22 october 2015: resisting orthodoxy

Some years ago, I can’t even remember when, I read a news story about two men who were having a friendly chat on a front porch. I know, that’s not news yet. But as they talked, the conversation turned to scripture, then landed on a particular passage, about which they apparently disagreed. Conversation got heated, and here’s what happened: one man pulled out a pistol and shot the other to death. End of argument. 

I’m sure that’s exactly what Jesus had in mind. 

In these last few weeks, I’ve been sharing thoughts from the book the board and I read together this fall, Spiritual Defiance: building a beloved community of resistance. Meyers contends, you’ll remember, that the church is called to resist, to actively work against conformity. He says we are to resist ego, empire, and orthodoxy, right belief. 

Ego? Sure, we think, though it makes us uncomfortable to recognize that our egos are at play. Empire? Perhaps, though some of us may still cringe at the thought that faith must compel us into a political realm. 

But orthodoxy? This one seems most basic. 

Woodside, more than any congregation I’ve known, is comfortable with the awareness that as a group we may not all believe the same things. It says so, right there on the sanctuary wall in our statement of belief. “All individuals have the right to their own interpretation of religious faith.” Plus, you all told me that when we first met. We are, rather, a group of people on a path together. Followers of the way of Jesus. Or followers of the Jesus Ethic, in Meyers’ words. 

And if we’ve got that right, perhaps there’s nothing in this orthodoxy realm we need to resist. 

Or maybe there is, which is why I suspect this resistance may actually be the hardest one of all. 

Meyers wonders if staying home from church is itself an act of resistance. “People no longer feel obligated to attend services on Sunday morning pretending to believe things they know are not true in order to get rewards they doubt are even available.” Wow. 

But I wonder if attending church isn’t the greater act of resistance. Progressives aren’t necessarily known for our worship habits these days. We are often depicted in the media as being areligious, humanistic, they may say with a sneer, as if we think we’ve found something better. Say the word Christian and ugly things can pop up in people’s minds, so we put in a little distance. 

But we keep coming to worship. In defiance of the stereotype. 

How else shall we resist? What else is necessary for us to live a resurrected life? 

We at Woodside still have – individually and collectively – our own sacred cows, traditions, practices, beliefs and behaviors that we somehow elevate to the status of “most holy.” We even have them programmatically. What’s church without a Sunday school? How can we be church without an excellent music program? If we leave 1509 East Court Street, who will we be? 

Meyer shares a metaphor I’ve heard before, attributed to an Anglican bishop who described the state of the church’s orthodoxy in this century: “about every 500 years, the church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.” Meyer extends the image: “We are all going through the theological attic, trying to decide how much of our doctrinal stuff is still valuable and what should be taken to the curb and sold to strangers.” Pity the strangers. 

So, it’s been 500 years since the Reformation, 500 years since the church took stock and wildly shifted its weather vane of orthodoxy. It’s time. For the church universal, for Woodside congregation, it is time to take stock, to imagine the faith that we’ll build for the next generation and the one after that. 

One of the things I love about Woodside is our openness to people who don’t have it all figured out – and our openness to our own unfiguredoutness. It is a freeing thing to know there is no exam, no litmus test, no prerequisites. Just us, gathered together, a beloved community embracing a messy faith and trying to mend a broken world. Or just sweep out one little corner of it. 

Ego, Empire, Orthodoxy. We’ve got some resisting to be about, but it makes all the difference that we’re on a path together. 

With you on that journey, — pastor deb