« Christianity 2005 »

I just had a fascinating and fulfilling week of church related holy week stuff. I record the services at my church, and have done so for two and a half years now. Holy week is a big deal, at least in terms of recording, editing, archiving, and uploading to the web site. There are services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course on Easter. And, since I not only attend, but I also take the recordings home to edit and tidy them up for publication, I get to hear everything at least once more.

Now, I gotta be straight with you. My church is not to be confused with the brand of Christianity that has been making the news lately in national politics. And, I've said it before, that I would have little or no interest in going to church were it not for this particular church that I was born into, and have been a member of off and on for years, and of course, I met Kelli there. I have a long history with the place and the people, but sort of spotted. For years I doubted everything Christian, and stayed away even from this congregation for over 10 years. Finally something about 9/11 changed that and I went back, in the same week as Kelli and I started dating. So, for me, my conscious choice to attend is rooted in 9/11 and the change that came after then, as well as some personal issues that needed to be dealt with.

The United Church of Christ is the denomination. The UCC is an odd bird among churches these days. The name is descriptive enough, and enough to actually be sort of frightening to some. The 'united' part is a little off putting to some because the UCC is a denomination that doesn't run from diversity. The UCC runs counter to patriarchal, homogeneous church history. The UCC is as likely to have gays, blacks, or women not only participating in worship, but among the clergy itself. Of course this is too much for many branches of Christianity today, especially in this country. It's inflammatory. We don't hear sermons on hellfire and damnation. We don't keep count with the Rapture Index, we are pro choice, we are a lot of things that you probably don't expect in a Christian church these days.

Our particular minister, Jerry Lawritson, is tremendously well studied in Hebrew and Christian sacred texts, and the history that surrounds the events they consist of. He has strong knowledge of a huge range of things in the fields of philosophy and the humanities. Jerry is dizzyingly good. He gets great respect from his peers. And, from our congregation too. We only number about 40 on most any given week, but our roster is larger. Jerry will deliver great work no matter who or how many is in the audience. This week was just great in that regard. Part of why I volunteered to record the services was so that I could hear his work again and again. He has also been a great friend for most of the last 20 years, and has done a lot to enrich my life directly. Recording and preserving his work is sort of a thank you to him, and a good way for me to get a nice clear opportunity to hear messages that run so contrary to popular sentiment—the sort that is demeaning and nihilistic.

When people think of Christianity today, I believe the first image to come to mind is the so called "religious right." What a shame. Thats like associating Hitler's nationalism with the finest in patriotism. The UCC does not, I repeat, does not, echo most of what the religious right is known for these days. And for good reason. The religious right as we know it today is a disgrace. It is a disgrace to Christianity as a whole. Why? Well, let's remember who is supposed to be the head guy in the Church. Christ. And let's remember that he was not into dividing people. He was not into demeaning people. He was not a patriot. He was not in bed with the political establishment. He was not a white man. He was not an English speaker. He was not a lot of things that the religious right has determined he was. Everything he stood for was bigger than we can truly understand. And, as Jerry would say, he could not be made to fit in a box for easy consumption. He cannot be reduced to talking points. His message was about how to live up to our full humanity. The heaven on earth of which he spoke was one that would be had and enjoyed if people would just give up the useless and destructive forces of violence, oppression, hatred, and everything else that keeps us from living the lives God intended. The business of being born again is about finding a new way to live without all that nonsense, allowing us to find that heaven on earth by our cooperation and love.

That is the message I got. I could be wrong, or I could be missing something. I don't think Jesus sent his people out into the world to sow more hatred and violence. He didn't urge divisiveness or discrimination. I think he would be offended highly if he were to see what is going on in his name these days. I am. Lots of people are. His church, his following, has been hijacked by the nutcases that parade around spewing filth that does exactly the opposite of what he sought to accomplish.

I was thinking about the name that these people take on for themselves: Fundamentalist Christians. Then I thought, 'nothing of the sort!' I think they are neither fundamentalists nor are they Christians! Were they to be fundamentalists, they would be protesting the war, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick (of all sorts, not just their own), fighting for dignity in every form, everywhere. They'd be doing all they could to make life more livable. They'd be tearing down systems of bigotry and corruption. They'd be preserving their environments. They'd be allowing all people the opportunity to serve and be served. But is that what we see happening? Those are the fundamentals of Christianity, but the ones who claim to be fundamentalists don't seem to be living by those guidelines. What I take from my experience and budding knowledge is that Christianity is for good. Jerry reminded us that Christians, when at their worst, can be some of the worst people on the earth, but then when they are at their best, could be the best people on the earth. I don't see how Billy Graham leading a bunch of bible thumpers to support a massive Middle East war in the name of bringing the second coming of Christ is a good thing. That is so selfish and wrong on every level. So wrong it's stupid. For one, it is the high point of selfishness that people should want to do things in their own interest, and I can't think of anything more absurd and self absorbed than doing something just so that you can go to heaven. Sorry, but cheering on a Middle East crisis to bring on Armageddon so that you can go to sit at the right hand of God is about as absurd as anything I could possibly be told in my lifetime. Could there be anything more SELFISH?

True Christianity is about being humble and serving, and recognizing the humanity in everyone. No one should do something so that they can go to heaven. Whatever good to be done should be done because good needs to be done. Where I come from, fighting evil is done by doing good. It's a way of disarming evil. War will never disarm evil. Scaring people will never make people faithful servants. Everything about the so-called Christians of today just is so backwards and upside down. It's insulting. In fact, they have it so backwards, when the UCC put out a commercial in December with an aim to raise awareness of the denomination, the national networks (CBS and NBC) refused to play it. They considered it "too controversial." What it was was an ad that had people lined up outside a big church, as if it were a nightclub, with bouncers who would let certain people in, and bar others from admission. Bouncers in black T shirts and headsets would let the pastel-clad white southern Baptist looking folk in, and blocked the gay men, blacks, latinos, and disabled. Then the commercial cuts to a montage of different people representing most of humanity's varieties with a voice over with the message "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we..." and some other lines about whoever you are, you are welcome in the UCC. All that was too controversial for network television. Funny though, and very surprising was that FOX played the ad!

I don't like to engage in talk of "us and them" but it is hard not to. I need to do it to defend my faith now. There is far more to Christianity than memorizing the Bible and being able to recite it at will in any scenario in which you find yourself. There is more to Christianity than protesting at abortion clinics and singing jingoistic praise songs with other white people. There is more to Christianity than just checking the box on every Republican running for office. I just want to remind people that there is a world of Christians out there who never make the news, never really sway politics, never really get known. But they are doing something that matters. They are doing something that makes someone's life better, whether their physical neighbor or someone on the other side of the world. There are Christians who really believe the world is worth saving at every cost. There are people like that who are just as entitled to call themselves Christians as those who are praying fervently to have the world come to its unnatural end. Bill Moyers recently went on record saying that he finds it too much to stomach that a group of people who are set on seeing the end of history are the ones who are in power now, in the world's most powerful nation. He says people who have no plans for a human future have no business running this country. Amen to that. He reminded us that while the ideas bandied about in the evangelical circle is nothing new, he does worry that what used to be some nuts on the fringe of society now are the ones running the nation, making policy, and that is the new development. Scary. And those people just don't share my vision. They probably don't share yours either. They hijacked the Christian church. As a lifelong UCC member, I would like to be a part of hijacking it back because I can say that from my careful listening to a few years of sermons, it just doesn't seem that these jokers could be right. They can just do a better job of persuading people because they have greater numbers and are well organized. But they are full of fault and are generally off the mark, when measured against what Christ really was about.

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