Category Archives: Inner Guadalupe Coming Out
I’ve been thinking about this panel discussion on healing which I’ve been invited to participate in tomorrow at St. Paul’s in San Miguel. I’m billed as a former Christian Science practitioner, a profession/denomination usually referred to as “those people who don’t go to doctors.” Right. I didn’t. Then I did. Now not so much anymore. It’s ironic that sometimes your credibility increases when you’ve failed spectacularly at something. One question I’ve been asking myself these past few days is “When was I healed of being a racist?” And “Am I well and truly healed?”
It’s time to speak about this. I hope I can do it with compassion for myself, for my parents (who are both gone), and for anyone who happens to read this. The events of the past few days, particularly the words and actions of the “leader of the free world,” have evoked a visceral reaction in me that I’ve been loathe to voice, mainly because I look at those tiki-torch bearers, and think “There but for the grace of God…”
I’m not going to say “go I,” because if you notice, they were all men carrying those torches. Now that’s a whole other riff, but not one I’m going to pursue at this moment. For now I’m sticking with blatant racism. I would dearly love to see some healing take place along these lines. I speak as one who has been in that fire.
I like to think that when push came to shove, my father and brother and uncles would not have been in such a crowd. But let’s just say that sweeping racial generalizations and stereotypical judgments were pretty standard fare in our house. Dad and Mom were ardent Goldwater supporters, and in 1967, (this is so difficult) Dad was the local poll representative for George Wallace’s American Independent Party.
There. I’ve said it. But I need to say more, because at the time I thought my Daddy was the smartest man in the world and if anyone thought differently, I at least didn’t hear them voice what needed to be said then and needs to be — no, must be said now. Dad was wrong, wrong, wrong. And my mother was wrong when she questioned President Obama’s birth certificate, and when she said Michelle didn’t “look like” a first lady.
I loved these people. They loved me and I believe on the whole they raised me well. Many would say I don’t need to say these things about them now, raking up the rotten and exposing the yuck. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in these last few years of studying history on sight, it’s that the most important stories, the ones that most affect the course of countries and of the world, are seldom written down.
My purpose in writing this story down now is that I know from my own experience, that racism can be healed. I hope I stand as living proof. I have to admit that even as I write this, a nagging inside voice says “Don’t be a Pollyanna. We’re not going to get through this by joining hands and singing Cum By Ya.” (or however you spell it.) But my higher self asks me to consider the alternative: As a people, the American people, we need to hold to the fact that healing does happen — even when confronted with all those young white male fire-lit faces in Charlottesville. Racism has to be recognized, called out and condemned as evil. That’s where Number 45 has failed so miserably. But despite what anyone else does or doesn’t do, we ourselves can make an effort to follow the Jesus-example. He cast out the demons, and healed the individuals. He didn’t fight fire with more fire or fury. He snuffed out insanity with his unconditional love and moral authority.
So in this healing process, I have to start work with myself and my history. I have to recognize where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and acknowledge how far I have to go. I have to cherish every honest human heart, even though that heart is misdirected, misguided and mistaken. That goes especially for my own. We human beings are always works in progress.
My parents did raise me to “seek truth righteously,” even if in retrospect there was a lot more self-righteousness in their manner of seeking than any of us recognized at the time. But because of this innate love of truth, the opinions I so passionately parroted in junior high and high school quickly became cringe-worthy and repugnant when I was actually exposed to and engaged with people of color in college and in the workplace. I trust, I hope, and I pray that Mom and Dad have moved on in their life-after-life experience like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. In the meantime, on this side, I will continue with deeper attention to the prayer I learned in the Sunday School they sent me to, Mary Baker Eddy’s “daily prayer:”
“Thy kingdom come.”
Let the reign of divine Truth, Life and Love be established in me,
And rule out of me all sin.
And may Thy word enrich the affections of all mankind,
And govern them.
Well, it’s pretty easy to be grateful when you’ve got Facebook Friends by the minute wishing you a happy birthday, and memories like this one from last year cropping up. (As I post this, I realize I’m wearing the exact same shirt today as I did one year ago, so I’ll start out by saying I’m grateful I still (choose one) a) like my clothes, b) fit in my clothes. Oh, heck. I’ll choose both.
