While Pastor Michael is on sabbatical, our weekly E-pistle will be written by different individuals. This week’s E-pistle is by Barry Evans, an Old First Regular Attendee…
When I moved from the suburbs to Old City two years ago, one of my first objectives was to find a church. I had been an Episcopalian all my life and a priest and educator in the church for almost 50 years. In my retirement I was looking for something different. As soon as I attended worship at Old First, I found my new church. I loved the emphasis on human relations and diversity. In worship what struck me most were the hymns. The music was familiar, but the words were different. My old hymns emphasized heaven; the new hymns reminded me that I needed to love people who are different from me. I liked that. I realized that I was just beginning to understand and live the meaning of Love First. Still, I wondered if the pendulum had shifted too far, leaving insufficient attention my relation to God.
Before I attending Old First, I had been studying with a group of residents at Foulkeways retirement community a program called Jesus the Forgiving Victim, based on videos of James Alison. I found Alison’s videos and his books thrilling. They overturned my theological thinking. Here are some of the components. Rather than understanding the Bible as a “religious” book, I learned that it is a random collection of people’s ideas and stories collected over centuries and compiled over time. Although there are a few accounts of direct appearances of God, mostly it is about people’s perceptions of God, sometimes attributing to God their own desires. Within its pages the Bible struggles to deal with sacrifice and scapegoats as methods of providing temporary calm to troubled communities. These included not only actual human sacrifices but also other violence and war. When Jesus was arrested, the people decided to sacrifice him. He had become a threat, and people decided that it was in their best interest to crucify him. Even his own disciples abandoned him. I imagined that these disciples would lose their allegiance to Jesus, but after his death they realized that his presence continued. A new spirit brought them together and strengthened their commitment. They developed a movement that we call Christianity.
Because of Old First, I am left with are two parallel directions in my religious journey. Both are impossible to perfect, yet worth pursuing. I have much to learn about loving my neighbor, especially those who are different from me. At the same time, I have a lot to learn about scriptures and the experience of God. I look forward to sharing my journey in this church.