frog and dance – while playing a trumpet in a DCI-inspired show – far out-pace any athletic discipline he has ever faced, even as a high school baseball player.
The season started in mid-May, and from the first day of move-ins until that championship night in Indianapolis, he spent 77 days of toil and travel, all the while practicing perfection. In those 77 days, the corps enjoyed a full 3 days off. Practice days consisted of 12 hours of rehearsal, most of it outside in scorching summer temperatures. Show days included 3 to 6 hours of rehearsal, and after the evening competitions the 10-vehicle entourage would travel overnight, so the corps didn’t miss any daylight rehearsal time. This summer they covered 8,600 miles, zigzagging the U.S. in the dark. When corps members did get “floor time,” they slept on the gym floor of some local high school. When they had the luxury of a shower, it was usually cramped and cold.
By a loose estimate Bennett’s corps, “Spirit of Atlanta,” rehearsed 680 hours in 77 days. That’s 24-hours-a-day for one solid month – or, 61.8 hours for each minute of their 11-minute competition performance. An old band director of mine once said, “Practice does not make perfect. (You only get what you practice.) Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
The members of Spirit of Atlanta, and the 154 members (each) of the 23 other DCI corps spend their summers practicing perfection. The end result for 3,696 teenage musicians and staff members and volunteers is the satisfaction of cooperation, the creation of a show of amazing beauty, a feast to sate the senses.
We traveled with the corps for one week, working on the food truck, helping with repairs, driving one of the overnight equipment vehicles. Behind the scenes it’s just as crazy as it sounds from a distance! Some might wonder why: what’s the appeal of such relentless discipline? Asking the question might provide its own answer – and,
Who knew relentless discipline could be so beautiful?
I suppose I am not unlike many folks who were raised in my part of the world – raised in a wonderful, solidly conservative, protestant church, Bible teaching was a staple in my diet. My childhood fascination with the amazing stories of the Bible was later conditioned through a thorough education by what some religion-scholars call a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” This is just a fancy-pants way of saying we ought to learn to read the Bible with a critical eye.
Fortunately, I learned to read “suspiciously.” Just as fortunately, I never quit loving the Bible.
I learned enough about human finitude and frailty in reading it carefully, however, to believe that humility is always the first word in reading – and always the first reason never to make the mistake of making a billystick of this “double-edged sword.” (It always cuts both ways!)
After many more years of critical thinking than those earlier years of unthinking devotion, the Bible is still a source of hope and inspiration, a steadfast message of the justice of God – which is always stained with divine mercy, a message of the complete adequacy of love – which prevails over hatred, a message of challenging surprise – that brings “enemies” together as neighbors in a strange and wonderfully-shared community.
This true community exceeds any we have ever been able to build, but especially as we continue to shatter relationships, deriding and disrespecting one another one Tweet at a time, that vision becomes all the more powerful and important.
As the late G.K. Chesterton once noted, “It’s not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, it is that it has rarely ever been tried.”
There are, of course, many reasons for the failure of community, but as one who believes the responsibility for creating community is at the heart of our Gospel, I see the failure of community (in expressions large and small) as a particular failure of the Christian Church. If we cannot stop the self-inflicted bleeding, our demise will be as deserved as it is foreseeable.
So much of the failure of the faith community to actually create community has to do with the unfortunate proclivity of religious people to quote the Bible without really understanding it.
Like all great literature, the Bible is hard to read. Like all great literature, if you want to understand it, you have to study it, not just read it. Faithfulness to the Bible doesn’t just mean “believing it.” Nor does the one who can quote it most frequently necessarily have an understanding of it.
Recognizing this problem and the unlikelihood that the masses will ever really give themselves to a course of study (involving literature and language and culture and the politics of the prophetic word), the sometimes controversial, always challenging Stanley Hauerwas stirred the pot prior to the turn of this last century. The former professor of Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School suggested the best thing we could do for the viability of Christianity in the 21st century was to take the Bible out of the hands of the common folk.
