I enjoy a healthy stream of articles and stories sent to me from church members. I can’t tell you how helpful and fertile that exchange is. When I wrote of the Higgs-Boson “God particle” two years ago in the Flash, I believe it was Doug Robbins who called that to my attention. A couple weeks ago Joe Pankowski sent me an eye-opening article about the role of parents in the spiritual formation of their children. That quickly became an e-mail missive to confirmation parents and mentors, reminding them of their partnership.
Last Sunday Sally Bassler rose and put forward an article from that day’s New York Times by the fine writer James Carroll. He writes from a Roman Catholic perspective in his, “Jesus and the Modern Man.” But his point is equally compelling in our Reformed context as he answers the question: why the church at all? He talks about the Roman Catholic attention to saints and Mary, the parish priest and the Knights of Columbus.
“But what’s left when, owing to intrusions of power or sex or new ideas, the ancient solidarity cracks?” Carroll asks. “Jesus is the point of all the smells, bells, rules, and dogma; the point, finally, of being Catholic. Ironically, the failures of the church make that point with power, for it is when one dares imagine the deliberate act of lapsing that the image of Jesus Christ snaps into the foreground of our focus…the man on his knees washing the feet of the poor is truly the Son of God.” We Protestants are no less lapsed.
If I had to summarize what I want in my ministry among you in one phrase, it would be to place Jesus Christ at the center of our common life, worship and service, and let his gentle, giving, triumphant love put everything in perspective, place everything in order.
“Such a retrieval of the centrality of Jesus can restore a long-lost simplicity of faith, which makes the Catholic identity—or the faith of any other church—only the means to a larger communion, not just with fellow Jesus people, but with humans everywhere,” Carroll closes this article, now posted in our Parish Hall. “All dogmas, ordinances and accretions of tradition must be measured against the example of the man who, acting wholly as a son of Israel, eschewed power, exuded kindness, pointed to one he called Father, and invited those bent over in the shadowy back to come forward to his table.”
I commend Doug’s, Joe’s, and Sally’s boldness in bringing such materials forward to our attention, placing them before all of us. Don’t worry if I will agree or disagree, or what others think. If the Spirit moves you to share something, do trust that impulse. For in our Congregational way of life, revelation and inspiration arises out of shared discernment.
By sharing we know each other better, are surprised by what we agree on, and even find holy and healthy ways to disagree, which is no small feat these days. Thank you for feeding me, feeding each other, feeding our discernments, as we find our way together.