We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, December 2, 2013

Standing with Jesus — Where?

As should be clear in this series of postings (beginning here), Tom Ehrich's article, "COMMENTARY: Sunday mornings are broken, has left me feeling hot and cold all at the same time.  On the one hand, it is thought provoking, which is a helpful thing.  Ehrich calls on churches, their leaders, and pastors to think again about what is important and not take for granted even something as central and basic as Sunday morning worship.  He points out alternative directions including one I haven't addressed in my responses but is vitally important: small groups.

On the other hand, his arguments leave much to be desired, which can be seen by the final point in his five point plan for the future.  Summing up the article in this fifth point, he counsels us to, "stand where Jesus stood: on the margins, in solidarity with people, speaking truth to power, risking everything to declare hope and healing. Such a faith experience would transform lives and heal a broken world."

OK.  On a first reading, that sounds good.  Bold.  Christ-like.  It has the right words in it: "margins," "solidarity," "truth to power," "risk," "hope," "healing," and "transformation".  Still, it feels trendy and filled with right-sounding jargon.  Discerning what it means in the real world where churches struggle to pay the pastor and heat the sanctuary is another thing entirely.

It is fine to challenge us to "stand where Jesus stood," but we live in a time radically unlike the first century faced with issues and circumstances that wouldn't have made sense fifty years ago let alone two thousand.  We have to find the place where Jesus would have stood had he lived in our time, which is not always an easy thing to do esp. for local churches each located in a unique place facing unique situations.  In those situations, the clarion call to "speak to power" is usually best done over lunch at the local diner depending of course on who the power is and what they hold power over.

And risk everything?  There is not a church in America and very few pastors that are going to do that, and they shouldn't.  It is bad advice at best.  Wisdom counsels us to manage risks and live to fight again another day.  We are called to walk that fine difficult line between compromise that is cowardice and boldness that is ineffective.  Ehrich seems to be enjoining his readers to risk big "C" Crucifixion like Christ, when the thing we all need to learn is how to embrace small "c" crucifixions that in one way or another will make a difference.  If the big "R" Resurrection is to have any real meaning in the world, it has to be through the small "r" resurrections wise and discreetly bold risk takers experience when they court crucifixions for the sake of the gospel.

It's not that Ehrich's advice on this final point is wrong so much as it is simplistic even for a brief article.  Following Christ in the real world requires wisdom, patience, and a perceptive understanding of local realities.  It understands that speaking to power can mean many different things and that there are varying degrees of risk, some of which are not worth taking and others simply need not be taken.