Giving birth to something new...

One of the most fun things that took place in the past week was getting "out of Dodge" for a wedding. We got into Saratoga a day early just to walk around, practice a little self-care and take in the vibe - and we loved it! A highlight was finding this groovy little jazz club that looks like a speakeasy, holds about 25 people comfortably (there were 60) and serves some of the best single malt Scotch ever!
Being away gave me a chance to rest so that I was very much at peace today in worship.  We played some sweet jazz, riffed on the Scriptures and then celebrated Eucharist. After a bit of post-worship grocery shopping, I started to think of next week's gospel text from John 9. In particular I have been realizing how the same "split" between the insiders who were offended by the compassion of Christ and the outsiders who were nourished and encouraged, is still all too alive and well in many of our congregations. 

Last week, after the ecstasy of our 250th anniversary, I received two fascinating sets of emails. One set - and in truth, only two - expressed discomfort with what we emphasized during the celebration - namely our partnership with those doing non-religious things to care for the common good. It's not that these folk were in opposition to our partnership, they were just challenged because it wasn't really "churchy." (Smile... sigh... could that have been the point?!?) The other set of notes - and in truth there were over 10 - expressed joy and solidarity in a church intentionally celebrating un-churchy commitments.

In the gospel for next week, Jesus faces judgment and rejection because he brings healing to someone on the Sabbath.  It made me think of these recent reflections by Richard Rohr:

One of the best ways to study Scripture is to use the lens of cultural anthropology; in other words, to learn about the social setting in which Jesus lived and the problems with which he was dealing. What we find is that the Mediterranean culture at his time was overwhelmingly dominated by an honor/shame system largely based on externals. Actually, we still live that way in the United States and Western Europe, although we pretend we don’t!

Honor and shame are personal commodities that you can lose or gain. They’re what we would call ego possessions. You don’t have them naturally. You have to work for your honor and then show it off and protect it. You have to deny your shame, which is what we would now call the shadow self. At Jesus’ point in history, and frankly with many today, there is no inherentsense of the self. There is no natural dignity that comes from within.

Religion at its best and most mature is exactly what is needed for this problem. Without healthy religion, you have no internal or inherent source for your own dignity and positive self-image. You have to find your status and your dignity externally by what you wear, by your title, by how much money you have, by what car you drive. That’s a pretty fragile way to live. You are constantly evaluating, “How am I doing? How am I looking?” And your dignity can be taken away from you in one moment of loss of public status. This is the insecure post-modern world we live in. It is a moveable famine grounded in a sense of scarcity and “zero sum.” Only true religion inhabits the world of abundance; it even draws upon an infinite abundance.

The new/old church we are bringing to birth rejects the external judgments that separate any of US from any of THEM. It celebrates ONE table where we each have gifts to bring to the banquet and NO ONE fails to receive an invitation to the party. And it refuses to get caught up in the status judgments of those whose only sense of dignity comes from some place besides the heart.


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