This was taken in France in the company of a group of remarkable women and a few fine men. Many of you know that I’ve been traveling these past five years on the trail of early Christian history in Europe. Travels have taken me to Turkey, Spain, England and France. Especially France. Such special stories from France, all ultimately centered around Mary Magdalene. For those of you who are not familiar with Mary Magdalene’s history and presence in France, maybe if I say “Madeleine” instead, the pieces may fall into place. Yep, that wonderful church in Paris where all the fashionable weddings take place. Yep, that cockle-shelled cookie the crumbling of which launched Marcel Proust on his 3,000 page epic A La Recherché Du Temps Perdu — Remembrance of Things Past. Why am I “mansplaining?” You people have read The DaVinci Code. But before that, there was Margaret Starbird and her Woman with the Alabaster Jar, as well as all the research done by Kathleen McGowan which resulted in her bestselling Magdalene series of historical novels. (Kathleen is who I’ve been traveling with this summer and the two prior.) My point is, Marie Madeleine, Mary Magdalene, Maria Magdalena, is in the spiritual DNA of southern France and much of Western Europe.
I’m going to be writing more about Mary Magdalene, a lot more. Turns out she’s in my spiritual DNA, as well. I first encountered her in the Christian Science Sunday School where every Easter Sunday I could look forward to a new scratchy petticoat and singing one of my favorite hymns. The first verse goes:
What brightness dawned in resurrection/And shown in Mary’s wondering eyes? Her heart was thrilled with new affection/She saw her Lord in Life arise.
I liked that idea of light reflecting back out of a woman’s “wondering eyes.” There was a lot I had started “wondering” about, myself. Still wondering, if truth be told.
My birthday misses her Feast Day (tomorrow) by just one day. It was funny, or “coincidental” (you know what they say about that word…) that out of that group of around forty people, there were four of us with birthdays on July 21, and three with birthdays on July 22. We each got a cupcake with a candle. Kind of sweet and special.
So winding up this edition of my gratitude journal, I’m grateful that my husband wanted to do something special for me this evening, and I’m grateful I had the courage to say what I really, really want: order in pizza, early into jammies, and a night of binge-watching Outlander. (I know! I know! But I’ve just found it!). I’m grateful I love my life and my husband so much I just want it to go on and on like this. Blessings on your day!
In the interest of sanity (mine) I am starting a gratitude journal. I’ve done this in years past, but I need it now more than ever. This time, though, I’m not going to choose some pretty blank volume that I’ve bought on impulse and whose blank pages serve as a constant rebuke. I’ve got a blog I’ve not been using. I’m going public with this, hoping my friends and followers will hold me accountable. Please! Rattle my cage if you don’t see something I’ve written filled with joy coming up on your screen, let’s say, well….at least three times a week. I know JOURnal means daily. I don’t want to set myself an impossible standard. I promise they’ll be short. Not like this one. Brace yourself.
The truth is I’ve found it really hard to write anything since the final days of the campaign and then the cold water shock of the result. Everything seemed to draw my attention back to the Elephant in the news. I’ve felt like the energy has been sucked out of me. Oh, I’ve signed petitions and occasionally marched in the streets, but basically I’ve read the lamentations of others and nodded in agreement. There has been no lack of opportunity to indulge this recent tendency of mine.
It has to stop. None of it has made me feel effective.
Now, I know these gratitude journals work. I’ve used them before in the face of frivolous lawsuits, federal red tape, unjust circumstances of all stripes. WHY they’ve worked I never analyzed, until several years ago, I found this in Eugene Peterson’s translation of a section of the Sermon on the Mount. Here’s the way he puts Jesus’ words:
You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”
The “energies of prayer,” may be just what I need. It is no secret to those who know me, that before and after the election, the enemy I’ve had in my head has been Donald Trump and those who surround and support him. I’ve found a lot to be angry about. Honk if you agree. I’m not quite ready to say I’m capable of “loving” that enemy. But perhaps I can learn to love the opportunity that enemy presents. Here’s how I’ve evolved to this point.
