Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Random Thoughts on a Tuesday Afternoon ...

On Saturday, while Ms H was playing Hockey in a tournament in Sarnia, I was blessed and privileged to have a coffee with my friend, mentor and inspiration in ministry Rev. Bob.

Rev. Bob arrived at my home church of Centennial United in Stratford when I was in my teens and was struggling with life, the universe and my place in the Church. He became my confessor, friend and confidante. He has inspired and challenged me over the years, and most of all, he has ALWAYS taken the time to sit and listen and talk when I most needed it ...

I look back on numerous fabulous conversations over the past three decades that have covered everything conceivable topic, and that have helped me wrestle with big issues and concerns in my life.

On Saturday we sat down and talked for the first time in almost 10 years ... we had reconnected briefly last year when he came to Mom's memorial ... our conversation involved getting caught up on our respective kids and family, and touching base about the people and places that had influence on both of us in our respective journeys.

But what stood out most of all for me, was the re-affirmation of my core beliefs and values, and the importance of what it is I have sought to be about in ministry over the last 20 plus years. Bob shared his experiences of being bruised and wounded by the toxicity within the Church, and the utter failure of our Denominational leadership to deal with the bad behaviour some people (both lay and ordered) are capable of.

We talked about being pummelled by people hiding behind their faith and trying to recreate the Church in their narrow minded outlook on the cosmos.

And we talked about the appalling cowardice of the Church to truly address the issues before us as people of faith ... "There is no place for prophets ..." Bob said over and over.

I remember being a teen and hearing Bob say, "what the Church needs now is a prophetic voice willing to address things ..." He like my other mentor Mervyn Reuber (whom I've cited previously) has often said the Church has become a wishy-washy organization that is more concerned about appearances, and not offending anyone, than being a Church.

Rev. Reuber put it bluntly when he said The Church needs to be the Body of Christ Risen and Incarnate and VISIBLE in the world, not some namby-pamby social group that gives you a warm pink fuzzy for attending.

Both Bob and Mervyn have expressed the need for the Church to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, yet despite their voices and that of countless others echoing the same things, at heart the Church - the United Church - has become a Church that values peace and good governance over living and sharing the True Gospel.

We lack the prophetic voice.

Sound familiar??
I think I've said this before here and elsewhere.
I've been criticized for self identifying as a prophet (something I haven't done by the way - I've identified my preaching as prophetic, but like the Biblical Prophets of old, I take no credit for that, I am merely echoing and amplifying what has been placed within this vessel by the Spirit).
AND, I've been battered, beaten and rejected for daring to speak up and speak out.

Today I've been reading about the life of St Francis Xavier, and the chronology of failures and rejections he endured in his life ... yet, despite ALL of this, and his poor standing in the values of the Church of his day, he is now regarded as a Saint.

Francis didn't play well with others. His ministry was not one that was well received by the people in places of position and power, and ultimately he died rejected and marginalized by the very Church he served ... yet today a few Centuries later, he's heralded as a Saint while his critics (those who claimed to be right and just) are forgotten.

This simple reality alone should be ALL that we need in the Modern Church. The voices that have the lasting impact and that embody the change and dynamism of our faith are NOT those voices that speak from the corridors of power, or the offices of prestige and honour. Instead, real change - meaningful and FAITHFUL change comes from the margins where the prickly, the uncomfortable and the marginalized voices speak.

The SAME voices those in places of power and position desperately want to silence !!!

So, today I know in the fibre of my being that the path I've trod in the Church, even though it has been uncomfortable at times, is one that I can faithful continue to follow ... though, like anyone else I like to be given words of support from time to time, I would by far rather spend my life living and proclaiming the Gospel I find when I open my Bible and read with an open heart and mind, than spend my life grasping and grappling for approval and advancement.

The Church is not a corporation. It is however what Reverend Reuber described so aptly a decade an a half ago when he said - "it's the Body of Christ Risen and Incarnate and VISIBLE in the world, not some namby-pamby social group that gives you a warm pink fuzzy for attending"

The Church is where the Prophets need to speak out again ...

The list of topics is pretty big:
- closing of manufacturing plants in Canada and the loss of jobs

- people losing jobs and hope in the name of excessive profits

- CEO's and executives making HUGE salaries while workers struggle to put food on the table

- an impulsive consumerist culture that values stuff over people and relationships

- an environment that is collapsing under uncontrolled development

- a society obsession with a fast food diet that is anything but healthy

- the failure to pay and compensate people adequately for their work and employment

- the rising tide of hunger and poverty EVERYWHERE

- the growing wealth of the 1% and the total lack of power by the remaining 99%

- the need for housing, education and health care by more people that we can count

- the distraction from these and other issues by a media obsessed with celebrities and bling

- the lack of vision and hope ...

The list goes on and on and on ... and under lying it all is a realization that 20 years ago an American Comedian named Bill Hicks was warning us that a steady diet of KFC, McD's, and American Gladiator was an intentional attempt to distract us from reality and lull us into a place of complacency

Hicks was a prophet whether he knew it or not ... it could be perhaps because of his relatively religious upbringing, or his uncanny intelligent observation of the world around him, OR it could be because the Spirit was working through him to share with the world a message that needed to be heard.

Regardless of why - the message Hicks carried was smack on, and we ignore it twenty years later at our peril.

The prophetic voices are speaking ... and it would seem that the one place place they are not welcomed, is the one place they should be speaking the most clearly ...

This weekend, for the first time in a very very very long time, I have hope that one day the prophetic voices will once again echo from the pulpits of the United Church ...

One day I won't feel like the lone voice in the wilderness calling !!!

One day ... it will happen !!!
Thanks be to God !!

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