I have been thinking about the state of the church lately, about my own relationship to the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic faith, and my relationship to the church tradition in which I have been raised and nurtured for the whole of my life. I have been thinking about all those Sunday mornings sleep still in our eyes, a Merle Haggard song playing on the 8 track, my dad driving my sister and me to the little Church of God in Hermitage, Tennessee where he himself had worshipped as a boy.
Scholarship, the blogosphere and mainstream media agree these are trying times for the Christian Church for mainline and free, Baptist and Anglican, Methodist and Pentecostal. For the thirty-something crowd and generations younger, the church battered and besieged, has been found wanting; marred by scandal, political agenda, and worse yet, the turning of a deaf ear to the poor and marginalized among us.
I ponder the beginnings of my own tradition, born of Christ and Wesley and Holiness. This Free Church, this bastion of autonomy was conceived in Spirit by our pioneers as the inheritance of the New Testament. Though our beginnings were radical, a flame with justice and evangelism, the message carried on the backs of revival preaching women and men who floated up and down the rivers welcoming all into the family of God, we have not remembered our beginnings well. Today we are fractured and fragile; we are neither structured nor free; our leadership aches for the beauty of diversity.
For those of us who still stand on the inside of the brick and mortar structures where steeples press high into the heavens, perhaps it is incumbent upon us to look out into the world and confess what is true. We have worked hard to tame the fire and glory of the Gospel until we feel safe in our auditoriums built on the green hills of the suburbs. We need to confess that we’re sorry for being locked up inside ourselves for so long and return to the business of Christ, to the hard work of love.
I think about why I’m still here, why I always come back and it has nothing to do with doctrine or piety rather it has to do with love. As I look back on the formation of my own soul, I don’t remember a lot of sermons. I do not find finger prints of lessons or doctrinal dialogue in the red clay there.
What I do remember is Miss Ellie, the pastor’s, wife helping me out of the baptismal waters and wrapping me with a fluffy apricot towel. I remember Uncle Noah carrying candy in his pockets every Sunday and how he’d lean on his cane and offer you a caramel square just for asking politely. I remember Lori who took me on my first mission’s trip to the Andes Mountains; I remember leaving all the clothes we brought with us for the poor and needy there. I remember the names and faces and hearts of those who have stood with me through all the great moments and losses of my life. I remember love.
I find the more I grow the more I become concerned with little else. I have no time for keeping fastidiously to rules and regulations, I know now that I am simply unable to earn God’s favor; God’s love for me just is. I believe in grace that is deep and wide, just like the fountain in the song; I believe in the two hundred and twenty second chance, I believe that the workers who arrive late are paid the same wage as those who have been digging and planting and pressing in the fields all day long. I wonder if this was the message and banner of the Church would we find ourselves so lost today?
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