Monday, August 06, 2012

What is it?

What is It?
The Quest for God, Justice, and Democracy
Something went terribly wrong a long time ago. It was well before human memory can record or even history helps us to remember. We were slaves in Egypt and the extent of our slavery lasted for at least 430 years. It was a time before we had any inkling of God, Justice, Freedom, Democracy or any other or any of the other institutions we now take for granted.

And we could be slaves again if we forget who gave us this freedom, The Law, our sense of Justice and eventually what we came to know as Democracy.
Some years ago I took a group of young people to St. James Cathedral in  Toronto. The priest told us of those magnificent stained glass windows and how they helped us to remember that even in the early centuries of Britain’s existence we were slaves there too all over again. We had forgotten Who it is that brings us out of slavery and into our Promised Land. Thus there came the long hard centuries of struggle that eventually brought us the Magna Carta, a Parliamentary form of Government and even Democracy itself. We became a land governed by laws, and learned the hard lessons of Justice in the crucible of history.

If we want God, then by necessity there will have to be a House for God. If we want Democracy, there will have to be a Capital Building, a White House and a Supreme Court and so on. If we want Freedom and Justice for all, it follows that we must embrace all those institutions that make our ideals even remotely possible.
And yes that means we're going to have to have clergy, lawyers, and politicians.
Some years ago a lawyer came to me to talk about the baptism of his two lovely little girls. Of course, I will Baptize them. His wife's mother was a member of the church, so there you will see the connection. But in view of the fact that there was no evidence of his attendance at church or any record of his contributions, I was forced to ask why this was so. He told me that while he believed in God, he no longer believed in the institutional Church.
I hesitated as I had so often done in the past. If I had a dollar for everyone who told me such a thing I’d be a wealthy man by now. And true enough, God does not need these buildings, and for us to know God we don't have to be there as such.
I couldn’t let this one go by. It was too good a set up for me. “You know”, I said to the young attorney; “I believe in Justice, its just lawyers I have a hard time believing in any more.” There was a long silence after that. I allowed for that silence for a long time to make sure that sank in.

It follows as night follows day that if you want to have Democracy, you will also need a Parliamentary form of Government and Politicians. 
Likewise if you want Justice, you will need Courts and Lawyers. 
So too if we wish to Worship and Serve God we will need Churches and Clergy.
It will not suffice to say that I have given up on the “Institutional Church” any more than it would be to say I have given up on Congress or the Courts. 
It may be tempting to say such things. In fact it is common to throw all these babies out with the bathwater, leaving us without the benefit of Democracy, Justice and God. God knows almost half of us don't even bother to vote.
No, you will have to plunge your hands into the muck and mire of real human struggles and make a difference to the good. If you don't, you will merely make a difference to the detriment of humankind. It is as Kevin White, mayor of Boston during the integration crisis, often said; "The only thing that Apathy guarantees is that someone worse than yourself will govern." 
My "membership" in the church means more to me by far than having a place to be Baptized or Confirmed, and in my case to have been ordained a Deacon and then a Priest. It certainly means much more than to have signed a pledge card. It means that I have plunged my hands into the lives of real human beings, just as I believed God did when God sent Jesus Christ into the world to get his hands dirty in the reality of our lives and our history.
To me to be a member of the church means that I am now a member of Christ. To be a member then of Christ means that the Love of God which became Flesh and Blood in him is now also Flesh and Blood in me as well. Thus as I come to recognize that I am forgiven, so too I forgive. Likewise as I am reconciled, so too I become a reconciling force in the world where I am placed. Like Jesus, I am to bring Good News to the Poor,  that as I have been Baptized into him, so too I am now incorporate in that great movement which we have come to recognize as One Lord, One Faith and One Baptism.
Not long ago, a friend of mine objected to my participation in our Summer Effort. He told me that St. Gabriel’s is not my church and that it is yours and you should support it. I told my friend in no uncertain terms what I thought of his telling me to do with my money. 
And then I said this. Saint Gabriel’s is every bit as much my church as St. James’s in Cambridge where I was babtized, St Richard’s in Toronto where I was Confirmed, Epiphany, Winchester where I was Ordained a Deacon or St. Luke’s Malden where I was Priested. I’ve served Churches in Massachusetts, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Now I serve here in Douglassville, PA. I am a member incorporate of all those churches and now a part of their history.
Of course I put my money where my witness to Jesus is. These beautiful buildings do not come out of heaven but out of the hard work, generosity and love of a multitudes of those who understand what it means to be the Body of Jesus Christ.
We are his Body now. The Food of Heaven with which he nourishes us is the “What is it?” of my existence. When the children of Israel were famished in the wilderness and complained to God, God rained down quail in the evening for them to eat and in the morning there was this stuff on the ground that looked like hoarfrost. "What is it?" they asked? The children of Israel asked themselves what it was so often, that's what they called it. In a superb twist of Hebrew humor they called it "Manna" which literally means "What is it"

I’ll never full understand the mystery of Being. But the love of God...that is something I understand.
And I know God came to me in a Burning Bush and saw that my people suffered under the oppressive rod of Pharaoh. God brought me up into freedom gave me the Law, and built me into a Great Nation. God has fed me every step of the way with the "What is it" of heaven.
If I dare to forget who did these things for me, I could loose it all.
Blessings on you all,
Fr. Paul


The Blog Fodder said...

I owe you a dollar. I see no connection between the institutionalized church and God and certainly none between lawyers and justice. My cousin, now a Judge on the Supreme Court of British Columbia was told on her first day of Law School that if they were there because of a passion for justice, they were in the wrong place. Being a lawyer is about the LAW, not about justice. If they accidentally mesh once in a while, it is your lucky day. From what I see of the religious right and of my own 50 years in the bondage of religion, I would say the same. If God and religion accidentally overlap it is your lucky day.

"Fr. Paul" Bresnahan said...

Not quite...lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I know its all too rare..I've been in the business just over 40 years and have my own cynical views on the enterprise. BUT I also vividly remember Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, and Gandhi and their amazing ability to transform social injustices. Each imperfect in their own many ways, but saints of a sort each one as well.
AND when I needed help building a homeless shelter in West Virginia, I had 6 attorneys working for me pro bono to make sure it happened.
I know its rare...but I'm holding out for it nonetheless!
Thanks for your feedback.