The first was an event titled, "The Parson in the 21st Century." It was a collaborative effort by the two bishops of the Dioceses of Newark and New Jersey. The speaker was a representative of the Industrial Areas Foundation, who took it upon himself (with support from the gathered clergy), to challenge us to embrace a community organizing model that focuses on focusing baseline advocacy with some calculated power analysis. Top that with a willingness to embrace a strong, political agenda that insists on being outside established political engines that seek to preserve the status quo, and you get a recipe for innovation.
He also held up to us that as a hierarchical church in the mainline culture, we for the most part are NOT structured to operate in a world where Facebook, Twitter, the "new i-social" and the availability of information to all levels of society frankly denies the old patriarchal, seniority-based, "top of the pyramid" decision making schemes that we seem to express an almost maniacal attachment to for no other reason than that "we have always done it this way."
The challenge is to see the world, not through socialist eyes (modern construct) but instead through Gospel/Kingdom-eyes. Jesus himself worked from, and at, the base of the society. He taught that at the very moment when we have the most (power, wealth, etc), we are at our most spiritually vulnerable. When we cast off oppression and embrace mercy and God's love for the world, then we are beginning to see the power of God triumphing over the powers and principalities of the world. Not easy. The wheels of government and corporate business are greased with the ways of the world. Power is about access to money and the ability to "get things done," usually at the expense of an other. That day, I kept going back to the line from the contemporary Confession..."we repent of the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf."
The power of the IAF presentation was not only that he was showing us a way of getting things done, exhibiting some interesting tools for that aim...he was also talking to us about how we can talk to power, recognizing that the Church sometime in the last century found a way to give up its voice in public debate. When we surrender that responsibility, or allow it to be co opted by social agendas that seek to say "God thinks this...." to the world without assuming first and foremost God's stated sympathy to the poor and oppressed, we GET IT WRONG.
On the other side, of the church/world culture barrier, I attended an event sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education that focused on ways to lead the Church and its leadership into ways of spiritual discernment that focus on getting our bodies, our minds and our spirits into alignment with each other, with God and with our current environment through prayer, the sharing of testimony and then the creation of a generous and open space for the whole group to innovate, collaborate and create while in a state of prayerful expectation of the Spirit being present to us.
All of this culminated in Sunday's Gospel reading:
Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."(Matthew 5:38-48)As I read and preached on this Gospel, I was confronted with images of myself as a Rector at my worst. Over-confident and arrogant with my role, forgetting the mercy of my Savior who called me to this work with his mercy, not my greatness, in mind. I also saw so many people around the world, striving from the base of society, to create a space where a new way of being might assert itself. I feel like we are at a place in our evolution as a human race in which the tools of community-building and information-sharing are finally in the hands of the common people...and the Powers are being confronted with a collection of voices that refuse to be contained or manipulated. Not because the many voices are morally superior, but because the old tools of manipulation are failing...the old, old "Bread and Circus" tactic of the Roman Empire is broken. People don't have bread, and they are unimpressed by the circus. Whether it is workers in Wisconsin refusing to give up the right to collective bargaining (even as they accept the requested cuts and concessions proposed by the governor's budget), or people in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran and Libya trying to cast off the old culture of the "Strong Man" leader, we are at the cusp of a new thing happening...people at the base just MIGHT be getting a chance to have a say in how the world is ordered......
He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ (Mark 9:35-37)