Thursday, May 12, 2011

Personal Heresies

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has a problem. This Saturday he is scheduled to deliver the commencement address to the graduates, faculty, administration, and guests of the Catholic University of America. As a practicing Roman Catholic one would expect that he might receive a cordial and warm reception. If only that were the case, at least from his perspective. On Tuesday, Mr. Boehner received a hand delivered letter (to read the body of the letter go to from a group of professors at the university denouncing the budget he shepherded through the House of Representatives which makes draconian cuts to many social service programs benefitting the most poor and vulnerable in the United States. To their credit this group of professors and students did not ask the university administration to withdraw Mr. Boehner's invitation to speak, nor did they ask him to step aside. They were, as a group, courteous and respectful acknowledging that is appropriate in a university setting to present and debate differing ideologies and opinions. The problem for Mr. Boehner is the professors make the accusation that by submitting the current budget as a practicing Roman Catholic he is failing to follow some of the church's most ancient and deeply held doctrines specifically the preferential option for the poor.

This is not the first time Mr. Boehner's actions in violation of church doctrine have landed him on the front page. His well publicized affairs nearly derailed his political career. However, I take heart in the fact that Church leaders have decided to use his actions against "the least of these" as the basis of their critique on his faithfulness and not sexual misconduct. Jesus spent far more time speaking about issues of wealth and oppression than he did human sexual behavior, and it is high time the Church did as well. Mr. Boehner's support of a budget which places the wholeness and well-being of women and children at greater risk borders on heresy. Not only is he violating well established Church doctrine but he is ignoring the biblical commandment to "feed my sheep."

While Mr. Boehner's actions are lamentable, we who are striving to be faithful disciples should not be smug in our condemnation of them. The vast majority of us have a one time or another committed our own personal acts of heresy failing to live up to the faith that we proclaim. A former professor of mine, Dr. Cindy Rigby, once said to my study group that we all have our personal canon, those books and texts of the Bible that we follow over and against the totality of scripture. We are human and we tend to follow the Word we like. We seek comfort over conviction. We desire blessing and ignore rebuke. We sin on a regular basis and forget that we are in need of repentence.

I hope the letter from the Catholic professors serves as a clarion call for repentence to Mr. Boehner. It is disgraceful that he supports tax cuts for wealthy corporations while placing the burden of correcting a budget deficit on the backs of those who can least afford it. I also hope that the letter serves the greater Church as a call to return to relevence as voice speaking truth to power. As we who are in the PCUSA begin to emerge from decades of internal bickering over human sexuality and ordination standards let us now turn to the issues that matter the most to our Lord and Savior the care and welfare of his children.

To God alone be the glory.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

As the First Day Was Dawning

The title of this blog for those you who are not familiar with the musical stylings of Jimmy Buffett is taken from his song "Fruitcakes." More specifically it is a verse that describes his thoughts on religion in the USA and his assertation that faith leaders are "crazy ass people." I would like to ensure all who may read this that Mr. Buffett is probably not that far off the mark. At our best we pastors, rabbis, imams, etc. are just people of faith doing the best we can with what we got. Sometimes we have moments of intense clarity and do God's work in amazingly faithful ways and other times we fail in spectacularly human sinful fashion. The intent of this new blog is to create space for conversation on the issues within Church and Culture which amuse me. It is my hope that disagreement will arise but that it can be approached with respect, humility, humor, and most importantly, grace. The reality is that most of what I think and write will not be read by many more than a few in my congregation (when they decide they just haven't gotten enough of my drivel on Sunday mornings), my closest friends (when they have nothing else to do), and my family (well, probably not).

It feels odd to start this new venture on a day like today. Creating a new blog for the discussion of issues within Church and Culture on the day after an historic event in the life of the denomination through which I am called to serve God seems somewhat insignificant and more than a little frivolous. There are probably better things to do with my time when so many in my beloved PCUSA are hurting. For some, today is a day for celebration as we Presbyterians take steps to remove explicit prohibitions against the full inclusion of all God's children within Christ Body. For others, it is a day of intense sadness and anxiety filled with much wailing and gnashing of teeth as we begin to face the unknown. However, I believe that for the majority of Presbyterians the passage of amendment 10 - A was met with a collective shrug of the shoulders. Most were likely unaware until they stumbled across an AP wire report buried on page 10 of the Lifestyle section. My guess is that those who are most uncertain about the future of the PCUSA and are more than a bit afraid of what comes next are the ones closest to the issue whether on the right or left.

I cannot help but think it is appropriate that the issue of ordaining openly homosexual person to office in the PCUSA has come to fruition during the season of Easter. We like the early disciples have awakened as this first day was dawning wondering what it all means. We are staring into an empty tomb and find ourselves confused and if we are to be honest with ourselves terrified of what it means.

I do not believe we Presbyterians were wrong in doing this. I believe our actions acknowledge that all fall short of the glory of God, that we are saved by grace through faith and not our own works (especially when that involves the counting of another's sins), that ordination is not a right or privilege but a responsibility, and that our Lord and Savior commands us first and foremost to love as he first loved us, warts and all. I sincerely hope that our actions as a denomination will allow us to move forward in ministry proclaiming the Good News in word and deed unencumbered by the weight of a debate that has wasted far too much time, energy, and talent and has reflected poor stewardship of God's blessings upon us. I pray today that we Presbyterians are entering a new period of ministry modeled on the resurrection. Something died. Now it is time for us to live as reborn and renewed disciples serving Christ with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love, relying on God's mercy and rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

To God alone be the glory.