A movement, not an institution…

I am a person who lives in the questions.  No, really, I mean, I question everything.  I question the use of the most simple words, words that we use every day and assume that everyone with whom we speak them understands.  I question everything.

This state of being is partly the result of the work I did to put my life back together after my divorce, partly the result of a lifelong inquisitiveness that drove my parents to distraction and has caused me to spend more years of my life enrolled in some sort of educational program than, well, is at all natural by the standards of our society.

Right now I am sitting with a number of what are, for me,  deeply fundamental questions.  These questions and what I decide to believe about my answers to them will help decide the next steps in my life and probably define the remainder of my days.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We will have to see about that particular question.

For now, my deliberations and questioning keep focusing over and over again on the words of Mahan Siler from the closing worship at the Alliance of Baptists 28th Annual Festival Gathering last Sunday.  I don’t often take notes during a sermon, but I took many while he spoke, and the words which will not leave mefishmuralare the ones that Rev. Siler used to describe the 28 years of Alliance history.  The
Alliance, he said, has existed as it began — as a movement, not as an institution, a leader-full movement in which the gifts of all are welcome.  It was formed, and continues to live, as a covenant-based movement, a movement built on and nurtured through relationship and partnership, because, ultimately, all life and all faith-life is based in relationship.

Rev. Siler gave me a set of eloquent words to describe the very thing for which I crave.  You see, some of the words I’m grappling with right now are words like “church” and “community”,  because lately I have come to believe that even the most loving and progressive among us do not often grasp that, when we use those words, even with the best of intention, we have still created a situation in which there is an “us” and a “them”, some inside the circle and some outside. And, if we tie those words to a physical institution, we begin to think of them as a thing to be maintained and experienced rather than a way of life to be lived.  I do not know where my current questions will lead me, but after last weekend, I have faith that I am not alone in my quest for answers.

And by his words I was reminded of this: how often we forget that the earliest name for the followers of the teachings of Jesus was not the building down the block on the corner but the Way.  From the origins of our faith, we have been a movement, not an institution.  Thank you, Rev. Siler, for helping me remember that.  Thank you, Alliance of Baptists, for doing everything that you can to live into your identity as a movement devoted to growing in faith and living in justice through relationship and partnership, with individuals and with organizations.

 

 

Threads lost and found…

Yesterday, the 28th Annual Festival Gathering of the Alliance of Baptists to a close with a joint worship service with our hosts, the Northside Drive Baptist redthread8Church.  As a kind of benediction to the work and learning that had occurred during these past days, we heard the words of Mahan Siler, one of the movement’s founders.

I’m going to have a lot to say about his words to us and so much more that touched my faith and the ways I live that faith in this world during this gathering, but for now, on this Monday morning after, I wanted to share with you the poem that he shared with us.  It is a really good poem for a Monday, with the week and all the possibility it holds spread before us:

The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
(William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998)
I don’t know about you, but I needed the reminder.  And I’m writing it down because, well, I’m sure that I will need it again.  Right now, I am just grateful that there is a movement like the Alliance of Baptists around to remind me to find my thread and to follow it without fail, and to remind me that it is my obligation, born out of my relationship with my God, to do so.
After the experience of the last few days, all I have to say is…Amen.

 

It’s all gone with the wind…and that’s okay

Greetings from Atlanta and the 28th Annual Alliance of Baptists Festival Gathering.  Please excuse the title…it will all become clear later, I hope; but I could not resist the opportunity to use those famous words from this place.

I’ve been here since Wednesday evening, attending sessions on pastoral care and christian formation with 400+ of my progressive baptist friends at this year’s conference, poetically named, “We’ve a Story to Hear from the Nations.”  Last night, we were blessed to gather with Paco Rodes of the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba and to worship with beautiful Cuban music; tonight we will invite God in with the words of Rusudan Gotsiridze of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (and I can’t wait to hear what we will sing).  We’ve had workshops on listening to others across the divide of privilege (including an excellent discussion of the all the ways that an individual can experience privilege and exclusion, often simultaneously), we’ve talked about lobbying for important legislation, and we’ve had business meetings (it is, after all, a gathering of baptists).  It has, so far, been wonderful.

The most surprising thing about this experience, for me, however, has been the number of people who are here, at this festival gathering, that no longer have a local church affiliation.  There are also many here who identify as baptist but worship at the local Episcopal church or the local Methodist church or the local (fill-in-the-blank church).  Yes, there are many representatives of congregations here, but there also independent pastoral counselors and people from intentional communities and…well, I’m sure that there are other places I just have not yet discovered.

The room is full of people who believe fervently in the Baptist distinctives as a way of living and as a way of being a disciple.  Where you worship, how you worship — that is a completely different proposition.

You see, we spend so much time arguing about the death of the church as a cultural institution.  We argue about how to market, how to bring the millenials back to church, how to fill the pews and the coffers.  And to me, it is clear that the church of the 1950’s must be allowed to die.  It must be allowed to die and to be transformed through resurrection, the foundation of our faith.  It must be, gone-with-the-wind-5172_1as Margaret Mitchell once said, gone with the wind.  Particularly if “wind” refers to the action of the Holy Spirit.

And how can I believe this?  Well, here in Atlanta, at this gathering, I have seen that resurrection.  I have seen people reach across cultures and denominations and embrace a set of personal rules about what it means to be a disciple — and  come together with others of like orientation.

I’ll be writing more about the baptist distinctives over the next weeks as I continue my own re-examination of my personal identity as a disciple.  But here, in Atlanta, I have had re-affirmed what I suspected and now firmly believe:  that no matter where or how I worship, nor what local community I choose to embrace, I will be, now and forever, a Baptist and the Alliance will always hold out a hand of welcome to me.

Amen.