When it comes time to vote, I trust and affirm those who love country, state, city, neighborhood.
Here’s a list of the qualities of love from one of the most quoted Christian texts. (1. Cor.13)
Not dishonoring others
Not easily angered
No record-keeper of wrongs
Not delighting in evil
Rejoicing with the truth
Never failing . . . in the end, . . . love . . . prevails.
This isn’t all that complicated but people who cannot love themselves would tell you and me otherwise.
Ignorance is easy to maintain. Selfishness – takes no sweat. Living in fear? Anyone can pull that off. Smear campaigns? In the third grade that seemed funny until we hurt someone we cared about.
The real problem as I see it is that not enough voters have known enough love to love themselves or anyone else. At least not love in the way described above.
Conservatives can love. So can Liberals. Love does not discount having a different take on how best to govern and lead, but it does influence how we get beyond playing King of the Hill with each other to collaborating for the common good.
This country is in real danger of transforming from a democratic republic to authoritarian rule by people who are so wounded and loveless that they will tell any lie, pull any trick, bend any rule to buy a little false certainty, comfort and control and let taxpayers like you and me pay for all that. It will cost us all much more than money if we let them succeed. It may well cost our freedom.
Sadly, if only they knew that there is a God who loves them more than their family and friends did or do, a God who does not write them off or vote them off the planet but instead longs to help them find and free the lovable and loving person buried underneath years of accumulated hurt, neglect and mistreatment.
Most of the people living with little love may roll their eyes in disgust at what I have written. I get it. They are not ready to ready to trust anyone who is not living and believing as they do. I remember when I was unable to risk facing my own internal discomfort and restlessness and sought solace in hiding in a group.
Some are, however, waking up to the possibility that there really is more for them than the garbage they are being fed, that they are smarter than the idiots their handlers think them to be. I pray that they hold on to that hope and begin tracing that glimmer of light back to its source where welcome and love awaits.
For me this election is not just about who wins an office, or which political party holds a majority. Oh, our vote matters. And for me it’s about a choice between loving or loathing ourselves, our neighbors, and this country.
For that reason, I will pay more careful attention to each candidate’s documented behavior and speech (in context) than to the party to which they belong.
People who love can be trusted to work well with others to find and promote the common good. I learned that from a Jewish carpenter’s kid who let even me into a work crew that still labors, still hopes, still loves almost 2,000 years later.
One of the most challenging exercises involved a lifeboat. Half of the group agreed to play. There were 117 of us – all in some form of executive leadership who had come from across the U.S. and several countries at no small expense to sharpen our skills, practice collaboration, and play full out.
The facilitator asked for 60 volunteers. Having no idea what was to come next, several of us stepped into the middle of the dimly lit large conference hall. We were told that we were people on a sinking ship stuck in a sudden severe storm. We were 12 miles out from land. Waves were heaving at 10 feet. There was only one lifeboat that could hold 20 people and no flotation devices. Within 15 minutes, the ship would sink. We were told, “Your challenge is to fully engage as if this is actually happening and the consequences are real. You now know all you need to know. Go!”
To add drama to the exercise deafening sounds of a raging ocean storm filled the room. We gathered around a platform with 20 chairs. It was not long before the shouting began. Panic rose as the facilitator called out the time remaining. Nobody thought to pray.
What happened next during those 15 minutes, we had all agreed, would never be shared outside that room. By the end of the exercise, every chair was occupied – half with those whose heads were bowed, and the room was quiet except for the sound of weeping. As we debriefed the exercise over the next hour, those prepared to be honest learned as much about our characters as we did about leadership.
COVID19 and the resulting quarantines and economic impacts, protests following the death of George Floyd, and the brewing, ugly battle for votes and ideological loyalty have combined into elements of a dangerous storm which has already claimed many lives and exposed truths about ourselves, our community and the Church. We have shown up individually and corporately – not always as we wish we were but as we are.
This is a liminal time. We are transitioning into a future that we cannot yet clearly describe. Despite whatever nostalgia we hold about the past, our past, most of us cannot insulate ourselves from being fully present here and now. And during what for some is a very restless time, there is a blessing I pray that we do not miss.
You and I have been called to faith and servant-leadership at this historic time of discontinuous change. Dare we imagine ourselves in the company of Abraham and Sarah, Miriam and Moses, and those first disciples of Jesus? What does God see in you, in me, in the members of our congregation, in our neighbors, in those who cry out, that together we are entrusted with an opportunity to show up here and now more Christ-like and, God helping us, give more hopeful shape and substance to what will be?
I left that leadership workshop humbled by what I had learned, and it opened me to the need to continue working prayerfully on my character and skills. I returned to a Church that welcomed me back and reminded me of Jesus’ words to his own imperfect cast of characters who, nearly two thousand years ago launched a movement we call the Church:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” John 15:16 NRSV
We are right to hope. This present storm and its casualties are real. We may not feel ready, but we have been prepared. Our finest hours are yet ahead. Tomorrow’s disciples of Christ are watching. Go!
Pouring better gas into an electric car will not make it go any faster. The quality of the gasoline may be an improvement and the sacrifice made to purchase it greater but the context of propulsion has changed.
Re-vitalizing congregtions that are no longer vital may feel good for members, but it will not produce new disciples of Jesus given the dramatic shifts that have taken place while we were working hard to keep things working as well as they once had on our church campuses.
