When I hung around with evangelical Christians, I would frequently hear this phrase: “be in right relationship with”. That was a core value in life. I agreed then, and I still agree in some ways. I very much resonate with the value of relationships. I am “a lover” by temperament, so to speak, and being engaged with the universe is supremely important to me. I also have a huge desire to be “right”, but that is exactly the thing I’m now trying to dismantle. I was a compliant kid. I was afraid of my father and of all authority. I wanted to be “good” and “correct” because I wanted to be praised instead of punished! Now, I find that being “right” is not all that great of a goal. First of all, it can lead you to be self-righteous and judgmental. Second, how do you even know what is “right”? Is it “right” to do everything an authority tells you to? What if that authority tells you to harm someone else? See, it gets tricky. How about if I just say that I want to have a good relationship with everything? I think that covers it pretty well.
One relationship that I am really working to improve is my relationship with God and Christianity. It has gone through a huge change in the last few years, one that has many of my friends scratching their heads. Some of them are downright disappointed in the change and have told me so. Some have just stopped communicating with me. I am most in awe of those who are openly listening, talking, challenging, and engaging with me as I rework my theology and practice. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Instead of going to Church, getting ashes imposed on my forehead, and beginning a 40-day penitential practice (which is an indication of how I participated in that relationship for 47 years), Steve & I finished reading T.S. Eliot’s poem named for the day and discussed post-modern cynicism. Despite Eliot’s conversion, he doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about life. This morning, we had breakfast with his Aunt and talked about her church experiences with fasting and confession and Bible study. Today, I got another e-mail from an old friend who is willing to discuss my journey and walk with me in it. I’ve known this person since I was about 12 and she was 17. Replying to her became my top writing priority for the day. So, I’ve decided to use that material for my post today. First, a photo or two to open the mind:
My thoughts for today:
I feel like I have a continual discourse going on in my brain about my relationship with Jesus and the Church. On any given day, other people enter that conversation and keep it going. At breakfast, it was Steve & his Aunt Rosie. As we walked to the library, it was just Steve. Now you’ve entered the discussion. Welcome! Come, have a place on the panel!
The Church. So much of it is about the social aspect. Sometimes it acts like a group of people who are all friendly, who share affinities, who enjoy being together and taking care of each other. Seems there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m sure that’s not all Jesus meant the Church to be. What happens when that group disbands, moves away or dies off? Kind of like your Presbyterian congregation. Or what happens when that group gets visited by people whom they don’t care for? People of a different kind who don’t fit into their social circle? How do they behave? Is that what Christianity is about? There is so much intolerance, so much judgment, so much exclusion, that it just seems to represent the worst of society as well.
Theology & Philosophy. The Church getting down to what it actually believes about the universe. And why. I was taught by my Episcopal parents that there are 3 legs on the stool supporting what they believe: Scripture, Tradition and Reason. My dad held up the Reason leg when he talked about Science. In the face of overwhelming evidence about evolution, for example, there’s no need to dismiss it. It can be worked in with the other legs. Scripture is about the story of human life, the salvation story, the emotional story, the behavioral story. But it’s still a story, a Myth. It is about Truth, but it isn’t literally true. I don’t think it’s “true” that we are all sinners, or that we are all fundamentally separate from each other. If you look at the biological universe, we are all very much interconnected. I don’t know if there’s any evidence to prove that a historical Jesus even existed, much less that he was resurrected from the dead and will come again. I still love Jesus’ teaching, whether he’s fiction or fact. I love how he goes straight to the religious teachers of the day and preaches in their faces about how they have undermined values like compassion, inclusion, humility, spirituality, and forgiveness. I think if it were possible for him to reappear in the US today, he would go straight to the Conservative Republican Christian Right and do the same thing! Tradition seems to be aimed at behavior, how we live together. The thing that is so tricky about behavior is that it needs to change, it needs to be responsive and responsible. Most people think that Tradition is about keeping things the same. I think that keeping core values is a good thing, but the way they are expressed should be flexible.
The thing I miss most about The Church is choir! Singing! And I have always loved Gospel more than classical, deep down. Yesterday, Steve put on a new CD; I immediately recognized Odetta’s guitar and voice and purred with delight. He laughed and said, “Priscilla wants to be a big, black woman!” It’s so true! I love the soul, the familiarity with humanity and suffering and the confidence. I don’t want to be brainwashed or shamed or coerced by guilt. I want to be free and respected for what I am. And what am I? A white Anglo, in part. But I am partly a big, black woman as well because we are all connected here on earth.
Anyway, that’s where the dialogue has me today. I want to tell you again how much I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me in this part of my journey. It means a lot. I really get turned off by the tendency, especially in politics, for people to circle the wagons or form a fortress from which to sling rhetoric while refusing to actually come out peacefully and discuss something. You know what I mean? And the media just makes the whole situation worse, little Tweets & comments here and there but no real engagement. Thanks for being willing to be real, to put your story and your thoughts and your experiences in writing and listen to mine as well. I respect you for that. I think that’s how Jesus was, too. I think of the stories in the Gospel of John especially, of conversations with Samaritans, women, disciples, beggars, and Pharisees. He didn’t just knock off a sound bite for the media and move on. And as much as anyone stayed to hear more, he kept interacting. What a great example!