15 october 2015: resisting empire

I was going to tell you that Hallowe’en decorations are on the shelves, but about the time I typed that, the Christmas stuff showed up. Time just keeps passing, and one thing leads to another. 

Maybe you’re like me, wondering when “down time” comes at Woodside. We’ve had Rally Day, board retreat and church festival, some folks investigating water and some other folks headed to Washington DC for the Million Man March anniversary. I’ve been in Louisville planning for summer programming, and Karen and Clif leave Sunday for an orientation event in Chicago about the 2016-17 intern program. Then, just when we thought it was safe to take a breath, there’s stewardship, Thanksgiving, hanging the greens and on and on. 

We could coast from one event to the next if we wanted to, never having to ponder the grander scheme, never considering how it all fits together. Churches are busy, and we could just stay busy. It’s easy to do. 

Surely there’s something more than busy-ness that orders our life together. Surely. 

I’ve told you that our board of directors has just read “Spiritual Defiance,” in which Robin Meyers contends that the work of church is to resist the forces that keep us stuck. He names three things: ego, empire and orthodoxy. Ego was last week, orthodoxy is next. For the moment, empire is on my mind. 

Church has been an empire-resister from the start, says Meyers, ever since the women who followed Jesus gave him a public funeral. Imagine publicly grieving for an enemy of the state! That’s who we are, how we were birthed as a community. But somewhere along the way, we got co-opted by patriotic songs and religious tax deductions and chaplains in the halls of government and god’s name on coins and whatnot. For 1600 years, prophets among us have wondered how things might go better if we could just get our hands out of the coffers of empire. 

Resisting empire is tough. And empire loves when we carom from church dinner to baby in a manger to good Friday ashes to vacation bible school with no overarching theme. The careening keeps us manageable, busy. Keeps our effectiveness low. Keeps us out of reach of the Common Good and the Big Picture. 

So it strikes me, as stewardship season approaches, that one way we can resist is by refusing to allow “busyness” to dictate our life as church. We don’t just coast from program to activity to meeting to class. We walk the way of Jesus, a community of peacemakers and justice doers sharing a vision and throwing our lots in together, rather than sharing a calendar and choosing activities cafeteria-style. 

The vision our board has cast – Woodside as voice and light and seasoning in a community of despair – invites and engages all of us. 

If “busyness” is the way we capitulate, then intentionality is the antidote. We choose. We say well-thought-out yes and strategic no. We put ourselves into a big picture, even if the picture seems fuzzy and is still coming into focus. And part of the joy is in recognizing how much more we become when we are together. 

A couple of weeks ago, at our festival dinner, we recognized Woodsiders who have inspired us to be our best: Liz Perkins-Harbin, keeping our history in perspective; Jay Cummings for being everywhere; Carol Higgins and Jim Richardson, caring for our facility and all its users; Linda Worstenholm, a joyful, behind-the-scenes worker; Linda Angus, our spiritual catalyst; Clif Turner, our beloved brother willing to prod us to be better; and Leslie Cummings, organizer extraordinaire. 

You certainly know others. You see people doing things, acting in faith in large and small ways. This week in worship, as a way of thinking of stewardship, we’re going to take a moment to jot notes, to recognize folks who are “doing faith.” I’ll tell you more on Sunday. 

For now, it is enough to know, as Meyer writes, that “resistance to empire never comes from the established order. It comes from artists. It bubbles up in their poetry; it leaks off their canvas; it slips past the censors who came to close the show and then fell fast asleep in the theater.” 

“Stewardship” gets a bad rap, I think. We tend to hear the word and think only of money. Money matters, and we’ll get to that, but there is so much more. This week, we’re lifting up gifts of energy, skill, dedication, because Woodside is us, poets, dreamers, artists, a collection of all we have to offer, in the context of who we’ve been, and on a path toward who we will become. Refusing to be distracted by busyness, we embrace a vision, share a journey. A particular journey. A defiant journey. 

With you on that journey, 

— pastor deb