I caught myself the other day laughing gleefully, rejoicing in another example of STUPIDITY by the current administration. I think it was an article about no one having thought to make hotel reservations for the U.S. delegation to the G20 Summit, and how 45 and his wife were sleeping in the guest house of the Hamburg city government instead of at The Four Seasons, and others in the delegation were finding accommodations wherever they could — like in the U.S. Consulate. True or not, I thought it was hilarious. Then I caught my breath mid-haha.
The problem with being raised with an intimate acquaintance of the Bible, is that relevant verses keep surfacing to bite you in the butt when you get off track. What came to mind in the middle of my laughter was that litany of things in First Corinthians, Chapter 13. (Not “Corinthians One,” as our illustrious leader….Oh, God, please help me. I can’t resist! Do you see why I need to do this?!) Anyway, there in that chapter is a list of things that LOVE (also referred to as “charity,” “affection” in various translations) doesn’t do. There are sixteen, more or less. Down there in the middle is one about not rejoicing when things go bad for others.
Now don’t get me wrong. I hope things go bad, REALLY bad, for those who have connived, lied, and worked against the interests of democracy, or are standing by like cowards, making excuses while others do it. I’m not about covering up wrong doing and “moving on.” What I’m concerned about is what this constant barrage of bad news is doing to me, on a personal, individual level. Since when have I become the kind of person to be constantly looking for the next example of idiocy and taking pleasure in it? Yech!
“The abiding consciousness of wrongdoing, tends to destroy the ability to do right.”
I love the English language. It’s one of the few idioms where a writer can write abstractly without pointing a finger at YOU or at ME, or even at HIM or THEM. Mary Baker Eddy, when she wrote that statement I’ve put in quotations above, didn’t say WHOSE abiding consciousness. It could pertain to any individual, any culture, any mental or moral atmosphere. I know it pertains to me. It’s probably played a part in this stagnation I’ve been experiencing.
Well, this is me, “responding with the energies of prayer.” Anne Lamott says there are three kinds: Help! Help! Help! is the first. Please! Please! Please! is the second. I’m moving right into the third: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
First entry in this prayer-filled gratitude journal:
I’m grateful for having set up this blog, and grateful for God giving you the patience to read this far. More to come.
“So what did you learn about yourself in India?”
Maybe that’s the question I’ve been waiting to hear, the nudge to finally get me to put into words what that trip last month meant to me. Thanks, Dilia. Saturday night was fun, but your question really got me thinking.
A few days ago, The New York Times ran an article about the temperature in Rajasthan reaching 123.8 Fahrenheit; they invited readers in India to share how they were coping with the heat. I haven’t checked the responses. Who reads in that kind of heat? Who moves? Who thinks? Who writes to The New York Times? No one gets “used” to that kind of temperature. It was much cooler five weeks ago when I was there, but when I did finally start writing in my journal, the first words were “I would rather stay here in a darkened hotel room and write about India, than to actually go out the door and be in India. India is waiting out there, for I see its white hot light seeping under the drawn drapes.” Such was my state of thought.
Let me be clear. I am very glad I went. I would do it differently next time, if there is a next time. I’m grateful I did it this way this time. But it was exhausting. My friend Penny who spent five weeks in Jaipur (heart of the heat wave) during November and December a year or so ago, had a totally different experience than this whirlwind tour of mine. She spoke of wearing a light sweater, walking unimpeded to the corner of the block where she was staying and negotiating a tuk-tuk to take her to the center of town where she could wander in the shops at a leisurely pace. She went to a yoga class every morning in the temple a block away. She took walks in the big park next door to the inn where she stayed the whole time. She took the time to really get to know India.
No one (that means me) who flies into Delhi, spends one night there, two nights in Agra and two nights in Jaipur, all in four star hotels, can claim to “know” anything about India. I saw India. I’ve written briefly about the main attractions that impressed me. Our small group saw most of them in early morning light. We would arrive about seven in the morning and be making our exit between ten and eleven, emerging into teeming hordes of aggressive vendors and less aggressive sightseers.