So much has changed and is changing around us. Covid 19, a reawakening to the persistent rhizomatic reality of systemic racism, jobs lost and businesses closing. This is all happening at the tail end of a 50-year decline in church membership and the steady increase in the number of those who have no religious preference or who are just done with church as we prefer it.
Many of us who are leaders now grew up with three television stations, rotary or touch tone phones and typewriters. The jokes we told back then, the expressions that were popular then, and the news stories we remembered most are lost on the younger adults who, if they stay around, will take on the role of leaders in the Church and will do much differently.
Our perspectives on why we are Church and how we ought to go about being the church used to be more similar from congregation to congregation when we had fewer choices and greater accountability for the choices we made. What many adults in the three youngest generations are telling us by their absence (and now the members of our congregations who skip through or totally ignore our streaming or recorded Sunday worship) is that something important is missing.
Lately, I have been drawn to the work of church consultant Gilbert Rendle. In his book, Quietly Courageous, he cites the research of “Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile, who in 2015 were students at Harvard Divinity School.” They surveyed Millennial adults and asked them what they sought in the communities they engaged in:
If we look back at the gospels, at the life and teaching of Jesus, how many of the descriptions Rendle cites above can we find? All of them. How many of these same dynamics accurately describe who we are and what we do as congregations currently?
We are entering a time when the best leaders do not have answers, they are trying to form better questions. That puts us at odds with the expectations of those who are understandably grieving several losses:
When grief and loss become overwhelming, we are vulnerable and prone to be misled by those who claim to have simple solutions, people who seem to rise above all problems. It takes courage to lead with questions, to be genuinely curious, admit dependence upon the wisdom of an unseen Holy Spirit, and take determined steps into an uncertain future.
More of us are realizing that we are stronger going into an uncertain future if we start moving in that direction together, compare notes with each other about what we notice and experience of what may be ahead, and becoming okay with uncertainty that we are always leading in the direction where God is already at work and waiting for us.
We have a role model for this. His name is Jesus.
Notice that we are having more online conversations. Not how-to-webinars. Conversations. Questions. Explorations of what could be – what we might try on our own or together. We are becoming, in my opinion, a lot less certain and perhaps a lot more faithful. Christ is still leading the way. We follow.
“When you walk to the edge of all the light that you have
And take that first step into the darkness of the unknown
You must believe that one of two things will happen:
There will be something solid for you to stand upon
Or you will be taught how to fly”
Patrick Overton, Ph.D.
Why take that step? Why not just turn around and go back the way we came. Live in what was certain, comfortable and in your full control. Remember the “good old days” when churches were full?
In 1967, my seven siblings and I were seated at the dinner table one night. Our father had an announcement to make. He was offered a job as a boarding school cottage parent for boys from the Bronx who were on their last stop before juvenile detention. He would make half the money he did building tin-feeder machines in a factory. We children could not possibly know what a complex decision that was nor the consequences of living with less but something in his expression and voice radiated an excitement we never saw when he usually came home from work. We encouraged Dad to take the job. We would deal with the loss of income. He quickly became a surrogate father to a few very troubled boys who became good men. Only now do I realize what a brave step that my father took (having no college or social work experience) – a step we got to take with him.
Are you familiar with the term “discontinuous change”? It refers to a type of change that may be subtle but irreversible. Here are just a few examples of discontinuous change facing the Church:
As the Church in the 21st Century we are coming close to the edge of much of the light we think we have. What worked for religious practice in the 20th Century back when the rotary dial phone was finally a fixture in most homes no longer inspires the two youngest adult generations. If we are to take that important step of faith into future forms of living Christian faith, we will need to remember why God has us moving in the first place. Knowing “Why?” will help us to recognize a faithful “How?”
God help us to help each other to remember why You called us to be the Church for all times and in all seasons. We ask this in the precious name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
We have all learned much during the past 12 weeks:
We are tempted to address the discomfort and resistance we may feel with quick fixes and nostalgia for the way things were. We would be wiser stewards to spend time together asking how we got to this moment? What narratives drive behaviors and attitudes in the Church? Which ones are worth keeping? Which ones need to go? How do we find better narratives that will guide us where the Holy Spirit may be leading?
Over the past twelve weeks, a group of pastors and lay leaders has met on Tuesday afternoons at 3 pm by Zoom. This was originally widely promoted. We began with prayer, checked in with each other to offer mutual encouragement, and then began to examine the attitudes and assumptions that have shaped our congregations responses to what Rev. Dr. Rodney Williams calls the triple pandemic of COVID 19, racism, and poverty. Some responses have been outstanding. Sadly, some have betrayed a latent confusion between civil religion and consumer culture and what Jesus meant when he said to his first disciples (and now to each of us): “Follow me.”
All the positive narratives are rooted in the wisdom of the Bible. Loving God, loving neighbors, making and equipping new disciples, welcoming strangers, offering worship, building racial and economic equity, sharing what we have, etc.
Sharing resources, we discovered, was a narrative that many congregations are now more ready than ever to lean into. It may be a starting point for a broader discussion that includes other, better narratives.
This Tuesday at 3 pm, we will continue the conversation and stream it on Facebook so that more people will be able to participate. Our hope is that more leaders from the wide diversity of our Region will take part. (That is another, better narrative – that we more intentionally work more closely together in mutual respect when thinking theologically and acting as the Spirit leads.)
To find out how to access the Zoom meeting, click here.