Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Poem by Anne Porter

A Short Testament

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I've destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death's bare branches.

"A Short Testament" by Anne Porter, from Living Things(Zoland Books).

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thinking About Reconciliation and Reform

Paul, a Jewish follower of Jesus, says: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to God's very self."

And, deep down in my heart or soul or being, it is that spirit of reconciliation that lives and brings a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It is that commmitment to true and thorough and universal reconciliation that characterizes a "follower of the way of God in Jesus." If this desire for reconciliation among human beings and groups of human beings is unquenchable in your soul, then you have been touched by something divine that is at work in this world.

When I see a person who is a filled with this spirit of reconciliation, I conclude that that person is in the way of Christ, one of those who may not have said, "Lord, Lord" to Jesus, but who does the will of Jesus' father in heaven. When I see a person who is filled with a spirit of discrimination, I conclude that that person is not in the way of Christ, one of those who may have said, "Lord, Lord" to Jesus, but who does not do the will of Jesus' father in heaven.

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Jew of the 20th century who had a profound understanding of God's will for reconciliation among humanity. The way he interpreted the prophets was in itself prophetic and the spirit of Heschel seemed so much in accordance with the spirit of those who have followed Jesus' path most faithfully.

And, I do see a good spirit and hope of reconciliation in life among many who do not have a close connection to any religious institution or tradition. Will it produce a more just society? Time will tell. On one hand, the Church needs to catch up with the freedom of spirit among the younger generations, and on the other hand, the Church needs to assume a voice with some authority in those essentials areas of human experience where so many younger people have no center of gravity, no foundation.

On one hand, I am part of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., an ordained pastor who has been active for the past 22 years. On the other hand, at many times in my life, I have felt a strong revulsion for "church" as an institution and even some trouble with the identity of "Christian" when that means identifying myself more with a group of like-minded people than with the way of the God in Jesus. I seem to have always had this strong critical force inside me that questions and criticizes all commitments, especially religious ones, and wonders if these commitments are idolatrous. It has made it fairly hard on me as a minister to have this critical voice inside, because it breaks down certainties in my own faith. But, I am coming to the point of being very grateful for this critical voice inside, because it clears away false constructions and leaves me seeking God who can never be trapped or controlled inside some human construction. But, it leaves me spending a good bit of time in the "cloud of unknowing," as a wise person once called it. To really take the first commandment to heart, means spending a lot of time in this "cloud of unknowing."

And, I think that it is in this "cloud of unknowing" that we will unite with the faith of our younger generations. As we come to this profound sense of humility and reverence before the mystery of God, those who are younger will sense that there is once again something real in church. The younger generations are tired of arrogant religious authorities, and arrogant human-centered religion that like an insurance saleman can tell you who and who does not have the eternal life insurance policy. If we can't point to something beyond "our own beliefs" and "our own projections about God," then why would anyone have an interest in church?

When we come to the point of "not knowing" and to the point of true reverence for the Holy One, our praise of God and our treatment of other people will really give encouragement and hope to other people.