We spent a lot of time on the bus. I have photos of teeming streets in old Delhi, tree and park-lined streets of New Delhi, and everywhere traffic.
We looked down on tuk-tuks, pushcarts, and thousands of scooters and cycles, motorized and not.
From that privileged vantage point high above and far-removed in air-conditioned comfort, I caught glimpses of monkeys, elephants, camels and cattle not only in the country side, but moving through the city streets of both Delhis, Agra, Jaipur and points in between. Our bus drove on the left side of the road, like they do in England. We used four lane highways going from one major town to the next, but local traffic in the country uses the same four lane highway for local purposes, staying in the outside lane, walking, driving, herding cattle, going whichever direction is convenient. It gets crowded. I closed my eyes a lot.
There were fourteen of us on a bus that would seat more than twice that many, so we were able to move around and spread out. No one could really sleep, write, or read, as the pavement was, shall we say, “challenging.” Nor was the bus of the same standard I’ve experienced with other Smartours tours. Padding in the seats was minimal, the seats were small, and the glass in the windows was neither tempered nor tinted. But our travel conditions were so far above what the masses around us were experiencing, that to even take notice of these finer points seems churlish.
I will mention the rock that someone hurled at us, which crashed through one of those un-tempered windows, showering glass in the seat beneath. It was the window two back from the driver and one back from where our guide, Arvind, was sitting. The seat was vacant. No one was hurt, but the incident was upsetting to us all. Was it merely unsupervised children after school? That was the explanation offered. Perhaps. But maybe our latent guilt at being so obviously separate from those around us made us think it might have been more. I for one felt rattled.
“The problem is,” my travel mate Marilyn counseled me, “is that you have no barriers. You engage too much. Even when you say ‘no,’ you are still engaged.” She was right. I can’t be surrounded by so much humanity and not “engage,” mentally, if not physically. At 5’10” and totally white-headed, I definitely stood out in the Indian crowds. I felt like a lighthouse with waves crashing around my base. I defended myself by moving into an ivory tower in my head and moving my body forward. Marilyn, consciously or not, had assumed the role of my protector. She of equal height as the aggressors met them eye to eye. “Shoo!” she would say. “Go away!” Words I could not utter from my exalted height without seeming like a bully.
That was the dynamic we’d adopted when on our next to last day we ventured out after lunch to buy spices in Jaipur. We had spotted the little shop a block and a half away from the hotel. We negotiated the short distance without incident, and entered the dusty half light, the air redolent of meals we dreamed of making in our own kitchens at home. We poured over the directions for preparing curry and tandoori chicken. A new shipment of saffron had just arrived. We shelled out rupees for tiny little cases of the tiny little threads. The shopkeeper prepared us tea. It was like a ritual: one cardamom pod, one thread of saffron, and a few chips of cinnamon bark in each cup. It required time to steep. We settled in and bought more – black rock salt from the Himalayas, a chai tea mix so strong it requires only a quarter of a teaspoonful for every two cups of water and milk. Almost an hour later we emerged, precious packets of future indulgence wrapped in pink plastic bags. Now this was the India I’d dreamed about, the India I wanted to carry home! Safe India.
We blinked in the blazing sun outside the shop. The crowds were formidable, the noise overwhelming, the distance back to the hotel longer than we remembered. That’s when one small piece of Indian humanity attached himself to me. I would guess that from his size that he was four or five, but he was probably older. He grasped a wad of my skirt in his little fist and trotted alongside me to match my stride. “Missy, Missy, Missy,” was all I could decipher of what he was saying. Marilyn tried shooing. He grasped tighter. I looked down at him, but he didn’t meet my eyes. He was like a little automaton, repeating his mantra. I breathed hard and looked around as I plowed forward. There were other children watching us. I realized that if I stopped, opened my purse or reached into my pocket it would be like feeding the seagulls in Galveston. And it would all be useless. Marilyn and I soldiered on, and finally, escaped into the hotel.