Not that Franklin Graham is “common folk,” but his recent use of the Bible goes a long way to suggest Hauerwas might have been on to something. I’m not surprised Graham’s message was anti-LGBT. There’s a vigorous and legitimate (though sadly repressive) conversation within and without the Christian community about human sexuality.
Unfortunately, I’m also not surprised Graham would use the Bible in such a defamatory, inflicting way. It is particularly disappointing, however, because the Bible itself rejects Graham’s oft-quoted idea.
It’s a commonly misunderstood reference, but someone of Graham’s stature owes it to the world to be a better student. He recently misinformed the world that the “sin of Sodom and Gomorrah” was homosexuality. Such an egregious misreading is almost unforgivable, especially when the purpose (or at least the result) of that misreading is the continued castigation, alienation, broad-brush judgment against all of our homosexual family members, friends and neighbors – and the pain and violence that often accompanies such condemnation.
On the contrary, ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE, those now-infamous biblical cities were destroyed not for any of the sexual expressions of its inhabitants. The prophet Ezekiel understood what an uncritical reading cannot: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16.49).
I have no doubt the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had witnessed their share of sexual indiscretion, but according to the Bible their sin was arrogance, gluttony, wealth, and a lack of charity for the poor. Any honest reading invites us, rather than casting stones, to consider the stinging observations about the real sin we share with these ancient societies.
It’s easy, and it appears sadly enjoyable for some people of faith to read the Bible in a way that gives “legitimacy” to pointing the finger at other people. If that is the result of your reading, please, read again. The only legitimate way to read scripture makes us realize the only sin I really need to worry about if I’ve fully understood the message… is mine.
"St. Andrews cathedral was once the most significant church in Scotland, but it is also in ruins and stands in the midst of its own cemetery."
Our recent 60-mile pilgrimage from Edinburgh to St. Andrews, Scotland was another deeply significant journey for Amy and me, physically and spiritually. We’re grateful for the interest so many of your expressed by “walking” with us through Amy’s daily prayer guide. Putting your faith where your feet are (or your feet where your faith is?), again proved meaningful.
The route might have been more beautiful than El Camino de Santiago, but one disappointment was that no churches were open along the way. Every Spanish chapel or cathedral was open for pilgrims, but many of the Scottish churches were, well… no longer even churches. Many had been converted to government offices, museums, cafes, and two beautiful churches on our path were in ruins.
In Spain we walked with an English couple with whom we’ve remained in touch. When we landed, Tony and Kate were there to meet us, having flown from Manchester to share the first 12 miles of the Way of St. Margaret. These friends are well-educated and share our convictions for justice, generosity, and good will, but years ago they gave up on the Church in which they were raised. After saying our goodbyes we stayed in touch for the rest of our pilgrimage, and in one email Kate sent her prayers. (“If God hears secular prayers!” LOL!)
Before we parted I had taken the opportunity to ask a daring question. “No preacherly pressure or guilt intended,” I said, “But I need to ask about the English Church. Many people feel the US is going the way of European secularism, and the US Church may also become a casualty. So, I need to know what is missing from England without the influence of the Church. Is anything missing?”
I braced myself, honestly expecting ambivalence or even antipathy toward the institution… Instead, Kate responded in fortissimo: “Yes! The family…” This retired teacher talked about the concerns she has for the family structure, for parenting, for English children who are no longer being formed by the Church. And Tony, a retired attorney, bemoaned the loss of “codes.” We talked about ethical codes, codes of conduct, the loss of cultural decency, dignity, decorum, the failings in moral conduct he also connects to the loss of Church.
St. Andrews cathedral was once the most significant church in Scotland, but it is also in ruins and stands in the midst of its own cemetery, eerily appearing as the largest of the headstones in that manicured graveyard. Standing within the two roofless, floor-less, windowless “tombs” of a church we had passed along the way, we had offered our mid-day prayers, speaking your names as we prayed our way through our vibrant congregation. And, standing there singing simple sacred harmonies, we were disquieted. How did one of the centers of European Christianity, and Europe itself, the heart of the Western church, lose its faith?
Will we? Before the Church in American becomes another beautiful gravestone maybe we’ll be able to look forward to remember what we’ll miss if it does.