Holly sent me a quote this week. It read:
“It is not the task of Christianity to provide us with easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge, as the cause of our wonder.”
The author of this delightful and pointed insight was the Most Reverend Kallistos Ware, the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Metropolitan in Great Britian and the Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University from 1966 to 2001.
Can you appreciate his point? Whoever promised that faith or the church were going to make living your life easier? The promise is that it will make it much richer (though not necessarily in a material way!).
The church, an assembly of real, live human beings — who undeniably reflect some of the mystery of God! …and hence will always remain somewhat of a mystery, even to themselves… Humans trying to focus on God will always involve a good dollop of the unknowable too. Or at least few easy answers…
But on another level, I hope that the church is one of the more transparent institutions in our day and age. …That we are about our real lives openly and willing to talk about just anything… An article I read this morning, by my colleague Lillian Daniel, was entitled “Your Christianity Is Only as Real as You Are.” It’s a good read, and I recommend it to you too.
Church will always include the mysteries that we humans and God bring to it. But otherwise, it’s no secret club or cabal to which you should have to be initiated. And really there’s not much point in faking our lives, pretending to be churchier or holier or more together than we are just because we think that’s church.
The traditions and the rituals, the ethos and the process, the decision-making and the goals… these should be as clear as possible, such that everyone can easily identify them, relate to them, and comfortably and beneficially participate in this community, however and whenever it makes the most sense for them.
We are about to have another New Members’ Class. (If you are interested in joining, please let me know, or just show up after worship on Oct. 30.) And thinking about how we welcome and assimilate folks into our community, I raise this ideal of transparency.
The class isn’t any arcane induction to some gnostic cult. And it’s no more a test than the Affirmations of Faith we use in worship on Sundays. Rather, we offer the class just to make sure that whatever questions you have, you get them answered (if there is an answer!). There can be no stupid questions because we want you to know whatever it is you need to ask in order to find your place and church home among us.
And because we are all at least a little different, everyone will need to know something different. Someone might want to see last year’s financial balance sheets or the Annual Meeting Minutes before they join. While another needs to know the history of the church. Or what prayer is really about.
One person might want to know what the Elders really do? Or do we really believe that there is some life after death? “How much should I really put in the plate each week?” “Why don’t we use alcohol here at church, even for communion?” “How can queer folks be welcome — and a gay man be the pastor — when the bible says…” “Why aren’t we using the organ?” “Was Mary really a virgin?” “Can I contribute to the Capital Campaign?” “Can I join if I’m not sure I believe everything?” “Why do I see different people every time I come to church?” “Do I need to be baptized?” “I don’t know the Bible very well…” “Was Handel’s Messiah really performed for the first time in North America at Old First?” “Do people really care about each other in this community?” “What’s a SLG?” “Will I be smothered here?” “What does Doxology or Gloria Patri mean, and why might they be important?” “What is really being expected of me?” “Do others find their minds wandering sometimes during worship?”
There’s no wrong question. No question that shouldn’t be asked? No answer we’ll hold back, even if you touch on something that’s sort of sensitive or embarrassing. I remember a New Members’ Class where two prospective members got in a fairly heated fight. It felt ragged and rough. When they were finished, I simply said, “I remind you that none of us, nor this community is perfect; there are disagreements all the time and hurt feelings sometimes. But we don’t believe that’s a sign of a problem; God’s here still, even when we aren’t getting along.” After the class, one woman who’s gone on to become a central member told me, “That was the moment I decided there was room here for me.”
I hope we will be welcoming more people into this community. Not because we’re perfect, but because even unfinished, we still have something real to add to people’s lives…
See you in church (and remember to wear pink as we mark Breast Cancer Awareness Sunday),