But I didn’t escape that little boy. I felt helpless and sad. It was like the feelings that had been hanging heavy around me during our trip condensed into one heavy cloud. I was miserable. I dreamed about him that night, realizing that under the current circumstances, there was nothing humanly I could have done to help that one child. It wasn’t a comfort. I woke the next morning, our last day in India, eager to head home. What right did I have to swoop into this country, take in the sights, do a little shopping and blithely take my leave? I had joked about this tour, admitting to being unabashedly shallow in this approach. I wanted it that way. This was a “bucket list” trip, purely for my own indulgence. I wanted to “see” India. I didn’t want to be touched by it.
Marilyn and I went down to the hotel pool while it was still cool. She swam while I sat in the shade, thinking about the day we had before us. We were to get on the bus at 11:30, drive six hours to Delhi, have a farewell dinner and then be dropped at the airport. Our flight back to JFK would leave at 2:30 a.m. for an early morning arrival in New York. Lots of hours, lots of travel. We savored this last little bit of cool serenity. I was more than ready to leave.
At 8:30, the sun was fully up. It was hot. We crossed the white marble pool deck to descend pink marble stairs, all sharp corners and shining. When I stepped onto the white marble floor of the courtyard below, disaster struck. The staff had been watering the potted plants and the floor was covered with the leakage, absolutely invisible. I stepped onto it and my feet slid out from under me. I remember the sound of glass breaking somewhere and I came down hard on my back, my head striking the last marble step at the base of my skull. I lay there and the thought came, “This is serious.”
The last thing I wanted to do was end up in a hospital in India. I knew I wouldn’t actually end up there. I had with me my about-to-expire Air Rescue card. I’d been assured I could be whisked away to any hospital in the world that I desired. But I didn’t want to even go through a hospital experience here. People were gathering. “Marilyn,” I appealed to my protector. “I need to be quiet for a while. Can you keep them away?” She was frightened and valiant and faithful. She stood guard while I lay on the floor. Did someone put a prop under my head? I don’t remember. I just lay there.
Then I did what came naturally. I turned to God. “Help! Please!” I started saying Mary Baker Eddy’s “scientific statement of being” – the “go to” position I’ve had since childhood. “There is no life, truth, intelligence nor substance in matter.” That’s the way it begins. “All is infinite Mind, and its infinite manifestation.” Then I stopped. Two sentences in and I was “engaged.” I had been trying so hard to disengage, to not think, respond or react to all that seemed to have been assaulting me this trip. “All is infinite Mind…” How could “not thinking” happen when all was infinite Mind? How could I not engage with Mind’s “infinite manifestation?” I was part of that infinite manifestation!
“What do I need to know, Father? I’m ready to listen.” I don’t know if I literally thought those words, but I experienced them. It was a major shift in attitude, lying there on that marble floor. Arvind’s concerned face looked down at me. “I’m fine,” I assured him. “I just need a little time here.” Marilyn continued her watch. She was obviously worried, but fiercely determined to honor my request. I turned my head. It hurt. “What do I need to see, Father-Mother?” I really wanted to know how to get through this. I desperately needed….I didn’t even know what I needed. I closed my eyes and just was still.
When I opened them again, it was there. I saw what I needed to see. It was all around me. My request was being honored. There was a periphery of people ready to help, eager to help, but they were giving me space, letting me do whatever it was I was doing without interference. I did not feel invaded or assaulted or pushed or shoved. I felt held totally in the love of that “infinite Mind,” which is Love itself. I felt enveloped in love, like there was nothing but me and the Universe and all was well. A flood-tide of comfort and well-being washed through me.
Then the image of that little boy came into my thought. But this time I saw him in a different way. “Why, he has as direct a line as I do, straight to Mind, straight to Love,” I thought. I wasn’t helpless, vulnerable, with a hard shell that needed to be cracked open – and neither was he. We were both made up of better stuff than mere matter. We were idea, individual shining expressions of the infinite One. The most effective thing I could do for him, for India, for myself, was see all of us as gathered into “infinite Mind,” see all of us as part of Mind’s “infinite manifestation.” My whole view of India shifted.
