Friday, August 07, 2009

Welcome Home?? ... Adam and Shawn in Dialogue # 3 ...

To read Adam's Reply at his blog - click here (it's worth checking out!!)

Adam:

Wow !! There isn't much in your reply that I can disagree with ... in fact there is much there I absolutely agree with, which makes me realize that a dialogue between the two of us will not be an exercise in dissent or disagreement between you and I, but rather it will be an affirmation of dissent with the STATUS QUO that holds sway in the United Church of Canada, and indeed, in most mainstream churches today ...

As I read your post, I couldn't help but think of a comment by former Moderator Bill Phipps who in an interview with Pamela Wallin (now senator) quipped - "the Canada we think we've created isn't the Canada that is out there when we look ..."

Today I've come to realize the Church we think we've created and maintained and been a part of, is NOT the Church that is out there when we look ... You hit the nail on the proverbial head with the observation of the Mavericks and Wild Cards. And God have mercy on your soul if you dare to self-identify with the prophetic in the Church today ... the discomfort that causes OTHERS will lead them to pull out whatever knives they have available to cut you down and tear you up, and leave you battered and bleeding by the side of the road ...

So, are we to throw up our hands and simply give up?

Do we let the status quo prevail?

Or do we let the Spirit do Her work, and lead us where we need to go in our faith journey?

My friend, today perhaps like never before I feel confident and truly positive about the Church. A curmudgeonly white preacher with wounds and bruises from his journey through the United Church, who stands outside wishing to come home, but finding no place willing to welcome him AND a young NON-white preacher, musician, student, and visionary who carries a radical (and dare I say dangerous) vision of what WILL be when we step out of the way and let the Spirit prevail, have come together to talk together about the issue of being a Welcoming, Inclusive and OPEN Church ... Adam, if this dialogue isn't an act of the Spirit, then we truly live in a time and place that is devoid of the Spirit ... we are but two insignificant voices, but the words we dare to speak are revolutionary, inflammatory, and necessary to be spoken ...

The challenge will be to endure the slings and arrows of those who fear change ... those in the bureaucracy who fear not only the paradigm shift we are living, but fear the very changes that shift represents ...

I am glad to hear you have been invited to sit at the table with the head bureaucrats in our Church as part of the Moderator's Advisory Council, and I for one welcome that you came as a wild card ... the Church needs more wild cards and mavericks, but the church is not prepared to embrace much less support those wild cards and mavericks ...

Your story about the church where the preacher opened the Bible and let it speak inspires and saddens me ... If he was in the United Church, he would be finished ... we won't fire the "deacons". We let the status quo prevail by hiding behind what is called democracy and a councilor church ...

Ever been in a Congregation when a controversy hits and a vote needs to be taken on the continuance of a Ministry?

It's an amazing thing ... the Church polarizes and ALL those folks who haven't darkened the door of the Church for years are invited to come out and VOTE so that the status quo can prevail ... the lines are drawn between members who don't support the ministry, and adherents who donate and volunteer their time, talents and treasures, and the Old Guard WILL prevail because the bureaucracy is stacked in THEIR FAVOUR ... and to even say that such blatant abuse and mis-use of the policies and procedures of the Church happens makes you a very un-welcomed presence in Church circles ... we want the Church to be NICE, and PINK and FUZZY ... we're not interested in talking about the Apocalyptic Welcome that you spoke of, much less living it ... Ministries that embrace the Apocalyptic Welcome, or that embrace the paradigm shift we're in the middle of are doomed by those "who insist on clinging to the status quo" because they are the ones that are not only turned to, they are the ones who set the agenda and control the mechanisms of power ...

Yesterday, the comment left in the exchange on your facebook page - "maybe you need to make some changes" is telling ... I as a white, educated, middle class male am being painted as the villain and being asked - no, being TOLD that I need to make changes to fit in ... do we tell the First Nations people to change to fit in?? Do we tell the Filipino people to change to fit in?? Do we tell the gay and lesbians to change to fit in?? Did we tell YOU, Adam to change to fit in??

