Kev is sleeping soundly beside me. Caroline is sleeping in her nursery. Though she may be close to waking… Today was day one of only worshipping with congregation number 2… we thought we would go to Sunday School before the service. We haven’t been able to do that before as Sunday School meets at the same time as the worship service for congregation number 1. But we had a slow, lazy start to the day and Caroline was in need of a nap so we decided to drive around a bit before heading to church in the hopes she’d fall asleep. She did. So we showed up for Sunday School late. And as soon as we settled in, her eyes popped open. Of course.
I was a bit nervous about crossing paths with folks from congregation number 1. We haven’t sent the e-mail we intended to send saying goodbye. And so, some probably know, but we don’t know what they know. And some probably don’t. And showing up at church time, but not going in… that felt like it was going to be awkward. As it happened, with our late arrival and given that one of the participants stayed after Sunday School to speak with us, we managed to not see anyone at all from congregation number 1 today.
And here are my thoughts as we begin our singular church commitment… it feels strange. As much as worshipping with congregation number 1 was not working for us… it was… oh… I don’t know. Familiar. Let’s put it out there… it was easy to worship with white folks who worship like white folks generally do and to supplement that with worship with black folks who worship like black folks generally do (and yes, I know that there is diversity among white folks and black folks in approaches to worship). As unworshipful as congregation number 1 felt to me most of the time… it was wholly familiar. And well balanced by congregation number 2 which felt frequently surprising and challenging.
And now, we have only surprising and challenging. I realize that while we have made the choice that corresponded with our sense of call, we have made the more difficult choice. Things aren’t all surprising and challenging as we’ve been worshipping with these folks for over a year, but still… no hymns… different order of worship… no written liturgy… testimony… drums… LONG sermons… (well we had that in congregation 1, too!) But things are different. And we are different- we are very much in the minority. And making this our church home… well… it is going to demand a lot of growth weekly.
Funny how God works…
But this does feel more like the sabbath to me. Thanks be to God.
Over the past several weeks I’ve had a number of conversations with African American students in the discussion section I’m leading for the intro theology class this semester. The topic for the class’ reflection this week was “revelation”- reflection on how it is that we come to know God. The professor started the week with a review of some of the rational “proofs” for God’s existence that have been worked out over the years. Many of the African American students found these to be preposterous, pointless, one even charged them with blasphemy… most spoke of having experiences of “personal” revelation… upon reflection they realized they had been steeped in the church much of their lives and the God they know is primarily the God revealed in Jesus and through the scriptures as witnessed to by the church (in theological terms, they know God through special rather than general revelation)… but each of them had private and personal moments when God became real for them. The idea that you would sit down and write out a rational argument for the existence of God just seemed totally absurd to them. Many of the Euro-American students in my group, in contrast, saw these proofs as valuable, if insufficient. In the course of our discussion on Friday, one of the students asked “Are we basically saying in this class that the proofs are invalid?” “No,” I reminded them, “Your professor pointed out how operative most of these are in the assumptions of many people in church pews. Many people claim they knew there is a God because of how beautiful the world is… this is a teleological/cosmological proof for God’s existence that has NOTHING necessarily to do with the God made known in Jesus Christ. In fact, most of the people I know take a ‘natural’ or ‘general’ knowledge of God as their starting point and don’t look to Jesus for clarification about who God is. Most of the people in the congregation I last served were in this boat.” Several of the African-American students almost fell off their chairs. They were SHOCKED. They wanted to be sure that I knew that most of the people they knew had a very different starting point. And I believe them.
This interaction made me think a bit more deeply about some of the reading of James Cone that I’ve been doing of late for this class. He argues in “God of the Oppressed” that most African-Americans aren’t concerned with proving the existence of God; they take that as a given. And they know God as liberator, as savior… on a deeply personal, experiential level and via scripture and church. The professor teaching the class pointed out to everyone that proofs of God’s existence from natural theology are deeply flawed because of the presuppositions they require and because… well… take a look at the world… you can make a case for an evil, absent, or arbitrary God perhaps more readily than for a good, loving, benevolent God… isn’t it interesting though, that the mostly white folks I know are able to look at the world through rose colored glasses and arrive at sure knowledge of God that way? And isn’t it interesting if people of color, particularly African-Americans, cannot? If my great-grandparents had been slaves, and my grandparents had been share croppers, and my parents had attended segregated and unequal schools… If I had family members who had been lynched or nearly lynched… if I got followed by cops every time I drove in a certain neighborhood… I’d need God to make Godself known to me in a way that challenges the world as it is. Because any God who is behind the world as it is… well… that is not a God worth worshipping.
How crazy that this never occurred to me before…
I have a lot to learn. And may I be humble enough to learn it graciously and patiently… and may I be transformed as I learn it.
(Any suggestions for a good blog name for congregation number 2?)