The pain just drained away. I left it like a jacket on the floor when I got up. I accepted some helping hands to cross the still slippery floor and went back up to our room with Marilyn. A little while later I got a call from the lobby. Some things I had ordered had been delivered. What was my pleasure? “I’ll come down,” I answered. Arvind was in the lobby, with the man making the delivery. The hotel manager was also there, along with the doctor who had been called. Would I please allow the doctor to examine me, they all asked. I realized the tour company needed this to happen, as did the hotel. It would also be an assurance to Marilyn. “Of course,” I said, and he did. There was no mark, no lump, no physical evidence of injury at all. The doctor shrugged his shoulders and left.
I’ve waited a while to write about this. I’ve learned to let experiences like this one “set.” I don’t know how else to explain it, but rushing out to tell the world about it when you’ve gone through something, well, holy, just isn’t the thing to do. In the days following my return, I felt some soreness through my back and shoulders — mostly memory of the fall, and maybe of that fifteen hour flight back to New York in seat 51D on Air India. Those are all long gone.
What hasn’t gone is what I learned about myself. Most of what I’ve written in this blog has to do with “virgin qualities.” If you want a reminder, here’s what I’m talking about. But just because you can talk a good game, doesn’t mean you don’t have to get out on the field and play. That’s the way we learn. India reminded me in spades that more is demanded of me than just “staying above it all,” and occasionally fumbling for change. I know now I have to engage; I can’t avoid it. But I’ve got to do it first through Love, for my own sake, as well as for the sake of others. Then if there is an opportunity or need for me to do something as one human being for another, it will come to light, and it will be just the right thing for that moment. But the love has to come first.
I’m making friends with a new Mac. I respect its clean lines and uncluttered appearance. I didn’t want to dump a bunch of old docs from my HP laptop into it, so I’ve been going through and doing a lot of deleting. In the process I’ve found a few things I feel good about having written. This is one from May 29, 2004. I’ve made a few tweaks — very few. I’m grateful the country has come so far.
Dear Cousin, Friend, Relative – I’ve been hearing from you all —
RE your e-mail urging I send an electonically generated thank you note to President Bush for his stand against gay marriage. OR urging me to contact my political representative to act immediately. OR whatever else you’ve asked me to do to “save” marriage…….
I write this with love and respect for all you stand for, but I can’t stay silent on this one.
I am a Christian. I acknowledge that I’m saved from hatred, sin and condemnation – from all manner of evil, from hell in every sense of the word – through Christ — through the life lived by Jesus. His is the consumate example, the only way. He is unparalleled in the universe for the love he expressed, the forgiveness he showed, the suffering he endured. I love Jesus.
And I take his charge to follow him very seriously. His most simple and profound counsel was “Love one another.” And he told us how to love: “As I have loved you.”
He loved unconditionally, freely, extravagantly. He loved with everything he had, with total commitment. — inclusively, unselfishly, passionately – so much so that his final earthly act has taken the name “The Passion.”
I will take the word and works of Jesus Christ as the example by which to form my social attitudes and opinions.
Not the proscriptive strictures addressed to an ancient middle eastern tribe who, like new born children, had to have everything dictated to them, even to their dietary and clothing practices!
Not the detailed counsel attributed to Paul, who, inspired by his own Christian conversion experience, felt impelled and ordained to tell every other Christian how to conduct themselves in their personal and congregant lives. (Whoever heard of something like that happening! Yeah. Right.) In all fairness, much of what is attributed to Paul is now acknowledged to have come from other sources. This should be evident, in that some of his counsel is at odds with Jesus’ practice and direction.
And what was that?
“Love God. Love one another.” Do it the best you know how. Give your all. Commit to those you love. Be there for them – always and in all ways. Provide for their needs now and their future security. Honor their hopes and dreams. Live in community with one another and in communion with God. Mind your own business. Don’t exclude or reject any honest heart for any reason.
Jesus didn’t see us as sexual beings. He saw us as human beings in every state and stage of progress toward realizing our God-created spiritual identities.
