Monday, September 21, 2015

Funny how things change

For quite some time, those who study our society have been telling us that we are in a time of change. Frankly, I think that is somewhat obvious. For instance, in our kitchen at home is a wall phone - I know some of you don't know what that is! However, for many of us, we remember a black, or beige box with a handset and, of all things a ROTARY DIAL! When we purchased our home, we decided to leave the phone on the wall as a sort of novelty (it goes with the rest of the kitchen, which is circa 1968). At a family Christmas event, one of the youngsters wondered "what that thing was" near the kitchen door. They had never seen such a thing -- much less knew how to use it. Think of the change this represents -- rotary dial "standard issue Bell telephones" as opposed to the plethora of choices we have as we walk by a mobile device (notice I don't use the term "phone") kiosk at the local big box store. Even the word "dial" has become a word-of-art (a term that no longer has an obvious meaning) since one "dials" a number even though there is no "dial" in sight -- not even push buttons -- only heat sensitive areas on a mini computer screen that fits neatly in my shirt pocket. There was a time everyone knew what a phone was - they were all the same - they all worked the same way. Now however, there is only diversity - no two devices are alike and one might need a degree from M.I.T. to figure out which one is best for our own purposes -- unless you're 12 -- those folks seem to have the right answers without a degree.
Maybe the phones we use to communicate are a metaphor for our lives, especially our lives in community. in 1969, if you were an Episcopalian, you worshiped like all other Episcopalians. You used the same prayer book, the same scripture readings, the same hymnal. The rubrics (liturgical directions) were the same no matter where you were. Maybe there was Morning Prayer instead of Holy Communion - but if there was, it was done the same way Morning Prayer was done in every church that did it!
You had the same administrative groups and committees that met on weekday evenings. You had the same Christian education, the same youth league, the same Episcopal Church Women, the same Altar Guild activities. Our mission dollars were sent to "poor" countries to establish new churches in far away places. The assumption was that if you were an Episcopalian, you did the same things all other Episcopalians did, and if you were looking for a church all you had to do was look for the "red doors" and you were home. Just like our phones (and refrigerators, and stoves) it was pretty much a "one size fits all" world. Uniformity and familiarity were core values in just about every part of our society -- being different meant you were wierd and to be avoided at all cost.
Funny how things change.
We no longer live in a world that values sameness. In fact, our culture now embraces and honors diversity in ways we could never have imagined. Just as people now expect to find phones in a seemingly unending array of choices, people seeking a shared faith require congregations to offer paths and programs to meet the specific and unique needs and desires. The temptation that results is to offer worship services specifically designed for the worshipers we hope to attract, short-term task forces that will accommodate the busy lifestyle of members in ways that standing committee structures cannot, several women's groups that fit the age and interests of their participants, and ways to support mission and outreach programs that have a special appeal for each congregation. We can no longer assume that one Episcopal parish will be like another, in fact, where there is more than one Episcopal congregation in an area, it seems that we strive to differentiate ourselves from one another and, as a result, end up competing for members.
There isn't any easy solution to this apparent problem - except to realize that no matter how much diversity we believe we need, all of it must point to one ultimate reality - the mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What all of this diversity has taught me over the years is that there is no "cookbook" way to get to the heart of the Gospel -- it is a life-long journey that must be taken by one and by all. The purpose of our parish is not to enforce uniformity or to demand diversity but to provide the spiritual companionship that is necessary for the traveling, for the pilgrimage, which is demanded by Christ -- that is, to take up one's cross and follow where the Master leads.
We mustn't try too hard, then, to "get it right" since there is not an "it" to get. There is only the relationship to which Christ calls us, a relationship that can only be lived by recognizing the heart of Christ in one another on the way. In this, we will only be with one another for a time, whether short or long but only temporarily nonetheless. In this, what we know now will be different tomorrow and that's O.K. -- as long as we hold fast to the good news in Jesus Christ who is "the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow."

In the loving heart of Christ,

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