“Sometimes I Wonder Which Side God is On.”

The title of this post is from “The Longest Day,” a 1962 movie about D-Day from the points of view of the American army and the German army. During the movie each commander on each side says, “Sometimes I wonder whose side God is on.” Back in 1962, this was a lightbulb-flash moment for me. Everyone thinks God is on their side, even the “bad guys.” I was thirteen.

The lectionary readings for the UCC on July 28 brought this up, once again, in 2019. The first reading was from Hosea, and is one that many of us would rather skip over because God is vengeful, cruel, and misogynist. The second reading is from Luke and Jesus describes God as a father who would care for you no matter what. Reading them together is spiritual whiplash.

Our nation, and Christianity is experiencing a fissure. The U.S. has had fissures since the beginning. Now the fissure is wider because it is now so simplistic. Evil is defined by which political party you belong to, which church you go to. In skimming Biblical commentaries I found a “RedState.something” site. Its headline: Jesus was NOT a Refugee or an Immigrant.  A Huff Post column was headed: Guess What: Jesus was a Refugee. Do these people all read the same New Testament?

Which of God’s sides am I on?

Thanksgiving dinners are no longer long heated debates about issues; they are very short: Who did you vote for? Trump or Hillary? Who is a true Christian? Jerry Falwell or Desmond Tutu. Everything after that is a shouting match.

The motto of the United Church of Christ is “God is still talking.” In which case, the Bible is still being written. What will we write? What stories will we hand down? Which images of God will we bring forth?

How will our nation, our Christianity, ever reconcile and heal? Which teachings of our faith will aid in the healing? [By that I do not mean everyone agrees on everything.] Or do we want our side to “win?” 

Miroslav Volf in his book “Exclusion and Embrace” says he was asked about cetniks, the Serbian guerrilla force who was responsible for atrocities in his native country. Someone asked if he could embrace one of these fighters.

He answered, “Can I embrace a četnik—the ultimate other, so to speak, the evil other? What would justify the embrace? Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat? It took me a while to answer, though I immediately knew what I wanted to say. “No, I cannot—but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.” 

Him and me both.

The New New Testament, 3019 C.E.

If, as the United Church of Christ says, “God is still speaking,” it must also be true that the Bible is still being written. What will be in the New New Testament?

The present Bible was started 3,400 years ago (depending on how you count). It was completed around 90 C.E. or 1,900 years ago. So, it was written over a period of 1,500 years. The specifics are debatable, but you get the picture. A long long time.

I’m thinking ahead about 1,000 years. Should humanity have not committed suicide by then, some scholars may wonder what 20th-21st century Christianity looked like.

The Bible Bible is a wondrous book of tales, contradictory rules, questionable history, sex, ponderings about divinity and humanity, poetry, love, crime, conflict, hope, all seen through the lens of a people’s relationship with their God. So will the next one be.

Logically, the New New Testament (NNT) should begin 90 C.E., when the last one ended, but my current number of brain cells can’t cope. I will start using the method I’m most familiar with: off the top of my head.

Let’s go with the obvious first: C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, sections of at least one of his books will be included. 

Marvelous tales: Lewis’ friend, J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings stories would fit in with David and Goliath and the Ark stories. As would A Wrinkle in Time.

No doubt the scholars will come across the Left Behind series, which would not show up in my Bible version, but will no doubt end up in some version.

And whose stories will be told? Dorothy Day via columns from the “Catholic Worker;” Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the work of Reconciliation in South Africa; Simone Weil, creepy but popular; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; MLK, Jr. 

In the Psalms section: Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is 19th century, but I love him and it’s my bible. W.H. Auden, Carolyn Forche, Denise Levertov, David Whyte.

I’d wait another 200 years to see whether Joel Osteen’s writing stands the test of time, or that of Tammy Faye Bakker, or Rick Warren, or Oral Roberts. 

My Books of the Bible are shamefully English-language centered, but that’s what lives at the top of my head.

I suspect that the NNT will not be limited to Christians. The search for the divine is not limited; the People of God are no longer a small group, but an encompassing people. 

I encourage you to create a list of Books/ Stories/ People/ Poems for the NNT. It is an exercise in Seeing Biblically. The world we live in is full of “biblical life,” that is, the stories of how people struggle with the idea of the Divine. The Bible is not dead, but passed along in thousand-year chunks. Future people will learn from us, so let’s think about it now.

Prayer is Music

“We are a community of believers, questioners, and questioning believers. We strive to be open and affirming to all. We sometimes disagree, yet love one another as we wade through the joy and pain of spiritual growth. We endeavor to worship God together, follow the example of Jesus, embody the Holy Spirit, support each other, and serve our neighbors, near and far.”   Official Statement of 1st Congregational Church, Ashfield, MA, UCC

 

What does prayer mean to a congregation of “believers, questioners, and questioning believers”? Does God hear our petitions and decide whether to answer yes or no? Does prayer focus our energy on someone who is suffering and that energy aids the person? Does prayer do anything?

Each Sunday, joining in prayer is singing with each other. Regardless of the words in a song, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” or “Ubi Caritas,” the music shifts our spirits and we join with each other. Prayer is music, it brings us to a place of sacred attention when we are alone or all together. However each of us envisions God, we yearn to align ourselves with Wisdom, Compassion, Justice, and Love. Wherever we seek God, in nature, in our neighbor, in church, in silence, we yearn to find the Source of All and trust that it is good. Prayer is an expression of that yearning, of our deepest concerns and desires.