Who on earth, given the persecution, revulsion and exclusion which comes with that state, would choose to be gay? As a Christian Science practitioner I’ve worked long – and fruitlessly – to help individuals who came to me asking for help in “healing” homosexuality. I’ve seen them overcome sensuality through prayer – as much a deterrent to spiritual growth in heterosexuals as in homosexuals. Yet the feeling of being NOT heterosexual has remained. I’ve witnessed their self-hatred, despair and guilt for this. And it’s only within the past five years or so, that I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to “heal” someone of homosexuality is like trying to “heal” a woman of having periods. Some things are just a part of being human – maybe not pleasant or attractive to all sensibilities, but not “abnormal.”
I may not be able to personally comprehend what it is to be homosexual, no more than men can imagine having a period, but God forgive me for adding any weight these dear ones already carry. God forgive me for marginalizing them from “civilized” society, as surely as menstruating women were shunted off as “unclean” to red tents in the desert.
Civilized society benefits from stable relationships and moral commitments in many forms. These commitments also carry responsibility. Some of them include becoming a member of and serving in a church; serving in the military; committing time and effort to a community association board; becoming a regular volunteer for any number of civic organizations. Getting married. Excluding people from the right to participate in these kinds of relationships and commitments – and thus depriving them from responsibility — does not contribute to the stability of society. Rather, it separates and scatters — relegating whole groups to the fringes or hounding them into an underground culture. And then we click our tongues over their irresponsible behavior!
Anyone willing to commit morally and legally to a civilized institution these days – to be willing to say “I’m there for you with all I am and with all I’ve got. I’ll be there for you in sickness and health, for richer and poorer. You can count on me always and in all ways,” — should be encouraged, not vilified.
Mary Baker Eddy might have been addressing this same subject — and many others, as well — when she wrote:
In Christian Science, the law of Love rejoices the heart; and Love is Life and Truth. Whatever manifests aught else in its effects upon mankind, demonstrably is not Love. We should measure our love for God by our love for man; and our sense of Science will be measured by our obedience to God, — fulfilling the law of Love, doing good to all; imparting, so far as we reflect them, Truth, Life, and Love to all within the radius of our atmosphere of thought.
The only justice of which I feel at present capable, is mercy and charity toward every one, — just so far as one and all permit me to exercise these sentiments toward them, — taking special care to mind my own business.
The topic of “church” didn’t come up that often when we lived at the beach. Generally, gringos (I use that term for anyone not born in Mexico) came to Nayarit for vacations and fishing. The “fishers of men” thing wasn’t a high priority for people just visiting.
It’s different here in San Miguel. Here there’s a large ex-pat population who call this town home, and for many of them an important part of putting down roots is finding a spiritual home base. Virgin Territory How I Found My Inner Guadalupe was conceived at the beach, and is my chronicle of personal wrestling and self-perception along the lines of “where does one lodge one’s faith?” Some people opined that my thinking at that time may have been as soggy as the climate. Well, the search continues in this higher, drier, clearer climate. I don’t know that I’ve reached any definitive answer about what I say when asked what I am, but I’ve been open to exploration.
The town offers a lot of choices. I’ve mentioned before that one of the places I’ve “lit” from time to time is the San Miguel Community Church, but though I recently acquired a name tag to wear at services, I’m still loath to put my name on any dotted line. It does seem that just as I am in search of self-definition, the Community Church is, too. Who knows? Maybe that’s what attracted me in the first place.
My friend Al wrote about this church recently on his blog. His remarks are in response to a “wisdom offering” and ensuing discussion that I led last week at the early service. Not everyone, I am assured, would agree totally with his account of church history. All of this was before my time, but I’m seeing the various stories still inform current perceptions. If you’re interested, read what I said last Sunday, read what he wrote, and then read the comments after his blog entry. Yeah, I know. It’s messy. But that’s what I titled this piece in the first place!
My remarks at the early service, San Miguel Community Church, March 22, 2015.
“What Kind of Church?”
