Monday, June 15, 2009
On being an onion in a petunia patch
I have just found a new part to Vista that helps me with blog accounts. I have no idea how this will be published on my blog. But it is fun to work with a new application.
Yesterday I preached at a friend’s installation as pastor in a new congregation. It is a lovely, large mid-sized parish in the wine country of the Finger Lakes. When I have the chance to preach in Lutheran congregations I enjoy heightening the differences between being Lutheran and being Episcopalian. I am always still delighted with the new ways of speaking of the faith that these two traditions have. There is some freedom that an “auslander” has in speaking to a group of laity and clergy. Being the ‘onion in the petunia patch’ helps the onion see and gives us the freedom to speak more forcefully and more candidly than someone from the patch. I love this position and it allows me to see some of the things that make our traditions unique.
The congregation was originally founded by Danish immigrants. The customs of the Danes –especially in matters of food, were evident. The post celebration smorgasbord had interesting tastes even if their Danish forbearers were generations ago. This is a part of Christianity that as an Anglican I did not have. The Anglican-ness of us even though never spoken of, is so majority culture that there is never too much thought of it. Episcopalians never think of themselves as any one culture even though we are decidedly English. There is sort of a sense of entitlement we have by being the first, the majority, the quintessential WASP’s in the community. We are really never aware of being of any other ethnic group unless we have come to the Episcopal Church from some other ethnic faith group. But then again, most Episcopalians were something else before they became Episcopalians.
But for Lutherans, congregations usually have a long history set in the immigration of people from other countries. Most Lutherans have been Lutheran for generations. And their Lutheranism is a part of their German or Scandinavian roots. There may even be some deep-seated discomfort if a child or a sibling joins a different denomination—it is like they have denied their heritage much in the way an Italian or Spanish Roman Catholic will feel if the family “leaves the Church” to be come protestant.
A congregant from my own parish suggested that I not make such strong contrasts between our denominations because he felt that I was distancing myself from my congregation. I have thought about that comment and I understand how he feels. But distancing is not what I am doing. I am quite amazed at how pluralistic a congregation can be. I am caught up with the amount of diversity that we can sustain in the Body of Christ.
I subscribe to the Episcopal list-serve on which delegates to the church-wide meetings talk about the direction that TEC is going; and I listen to some of the hide-bound elements of doctrine and dogma get in the way of our living together in peace. I also am a part of an ecunet discussion group of conservative Lutherans and I wonder how such “thumping of Luther” can bring people to a relationship with God. Both of our traditions are faced with an obsession with doctrine and what it means to be TEC or ELCA. Both are frightened by what is splitting our churches apart.
I saw a quote on another blog recently “Faith is what you’re willing to die for. Dogma is what you’re willing to kill for.” – Robert Shahan. This is an important statement. The violence that we heap on each other in the name of faith is sinful. Yes, our faith is something that we are to die for—die each day for--DIE TO OURSELVES FOR. Faith is the putting God first and consequently putting away our own self-centeredness. But there is nothing in faith that requires us to go to war with each other. Underlying any such killing in the name of Christ is a type of rigidity that says I do not have to change, I do not have to accommodate, that I do not have to embrace those who think differently than I.
I have been scandalized by the vituperative statements made on both sites by people who claim community in the name of Jesus. I have watched simple discussions about sharing Christ turn into such raging arguments that no one wants to stay in the room simply because we are unable to discuss the real issue—which is, who has the power? Who has the power to tell me what is right and wrong? Only God does. We spend so much energy trying to kill other Christians for what they believe or don't believe, we have never been able to love our enemies as Christ instructed.
In matters of faith, we all have power and that is the power of Jesus Christ. We are not pawns; we are not called to be just observers or passive in the journey of faith. We are all called to proclaim the hope of Jesus Christ. If we thump doctrine and dogma, if we demand that only when things are done according to Hoyle to cover our passivity, then we have nothing to offer the Body of Christ except our distrust. For those of us who are deeply embedded in the relationship with Christ, we can find it within ourselves to embrace those who disagree with us. We can offer to them the kinds of compromise that is necessary for us to live together in peace. We do not have to have others have the same relationship with God as we do in order for us to live in peace.
Sometimes it is good for us to step back from our patch in order to get God’s perspective on our lives. Being an onion in a petunia patch is just such a perspective. I honor this chance, this congregation that gives me a new view of what it means to be Christ’s own. To lead such a congregation does not mean that I will take them where they do not want to go. I just means that I have a new perspective on what it means to be a Christian in today’s world. What a wonderful gift God has given me.