While praying we release ourselves from the necessary questions such as “Who or What is God?” We enter the space that we want to understand more about and explore. Afterwards we read books and discuss and give our brains a good work out.

If nothing else, prayer allows us to open to each other. It gives us, as Buddhists would say, an opportunity to glimpse the Interbeing of all. Prayer is a map we both follow and draw as we go.

Those old prayers and hymns we sometimes recite and sing are the memories of those seekers before us. Something in those prayers opened their hearts, gave them courage, and urged them to follow their path.

Prayers are not recipes or formulae, they are love poems. They need not be factual, but they must be true.   

– Kate Braestrup, “Beginning Grace”

 

Movable Brains

My First UCC Encounter

In 1976 the national UCC sponsored a trip to Northern Ireland to support the Peace People’s March for Peace in Belfast. At the time I had only the vaguest notion of what UCC might stand for: Unitarian Christian Church? Universal Christians of California? United Christians for Christ? I’d been spending time with the Catholic Left and with Quakers acting against the U.S. war in Viet Nam. To me, “Protestants” were an amorphous blob of bible readers who couldn’t agree on anything. I knew William Sloan Coffin fit in somewhere. We did work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, but I discovered that there was a Baptist FoR, an Episcopalian FoR, an Adventist FoR and about 10 more FoRs. What were the differences? This foggy notion changed somewhat when the CL group I belonged to joined forces with Clergy and Laity Concerned, composed mostly of Protestant activists.

There are about 38,000 Protestant denominations, so I forgive myself my confusion. Christian Platt is a blogger for the progressive evangelical magazine, Sojourner. (“Progressive Evangelical” still stumps me.) He names the five things he believes hold Christianity back. (Back from what, I’m not sure.) Number 2 is “Denominations.” He claims  “their distinction from others like them are so minute that even the members within a given denomination can’t tell you what makes them unique.” One commenter disagreed. He says denominations are…” the church diversified…the beautiful mosaic of God’s kingdom,”

Okay, now I get it. A bridge made with moving interlocking parts is more stable than a rock-solid immobile one.

Now, 37 years later, I get spiritual support, renewal, intellectual challenge, and community primarily from (gasp) a UCC church. Luckily, my brain is made of interlocking parts. The parts shifting and rubbing against each other bring me to a better awareness of the world. OMG! I’ve got a Protestant brain!

Peace People Ireland March 1976:

137018-004-18C4C15E

http://prezi.com/f3-r0gkrtlz0/the-peace-people/

Sojourners article: http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/09/23/five-things-are-holding-christianity-back

Is GOP Sending GOD to Hell?

At the UCC annual meeting in June, I attended a forum on “The Draft Resolution on the Global South Debt Crisis: A Call for Solidarity and Action for Poverty Reduction in the Global South through Expanded Debt Cancellation and International Financial Institution Reform.”  Shortening the title was one recommendation. Over the next year the UCC will finalize a resolution about forgiving Third World Debt.  (See ucc.org/justice.)  But I’m not going to write about that right now.  I’ve got a year.

 Right now, Christian websites are abuzz with horror at the GOP’s born-again-and-again conversion to Ayn Rand. Her thinking goes like this: “Blessed are the selfish, for they deserve the earth.” The rest of humanity are “moochers.”  Her teachings are so much more “21st century” than Jesus’. Glen and Rush have always been admirers of her “Utopia of Greed” philosophy, but now Ayn worshipers include members of Congress, Senators and a Supreme Court Justice.  Rep. Paul Ryan’s  Republican budget proposals can be subtitled, “The Gospel of Ayn.”  But I’m not going to write about that right now. I’ve got until November 2012 to do that.

What really caught my attention was the Southern Baptist Convention’s vote to continue believing in eternal hell. “In adopting the resolution, messengers [sic] affirmed ‘our belief in the biblical teaching on eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in hell.'”

 That really got me thinking.  I assume since the resolution was open to debate, the option of voting “no” was a possibility. What if they had voted no?  Would the gates of hell be thrown open, freeing all unregenerates to join the rest of us in heaven? Would God have to back down in face of a democratically voted-upon repeal?  This is a problem. I decided to investigate.

I looked up “unregenerate.” It means “obstinately wrong or bad.”  That made me a little nervous.  I looked up “obstinate.” There it was: “stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or action, despite attempts to persuade one to do so.” Sweat broke out on my neck.

I do not think I am wrong or bad, not most of the time anyway.  However, there are approximately an infinite number of people who do. And I have been accused of being obstinate by people who think I’m an otherwise okay person.  Things are looking bad for me re eternal hell.

For instance, I am an obstinately unregenerate Ayn Rand despiser. But now, via the Federal budget, the U.S. government is on the verge of voting her in as Messiah. Will the Treasury Department change the dollar bill’s motto to “Utopia of Greed”?  Clearly God is champion of “moochers,” and no longer deserves honor on a dollar.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”?   Fat chance if the resurrected Ayn has anything to do with it. “Expanded Debt Forgiveness” will show up nowhere in the GOP budget, I can promise you that. It’s against corporate morality to forgive debt, and now that corporations are individuals…. (There was a UCC conversation about that Supreme Court vote.) The Lord’s prayer may be unconstitutional! But worse, I suspect God is unregeneratively obstinate on the point of forgiveness of debt.  He is not going to stand for a no-vote. Which may get Him in a lot of trouble in the next election.

This all leads to the logical conclusion that God will be (or is) in eternal hell with all the other obstinates and moochers.  I may have skipped a few steps in logic here, but I believe I am right.