Between Two Worlds Day 23 (of 40)
A funny thing is developing. Ten months ago I took a new position in a church in southern Oregon in a congregation that had just emerged from a period of conflict and loss. I had just emerged from a period of unemployment. You will remember that my blog posts slowed to barely a trickle.
There was good reason for this. This congregation didn’t need any more controversy and I didn’t want to jeopardize having a regular paycheck again. It felt good to pay for groceries with real cash again rather than food stamps.
But now nearly a year into this position an unexpected and funny development is emerging. I have shared with the leadership of the church that the most difficult aspect of the work there is preaching–not because preaching has always been a challenge for me (it hasn’t, generally it’s just a lot of fun), but because the diversity of the congregation finds me nearly every week trying to find something meaningful to say without losing people on either end of the theological spectrum. There is a soft split in the congregation on what we might term a fundamentalist/progressive continuum.
In the early months I tried to preach safe sermons. You know what I mean–sermons where just about everyone could agree. Yes, God does love us all. Yes, no matter how much change there is in the world Jesus will remain central to our Christian faith. Yes, God really does want us to “do justice, act with kindness, and walk humbly before our God.” (Micah 6: 8)
But my energy to find neutral and agreeable sermons started to run out this last fall. (I am sure some of you are surprised that I could hold my tongue that long!). As I ran out of safe and universally agreeable sermons I found myself faced with how to preach to the congregation without splitting it. I knew that if I leaned too far one way or the other on the fundamentalist/progressive continuum that people would start falling off the boat with no one to catch them. The Catch 22 dilemma pushed me into a third direction unfamiliar to everyone (better to offend everyone than just one side!)
My sermons have shifted toward preaching the Bible through the mystical lens–essentially all that means is that I seek to help people experience the Biblical text rather than just understand it or look for its meaning. I want people to feel it, taste it, desire it, and hunger for it.
And as I said an unexpected thing is happening. Nearly no one had much prior exposure to the language of mysticism, but they do know what it is like to experience God and to feel Christ’s presence in their bones. They do know what it is like to experience a Sacred presence at the rawest and most vulnerable turns of life. I have a feeling that if I introduced mysticism as a concept, I would get a glassy-eyed look from some and a frown from others. But rather than teaching about mysticism I am just giving out little free samples. And a funny thing is happening–they are coming back for more.
My journey toward religious mysticism has had many stages. But I am wondering if another stage is about ready to blossom. And for once, I wonder if it won’t be another solo journey away from community, but this time in community and with community.
What a trip this has been!