I will not suggest that there is a double standard at work - but instead ponder who sits in our pews on a Sunday morning when the United Church sits down to worship?

Are our congregations like that you shared, filled with a multiplicity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds?

Oh, sure we have ethnic ministries scattered across the country and many of our congregations have non-white families and members, but ... we are anything BUT an integrated Church ... we have ghetto-ized ourselves by maintaining a predominantly white middle to upper class identity ... and to say this opens ourselves to criticism ...

It's a vicious circle, this Apocalyptic Welcome ... to proclaim it is to reveal how what we are currently is lacking ... and to point out that short fall is to criticise the Church and THAT makes everyone uncomfortable, and in thier discomfort they get nasty and attack us ...

SO, what do we do?

How do we move this Church of ours to a place where the Status Quo falls away and the voices on the margins, and beyond the warm glow of our sanctuaries is not only heard, but honoured and heeded ???

I think firing all the "deacons" would be a good start ... like the mythic phoenix, what is needed is a dying to prepare for the resurrection ... Communities and Congregations that have failed to embrace the radical Apocalyptic Welcome that is central and essential to the Christian message WILL die ... and from the four or five who remain, the Spirit will bring a resurrection of something that is UNLIKE what we've experienced thus far ... having the courage to ask lay leaders who have been less than charitable and who have been incompetent in their work within the church to step aside is a good place to start - but we're so afraid of offending, we simply won't do that ... Friedman hits it when he outlines the toxicity of faith communities continuing for generations. But in the United Church, we WILL NEVER dare to name that toxicity - instead we will pretend it will go away with time ...

It doesn't. Like any untreated wound it festers and spreads ... we owe it to the health of the body to enact justice for all, not just retribution against those who make us uncomfortable ...

I had a great compliment paid to me today - a friend said in an email:

"I still believe that you need to be involved in street ministry at some level because you are not afraid of the people on the street. Faith is not the ivory tower for you and there are SO FEW Ministers who are able to minister to the less pretty in our world. You have that gift. Yes you also have the gift of taking their message to those who don’t get it, but clearly that is the less popular of your gifts judging from the reaction of the UC to your determined belief in justice and doing what is right. Damn you, you real Christian! And thank you for not EVER being able to go quietly. You may not have changed them but you made them think damn hard."

All of this makes me mindful of the late Reverend R, who was a mentor of mine in ministry. Looking back over 70 some years of active and lively ministry he once commented - "you are ordained to ministry in the BODY OF CHRIST. The Body of Christ my boy, the Body of the Living Christ, not some namby-pamby social club, not some warm pink fuzzy place to come and get hugs and get sent on your way, but the BODY OF THE LIVING CHRIST. A place where the afflicted are comforted, and the comfortable are afflicted, and the Way of Christ is preached AND LIVED !!!"

The Way of Christ is about discomfort and having to think hard ...

The Way of Christ is indeed an Apocalyptic Welcome ...

The Way of Christ is indeed firing the deacons ...

The Way of Christ is indeed speaking from the margins ...

The Way of Christ is indeed letting the wild cards and mavericks have their say ...

The Way of Christ is about letting go of what has been, and embracing what will be ...

If The Way of Christ is to dawn upon us, the first step is by refraining from asking people to CHANGE to fit in, but to adapt who we are to INCLUDE everyone - especially those who irritate and annoy us ... because sometimes the Prophetic voices, and in this I include YOU Adam, are about making some of us incredibly uncomfortable ... because in our discomfort we will find a mirror that challenges us with the simple question - WHY ??

Why am I uncomfortable??

Why am I angry??


Why am I hesitant to hear him/her??

Why am I feeling this way??

Grappling with the answers to that Why is the heart of our faith ... looking Christ in the eye and asking if we've been faithful and true to our calling is where we begin and end ...

So, Adam ... we agree on the centrality of the Apocalyptic Welcome ... we agree on the need for the prophetic voices ... and we agree on the importance of preaching from the margins ... but how do we move those clinging desperately to the Status Quo to let go and trust in the Spirit to catch them???

