Monthly Archives: April 2013

Flyin’ Our Theological Freak Flag With Pride

The congregation where I serve as pastor, Holy Covenant MCC, used the reflective season of Lent this year to consider our primary theological and spiritual identity. We began the process by using a survey I designed to address our beliefs regarding God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, atonement, heaven, hell, other faiths; what is most important to us as a community of faith and so on. The primary purpose of the survey was to set a foundation for changes in our mission, vision and programming. A secondary purpose for this survey was for us to start a discussion about what we mean when we say, “Well, of course we’re a Christian church.”

Or whether we should make that claim at all…

Yeah, I know the whole thing sounds quite dry. I mean, really, a survey? At the same time, the results of that survey have led to some very interesting observations and conversations in our community. So would you like to know what Holy Covenant learned about itself?

Well, we don’t fit into the mainstream of Trinitarian Protestant Christianity–and the predominant LGBT orientation of our congregants has little, if anything, to do with that fact. 82% of the survey respondents (and 70% of our congregants responded to the survey) have what is best called a Unitarian/New Thought view of God and Jesus; that is, God is of one nature (and that nature–in our congregation–is predominantly non-theist); and Jesus had one nature: human. Not only that, we’re all expressions of the One Reality or Source many people call “God.”

We’re quite Christian Humanist, too. Basically, for us, Jesus is very important as an amazing teacher, prophet and healer. Most of our congregants don’t focus on the later supernatural claims attributed to Jesus’ birth, life, resurrection and second coming. What I’m saying here is most of our folks don’t outright reject these claims about Jesus as much as those claims are not why they think Jesus is important, especially since we cannot prove them. For most of us, Jesus “saves” through the example of his life and teachings. We take the bible seriously, but not literally; and the holy writings of other faiths as well as the knowledge we gain from science is critical to the formation of our worldviews.

We are very Universalist, too. By that comment I mean we see all peaceful expressions of faith as valid paths to the Divine; and as far as hell or other forms of eternal damnation go, well, the response was “Hell? No!” Prayer is important, and we pray in different ways (mostly non-theist).

Communally, we value an open communion–everyone without exception–is welcome. And we are ready to open our doors wide to everyone who wants to be a positive part of our community–Christian and non-Christian–and yes, that is full participation including voice, vote, sitting on the board of directors, etc.

Was I surprised? No and Yes. No, because I’ve suspected for some time that we are more theologically liberal than we present; at the same time, I was surprised at just how not Trinitarian Protestant Christian we are. Is everyone happy with the results? No. A very few are concerned they are too conservative to remain at Holy Covenant. They have told me, however,  they know they are welcome and are not angry at all at the results of the survey. Many people have mentioned how happy they are we took the time to go through the survey process. As one person said, “We should have done this a long time ago.”

So, are we “Christian” at Holy Covenant? Well, that depends on how you define “Christian.” Someone even asked me if we should just keep all this quiet from our denominational leadership in case we get in trouble for not being “Christian” enough.

My response? “Not at all. There are many ways to be MCC. I say, ‘Let’s let our theological freak flag fly high with pride!”

Blessings on your journeys!

Going Out in Style

Last week I made the monthly trip to western Kentucky to visit my mom in the nursing home where she now lives. Our stepfather is by her side eight hours a day, if not more; yet, she becomes very agitated when he has to leave for any reason. Her behavior breaks his heart, of course; yet my sister and I–and the rest of our family–insist he has to take of himself. Mom receives excellent care and attention; and while I love her, our family also knows our stepfather has spoiled her with his undivided attention. He probably realizes this truth, as well; still, who are we to question how he expresses his love for her?

This trip included a quarterly Care Team planning meeting with the nursing home staff. Mom recently experienced another stroke; so her vocabulary is now even more limited than before the stroke. Mom’s health continues to deteriorate; this reality is a natural, yet disturbing part of her disease process. Most forms of therapy are now discontinued either because Mom has reached her insurance cap–don’t get me started on the inequities of our healthcare system–or because she simply isn’t responding to the therapies.

After that meeting and lunch, my sister and I met our stepfather at the local funeral home to plan both of their funeral services, as well as make burial arrangements–at his request. The funeral home Director is a hometown guy who knows our family well. My sister and I did most of the talking because our stepfather asked us to handle everything for both of them–which we are more than willing to do. We stopped frequently during the planning process to ask for his opinions only to hear, “You go ahead and do what you think is right; whatever you do for your mama, do for me. I have to get back to the nursing home pretty soon. Your mama is gonna be throwin’ a fit if I’m not there before long.”

The part of the process that disturbed me the most was picking out my parents’ caskets. As nice as the funeral home Director is, hearing the words, “OK, let’s go to the casket show room,” made me want to ask to the question, “Oooh, are there any clearance sales good for today only?” Yeah, I know; totally disrespectful; but really, a casket showroom?

Do you have any clue how many colors, varieties, etc. of caskets exist? Again, the funeral home Director is a great person; he didn’t pressure us at all. Based on our choice of a concrete vault to protect the casket from water damage, he recommended some possible selections. We chose a model available in a medium blue tone–affordable, nice, and in Mom’s color of choice. Then our stepfather tells us Mom wants to be buried in a light blue dress. Well, that is an issue because all the liners for this model are light blue. Mom is very slight now; her hair is white; she will “fade out” in a light blue dress in a casket with a light blue liner. All I could think was, “SHE WON’T KNOW WHAT FREAKIN’ COLOR OF DRESS SHE’S WEARING!” What I actually said, however, was far more professional and polite.

After all was said and done, my sister and I left together while our stepfather rushed back to the nursing home. I finally asked my sister, “OK. Most of our family believes when we die, the body decays and the soul immediately departs to either heaven or hell. Is that right?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“OK. Then why do we make such a fuss about what color dress or suit or anything else people are wearing? Why do we care whether or not the casket is water-tight? I understand respecting last wishes and honoring the body–I really do–but if you believe a person’s soul is either eternally blessed or eternally damned…”

There was no real definitive answer.

My grandma Carrie (my mother’s mother) always said she didn’t want a bunch of people staring at her dead body. She told her children to do whatever they wanted to do regarding funeral, burial etc. because they would whatever they wanted to do anyway. She didn’t want a public viewing because–as she said–“Some of those people never spent time with me when I was alive. What’s the big deal about seeing me when I’m dead?” Of course grandma was right; the kids did what they wanted to do; there was the usual public viewing, funeral procession and service at the graveside. It was beautiful, too; don’t get me wrong; it just wasn’t exactly what Grandma Carrie wanted.

At the end of the day, maybe this post is part of my grieving process. I don’t cry often; so maybe these words can represent my tears. Who knows?

One thing I DO know–I am so glad I’m being cremated.

Blessings on your journeys!