My Psalm 42
An Invitation from Marmee …
Defining religion is an awesome feat. It has occupied mankind for pretty much the entire history of the world and man’s presence in it. My response to this age-old quest is “Whhhhhyyyyyyy are we going on and on about this? We are humans. We are incapable of accurately, 100% defining something about which it is impossible for us to fully comprehend. Let’s do our best and move on! Seriously. Move. It.”
Obviously I have very little patience in attempts to reconcile various schools of thoughts and liturgies using the rules of evidence that would please the legal systems in most countries. There are many things to consider, even if you are only addressing the Christian faith. Is Jesus truly man, born of woman, or is he a HE, divine in being? Can he/He fully understand what it means to be human? Do we understand those not like us but who are, actually, just like us?
Last year I had a meeting with a priest in the Episcopal Church. We were discussing the Diocesan of Alabama’s theme for this year: Invite! I asked him who he was inviting. His response was not expected: “I would invite [to church] people I know, people I like, and who are just like me.” When I pointed out that if the Church at large had felt that way, he and I would never have met. I would not have been someone he knew and therefore not someone he liked, and I was not like him. He seemed surprised by that.
Many throughout time have attempted to define God and faith by what they knew, making Jesus just like them. The theme for the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama is one shared by the entire Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Beginning in 2012, the Episcopal Church embarked on a three-year initiative whose purpose was also three-fold.: Invite, Inspire, Transform.
“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” Romans 12:4-6. Because many local leaders had taken up the challenge to engage in mission in creative, culturally sensitive ways and reported that they needed greater flexibility and permission, in collaboration with diocesan leaders, in order to pursue God’s mission appropriately, a resolution was adopted and one million dollars allocated to take their faith into their local communities…to all people.
My problem with people trying to define religion or God or the validity of various beliefs is that first we all need to be talking in the same language. When I hear a small child get surprised and they then exclaim “OH MY GOD!!!”, I seriously doubt they are defining God in the same way I am. They are simply repeating a common, popular thing to say. When I say, I am beginning a pray, even when I say it as an exclamation. It is either in delight so the prayer is one of thanksgiving or dismay or sadness and the prayer is one of supplication.
Several years ago I took part in a seminar. Everyone attending had been going to church and active in their respective churches for a rather large number of years. They all considered themselves “good Christians” and budding theologians. Yet, over half could not define the Holy Trinity and over three-fourths were not sure they even believed it existed. If people in the same belief cannot agree on how to define things, how can we expect the entire world to do so?
Have we made our faiths so complicated that we ourselves do not even understand them? If we cannot agree on what we believe, then how can we live those beliefs? We are all human and we are going to disappoint, perhaps anger, certainly cause someone uncertainty or dismay. We are all unique and most of us make our own decisions according to what we feel it right for our particular brand of uniqueness. The universe is proof that the Creator likes diversity. Our actions are going to be imperfect from time to time. Our intentions, however, need to come from a place of purity, of goodness.
Before we can follow up on any invitation, we have to realize that to which we are extending the invitation. I had an online conversation earlier this week with a most intelligent friend regarding the term Louisa May Alcott used for the mother in her Little Women book series. Several reasons for the term used were bantered about and discussed. Finally I asked “Whhhhhyyyyyyy are we going on and on about this? Is this the point of her books?” Actually, Alcott’s mother was very progressive for her time and encouraged her daughters to ask questions and think outside of the box. I think my friend’s pondering would have pleased her immensely. Several points brought up proved interesting to me and although I have no idea why Alcott used the term “Marmee” for her mother’s term of endearment, I did learn things and continue to learn based upon topics and ideas mentioned.
I would suggest that instead of inviting, inspiring (which really seems a bit egotistical to me) and then transformation occurring, we might be better served both individually and collectively to change the initiative. I propose we Educate, Engage, Embrace. Let us educate ourselves about the enormous array of differences out there. Really educate, I mean, using science-based, researched theorems and historical evidence as well as the stories of our pas and those of our faith. By comparing our past with the historical proof, we can decide and discern. Mostly we will learn the roots of the fears that have led to discrimination and close-minded actions. Then we should engage ourselves. The Episcopal Church’s one million dollar allocation is a great way of doing this but it needs to follow education, not just a simple invitation. Finally, we need to embrace those people we will engage and then and only then, extend not only an invitation but ourselves.
Who is your God? Who is Jesus Christ to you? To what do you invite? Who are you inviting? My conversation with the rector was regarding an individual who had been refused admittance into a church education class based upon that individual’s “difference”. The individual in question most likely had a higher IQ than half of the class but all they saw and heard was the “difference”. Was that “un-invitation” in keeping with their faith? What that Christ-like? Is it not part of the church’s mission to educate?
Whether the term is Mommy, Mammy, or Marmee, the meaning is the same. Whether the commandment is directed to Episcopal, Baptist, Roman Catholic, or Jewish, the meaning is the same to both the inviter and the invitee: “Love thy neighbor.” Whether we know them, like them, or even if they look opposite to us, the commandment stands as a call to action, a reason for purpose, a faith lived. It is the best way to praise the Lord.
My Psalm 42
I need you, O God.
You are the air I breathe.
You are the life-giving spirit of my soul.
You are the motivation for each step I take.
There are those who would stop me, O Father.
There are those who would deny me.
I seek you, O Lord.
I want to show my devotion by my worship.
My life is but a reflection of my faith.
I hope you see my love for you, O God.