Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
Hope is the synchroblog theme for this first month of the new year and as I talk about what gives me hope, how I keep returning to hope despite evidence and experience, why not begin by introducing myself for my first post on provoketive?
A few weeks ago a Facebook friend status updated asking about our identity. Mine? I am a daughter of the church, claimed by God in baptism. And I added, “now what?” Last Wednesday evening I let myself into the dark church building to prepare for playing liturgy for our celebration of the Baptism of Jesus. As I always do, I walked toward the entry way and the baptismal font and as always, I signed myself with the cross. What gives me hope? I am baptized, sealed with the sign of the cross forever. Being baptized means an identity and lifestyle shaped according to the contours, demands and relentless grace of the gospel that seeks justice, freedom and shalom for all creation. It is life sourced from Word and Sacrament, modeled by the order of creation, the actions and words of the prophets, the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ.
What gives me hope? That in choosing, claiming and trusting me in baptism, God has brought me into an ecumenical community that is supposed to be home wherever I journey, that is supposed to hold me accountable. In his song “The Ark,” from City to City, Gerry Rafferty sings, “We’ll take the road that leads down to the waterside // And set out on the journey // Find a ship to take us on the way. // And we’ll sail out on the water // we’ll meet out on the water // Where are all strangers are known.”
I prepared for a life of service to church and world, and surprisingly found myself on the other side of mainstream culture and on the subverse of mainline church for longer than I’d anticipated. In the above paragraph I made a couple of transparent comments about what the summoned assembly of forgiven sinners is “supposed” to be and do, and that simply doesn’t always or even often happen.
Abram was an ivri, a Hebrew, someone from the other side. In Jesus of Nazareth, we encounter the God from the exceedingly “other side,” who even arrived on earth in a manner very “other” from usual expectations and spent most of his life and ministry on the other side of – or at least on the edges of – established religious and social systems, accredited authorities and conventional cultural boundaries. During his brief public ministry, Jesus invited everyone to become part of his insider circle. In my own baptism, has God not called me to live as an outsider to politely authorized, tamed, predictable structures of most kinds? Is that not how the Body of Christ is supposed to be and to live? As an insider to the way of Jesus?
What brings me hope? Sacraments and liturgy are ways to remember who I am and Whose I am. The eucharistic liturgy that retells and re-enacts the history of salvation brings me into an ordered place within those arrays. Like water in the font, bread on the table, wine in the cup, I am an organic part of creation, birthed out of the substance of earth, sky, sea and air. Liturgy and sacraments remind me that God’s presence is not something far off, invisible and unattainable; it’s as close to us, as sensibly (smell, taste, touch, vision, hearing) apparent and as paradoxical as water, bread and wine, as the neighbor next door, the colleague at the next computer.
I’ve found myself on the other side of mainline church and midstream society for a painfully long while. But isn’t the covenanted community supposed to be an upside down image of prevailing economic, political (and ecclesiastical) realities? Is it not supposed to challenge and subvert the status quo? Is it not supposed to live counter-culturally to the prevailing culture of consumerism and objectification? “The Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World” is one of the PC(USA)’s Great Ends of the Church. The worldview of the bible is open-ended, no longer the endless, predictable recycling of the same thing, yet there is a sense of constancy, of divine design and purpose to the order of nature and creation. Similar to the way hue shifts, layer styles, filters and effects reveal previously unseen aspects of an image I’m editing, the Holy Spirit edits, styles, filters, re-colors and reformats people, communities, and institutions and brings prophetic promises and broken hopes to life. In large part because of the continued liveliness of the Church, the Christ and the Spirit are active in the world.
So I’m hoping to emerge from my current location and back into the embrace of the called-out, covenanted community because I know I cannot do life on my own, cannot revive and reformat my own life; that only can come to me as gift. God has claimed me in baptism; I am a daughter of the church.