Wednesday, June 03, 2015

God Is Calling His People Home

I have a history of ministers in my bloodline, but not as extensively as, say, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a fourth-generation preacher. My great-great-great-grandfather John Jackson Camp was a Methodist minister. My great-grandfather J.C. Smallwood was a Pentecostal minister. One of my religious mentors has consistently asked me to consider seminary, to follow in their footsteps, but I do not feel myself ready to enter the ministry yet. It is an often lonely existence, requiring frequent moving, constant uprooting and replanting, the need at times to intervene between warring members, and the crucial need to establish airtight boundaries to keep a congregation from sucking you dry. I'm not sure I can do that, yet.

Recent dialogue within my soon-to-be former Meeting has underscored the need, once again, for God. I know the whole of my audience may not be especially religious, but within the nexus of these words are the same conflicts that rip relationships of all kinds apart. It has led me recently to leave and start again, like a pilgrim, somewhere else. As Quakers say, sometimes Way can open unexpectedly, proof to us that God intercedes directly in our lives if we are receptive to his timing and not our own. I would give some variation of the same advice to anyone else who solicited it.

What might be more meaningful to a non-religious audience is an anecdote I will share with you. Though I am speaking of houses of worship, I might well be speaking to any group of people that must guard against outright rebellion and schism. It is a story that has been on my heart and mind today. This anecdote begins over thirty years ago. My father grew up Pentecostal and was certainly never going to raise his kids that way. My mother had been raised Methodist, and he found that faith more to his liking.

So when he and my mother had children of their own, they started out raising us in a Methodist church. And in the beginning, everything was fine. But after a year or so, the cracks and flaws began to show through and Dad had no patience for church politics.

So we went to a different Methodist church across town. And in the beginning, everything was fine. But after a year or so, the cracks and flaws began to show through and Dad had no patience for church politics.

So we went to another church, this one a liberal Presbyterian one. And in the beginning, everything was fine. But after a year or so, the cracks and flaws began to show through and Dad had no patience for church politics.

So we went to what was essentially a Baptist church, though it called itself officially non-denominational. And in the beginning, everything was fine. But after a year or so, the cracks and flaws began to show through and Dad had no patience for church politics.

Do you see a pattern before you?

I see these declarations made all the time, especially in internet forums. Someone gets huffy and indignant about someone else not seeing the Gospel truth according to them. Then they huff and puff and threaten to leave. Eventually, if this spiral of unresolved indignation continues, some of them do. Some people have been known to use the mere threat of departure as leverage to win a demand or concession.

Leaving prematurely decreases the effectiveness of any Meeting or gathering. I sound like a hypocrite saying this, but the situations for my own exit are very different, and not proper for this post. My days as a young adult are growing short. As defined by the Religious Society of Friends, Young Adults range from 18-35. Under that standard, I have nearly aged out. I leave Friday for my final experience as a Young Adult Friend, with no small amount of mixed feelings. Now I need to decide what I will do with the next phase of my life.

How many of us aspire to someday be the elder statesman, the one pointed to by all with reverence? Conversely, how many of us want to know the new among us, the teenagers grasping for the first time with new ideas, to observe and instruct as mentors as they grow into adulthood? How can we build from the ground up, being instructive to others who would benefit from our experiences? Though I am nowhere near old in years, I have been around long enough to know that through repetition and trial, a person learns a few things worthwhile here and there.

How many of us know that there will be no perfect system, nor philosophy, nor leaders, and always room for improvement? How many of us will not leave when the cracks and the flaws show through? And when name calling and violence should once again rear its ugly head, as it always does eventually, how many of us can distinguish between a truly abusive group or person from those that are simply a reflection of an incompatible philosophy not in tune with our own?

It's easy to make assumptions and easier still to ignore our God-given insight. If we believe, God has not abandoned us. He is for there for us in the presence of the Holy Spirit, whenever we need him. In 1 Corinthians 13, it is written thus: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." As flawed beings, even with our intellect, what we think and say and reason is incomplete and will never be known fully. Instead, we peer through puzzling reflections on a mirror wondering what they mean.

Our world is darkness unless we see the Light. My entire ministry has been to direct people back to God. As I said, I am the descendant of ministers. Their legacy courses through me with every fiber of my being. I say again. It is time to go back to God. Regardless of what past societal ill we are discussing or what unrest breaks out tomorrow, unless the clergy becomes involved, significant change never will, either. I recognize that the Religious Left has a sometimes strained relationship with many political liberals, and more than I would like to admit, these criticisms have some validity.

I have worked judiciously in both camps, having studied the Civil Rights Movement extensively in my reading, like the good Quaker that I am. As that union between clergy and the secular has fractured, so has much else. We have much to teach each other, as long as we take care to play translator on occasion and resist the tendency to think anyone needs converting. What we witnessed in Baltimore had no Martin Luther King pleading for order, nor any Bobby Kennedy pleading for order upon the assassination of Martin Luther King. In many ways, it took place like the L.A. riots of nearly twenty-five years ago. No charismatic politician or preacher got in front of an issue.

If ever was proof for the need for religion, both the results of riots and the circumstances that start them shows the need plainly. But what are required more than anything else are the need for new religious leaders, and, frankly, new leaders in general. We on the Religious Left need a new leader, a man or woman who might draw his or her own cover of Time. The headline, as I envision it, would read either Man of God or Woman of God. 

When you think of home, what images and thoughts come to mind? Is it summertime in your childhood? Is it a loved one who always makes you feel safe and secure, no matter what? Is it the grandmother who read you stories on her lap? Is it a trip in adulthood to some space that felt sacred to you, somehow? Home takes many forms. 

Though I respect my brothers and sisters who are not religious, which, I should probably add, include members of my own family, nothing would make me happier to see more of you present in a house of worship. Nothing would warm my heart more if you took your talents, skills, energy, and ambition, and harnessed them to a living tradition that is thousands of years old, especially when one considers that our country is not even 250 yet. 

Use the options given to you. God is calling his people home and, whether you believe in this statement literally or not, he has a space for you there, too. Make homes for others, friends. God doesn't care about your racial makeup or your sexual orientation. The very hairs on our heads, as it is written, are numbered. Think of how much God cares for you if he knows the existence of a single hair that you yourself may shed painlessly and never be the wiser.

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