The conversation continues ...

peace my friend,

2 comments:

MY OWN WOMAN... said...

Shawn, it has been a long time since I've responded to one of your posts; mostly because of issues resulting from my lack of internet use. I am so glad to come back to find an interesting conversation between you and Adam. I will read Adam's response to you after my brief comment here.

As you, I too like to "ruffle feathers from time to time" so as to make people sit up, take notice and think. No, I'm not a pastor nor do I sit on a board that makes the rules. I am merely me, a person who believes I have been set free by the blood of the lamb.

That being said there is something that has already been bothering me as I read your two posts and the one response from Adam. I don't understand your committment to "a" church. Perhaps there a pieces I am missing but once burnt, why return to be burned again.

I was brought up Catholic; by the time I was in my twenties I knew the "Catholic" church held nothing for me. Something stirred inside of me that the church I attended or was told to attend because of geographical location left my spirit sad. I had all but left the Catholic Church when my parents begged me to baptise my children. They understood my ideas of the God that I followed, but they wanted their grandchildren to be baptised. It was a little thing on my part to do to satisfy something in them. I went to the priest to ask him to baptise my children and his reply was, "How many electric bills have you paid here. How many gas bills have you paid." He was right, I didn't attend his church but he would have had to "release" me from his geographical location to allow my children to be baptised at another church; something he refused to do. So, in my mild mannered lovely womanly ways I asked him, "I wonder, how many people did John the Baptist ask about electric bills, gas bills or even tithes? I'm thinking it wasn't any. If I recall correcly, all he asked is that you accept." The priest got angry and told me he was preaching much more than the Christianity that I was speaking of, he was preaching the Catholic church. I told him that he and the Vatican can live contently but for me and my house, we will serve the Lord," and I left.

I guess my bottom line question is...what is the draw that you have to the United Church. Is this a calling that you have to belong and change from within or is it acceptance from the church that wronged you? Please, do not take this as an attack because it is certainly not meant in that light. It's curiosity.

As always, I hope you find what God has already found for you.

shawn said...

Welcome back ... it's good to have you return - you've been missed ...

The draw to the United Church is simply this: it is my spiritual home ... it is where by adoption through the Union of 1968, I grew up and was nurtured and was CALLED into ministry ... not ministry just to the UCC, but to MINISTRY in THE Church ...

This blog is Church ... the conversations I have by email with people in town is Church ...the articles I write for various publications is Church ... the sermons I deliver down the road at a non-UCC Church that welcomed me in and has loved me for almost a year is definitely Church ...

But, the UCC remains my home ... and to be honest, I miss it ... I miss being involved ... I resent (and I will have more to say about resentment thanks to some stuff I'm reading by Nouwen) being FORCED to stand outside and gaze through the window KNOWING that I have been driven from my home because I won't play nice with the toxicity and hypocrisy that is rampant in some corners of the Church ...

Do I want to change it from within? Part of me does, but a bigger part of me knows that I will NEVER be invited back ... and so with great hurt, I stand on the steps of The UCC, and proclaim the absolutely certainty that I am called to a Ministry that is Greater than the UCC can envision and embrace ...

My Ministry is to those who stand outside - beyond the warm glow and who yearn for home ...

My Ministry is about creating that HOME here online ... and as I live and move and have my being in the world ...

God has called me to Ministry ... and I will never stop calling the United Church of Canada to a truly welcoming, open and INCLUSIVE ministry ... they are not that today - but one day perhaps they will be ... Like Mr Endicott - my heart lies with the UCC, even if I am no longer welcome ... One day I WILL live an apology too ... of that I am certain ... and when it comes I will NOT say - "I told you so ..." But I will weep for the length of time it took for it to happen ...

In the meantime, I stand in the "darkness" and proclaim with great certainty that we have a LIGHT before us that is NOT bound by any Church, and that beckons ALL people ...

As for me and my house - we WILL serve the Lord too ... and it's a good place to stand !!