I’m presenting these categories in reverse order, with an eye toward Easter and resurrection – from the slightly moribund, to the vital and transcendent. Any church can have elements of all four categories. The question is What is the foremost characteristic of an organization? I need to give Leonard Sweet credit for the concept of these categories.
Monument church – we recognize them often by their landmark buildings. We also know exactly what to expect when we enter the door. I think of these churches the same way I think of McDonald’s. I don’t mean that as a disparagement. This is from someone whose car automatically veers to the right when I see those golden arches just this side of Leon. Breakfast at McDonald’s is a ritual when my husband and I drive to the coast. It’s not inspirational, but it is definitely comforting. We don’t have to make a lot of decisions. We are simply given a meal in familiar form to sustain us on our way. That is a good thing, but not transformative.
Maintenance church – This church may well be located in a landmark building, or it may be in search of a place to erect one. A maintenance church is identified by place – whether an actual physical structure or a place within a denomination. Questions at business meetings revolve around how to maintain that place and identity. I’ve heard churches like these referred to as having an “edifice complex.”
Ministry church – This is a church which is all about people – helping them out, comforting them, feeding them, praying for them. The purpose of lifting and enlightening human lives unites the members of a ministry church as much as or more than any particular denominational elements. The primary motivation of a ministry church is service, both to the community and to one another. The Church at Jerusalem, led by the disciple Peter, was a good example. It drew members because of the love they felt expressed there, the individual sense of fulfillment when working as a group.
Peter is the one who Jesus appointed as “the rock,” on which he would build his church. Jesus had asked the question “Who do people say I am?” and after receiving various responses from the disciples, he asked another question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, who was then known as Simon bar Jonah, is the one who blurts out the answer: “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.”
The response of Jesus is infused with relief. Somebody gets it! And the “it” is a big enough and solid enough concept that Jesus says
“God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.”
(That passage above is from The Message, a translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson.)
Peter’s recognition of who Jesus really was, the embodiment, the incarnation of divine power, the Messiah or Christ, the tangible evidence of divinity embracing humanity, was the foundation stone, the rock, on which the human organization of Christianity was based. Peter’s glimpse of the coincidence of, that is “the being in the same place at the same time” of God and man, the living evidence of “God with us,” this Christ-power is what lay behind the good works, the healing work that he and members of the Jerusalem church went on to do. They ministered. They healed in the name – that is in the nature — of Christ Jesus.
But still they carried a limited sense of what the life of Christ Jesus meant. They referred to themselves at that time as “people of the way,” a distinct sect of Judaism, limited to those who followed the laws of the prophets and whose men were circumcised. It was Paul, the former Saul whose reputation was made on the many Christians whom he had persecuted, who got an even deeper meaning of Jesus’ message. As Paul he carried that message to the far corners of the Roman empire, including not only Jews, but gentiles, slaves, and even pagans. He trained, educated and inspired others to do the same.
That brings us to the last category, the Message Church. We might even consider it as the Messiah Church. Both words begin with “Me.” This is the church which emphasizes what Jesus said in his response to Peter, “And now I’m going to tell you who you are, who you really are.”
The Messiah words of Jesus are central to the Message Church, and just as most of his deep messages were uttered to individuals or to small groups, his words apply specifically to me, and to you, and to you, and to that guy over there. In essence (and this is what I as an individual hear) Jesus says:
“Search the Scriptures. They tell you about me. Remember my words. I tell you about your potential for good, the power you possess as you abide in me, as you follow me. Take up your cross. Give up your former identity. Be made new, be born of Spirit. You have potential for change, redemption. The precious substance of your God-made being has never been touched. This is who you really are. You are more than a servant; you are a child of God.”
The Message was powerful to grow the Christian church throughout the Western world. It still is effective when spoken with heart to those whose hearts are yearning.
What if you had to be strip searched before you attended a church service? Strip searched once more when you left? Anyone who has conducted church services in a jail or prison knows that the essential elements of effective “church” are rudimentary and few. “I just want to hear the word,” explained one inmate to me. “That’s all.”
Monument, Maintenance, Ministry – ultimately it is the Message that moves individuals forward. And it is only as individuals hear and respond to that message that church moves forward as well.