Sunday, March 22, 2009

Open-Armed Adventures…

I’m of conflicted mind and heart when churches take votes. On the one hand, my idealistic inner child wants us all to just get along, you know, to decide through consensus and commonly articulated vision. That’s not because people who vote opposite one another automatically become enemies (I’ve eaten dinner with Democrats, and Republicans, at the same time!). We can disagree about what’s best for the church’s future and, most of the time, get along. Still, I worry that vote taking in churches sometimes devolves into “whomever speaks first or loudest wins,” making the vision cast by the vote not a shared vision. That hints at hierarchy and systems of dominance, and makes me nervous.

On the other hand, as an American preacher, I’ve long nurtured a respect for democracy. Every time I vote in civil elections, I light up with happiness, even when my gal/guy loses. Because the opportunity to weigh in on this country’s direction is a cherished responsibility/freedom. Same thing happens for church votes; it feels like a chance for all members to share in discerning God’s call. Therefore, I rarely think anyone votes ‘no’ to an issue at hand. Rather, I find most often that person is voting ‘yes’ for an alternative vision of the church-they-love’s future.

On another other hand, church votes remind me of what I love best about my denomination. And what makes being a Disciple of Christ tough. Some of y’all might remember when the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) officially became a denomination in 1967, with the approval of a ‘church constitution,’ The Design. Sure, our movement began in the early 19th century, but formal incorporation came later. In my opinion, what’s inspiring/scary about The Design is that it bets the farm, the bank, and our very future as an entity on one crucial claim: church happens when the people make it so.

Notice I didn’t write, “when pastors preach,” or “when some of the people make it so.” At the root of our denominational structure is the bold idea that we need each other, everyone, for this adventure to work. In church-speak, the term is ‘maximal lay involvement.’ In Christianese, it means that if church isn’t working for ‘the least of these,’ it isn’t working like it needs to. In plain English, I’m saying that without everyone’s contribution, this boat doesn’t sail right.

Take the basic Disciple of Christ claim of respect for individual freedom, and each person’s right to interpret the Bible as s/he feels led. What makes that Christian is that it reflects Paul’s profound conclusion in Galatians 5:1- “For freedom Christ has set us free.” What makes that Church is it asserts we all participate, that we share the insights, conclusions and dreams God puts on our hearts. Otherwise, we’d all think to ourselves whatever we want, never challenging one another or holding ourselves accountable to our neighbors’ experience of God’s love. And that would not be community.

Which brings me back to church votes, more particularly last Sunday’s vote. Thank you for doing that, by the way, regardless what you voted for. The vote reminded me again, that church happens when people make it so. You each, in your own way, weighed in on what this church means, and staked a claim in working for its future. If you weren’t here, please know that your fellow members took seriously the direction of the church you hold dear, and committed to welcoming your participation in our common work this next year. In both form and substance, the vote expressed the best of what Disciples, especially Plymouth Creek, do together. It affirmed that this ministry is our ministry. Thus, we covenanted to a process of spiritual growth that needs everyone’s voice, especially if you’re nervous, uncertain or downright skeptical about this process (please let me know). In words from our 2009 theme, the vote added new shape to God’s open-armed adventure with us. It articulated a call to stretch our arms wider to one another and our communities. Since any opening of arms in love is surely a faithful act, about that love I have no conflict of mind, and it puts my heart at peace. In all things,

Grace and Peace,

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