Between Two Worlds Day 27 (of 40)
A quote from RUMI on a Christian Church street sign? There is hope yet!
Actually the accompanying picture was sent by Walter, a former member of Eastminster Church in Portland, Oregon—the church I was pastor of that technically closed but has lived on under a new name and resurrected ministry. I am tickled at the idea of a Christian Church quoting a Sufi Muslim mystic from 800 years ago. More than that, I took it as a personal message:
“Keep going Brian. Trust the process. You are producing fruit, even if you don’t get to see it.”
Years before I helped the congregation erect that sign never imagining that one day a quote from Rumi would be broadcast to the 25,000 drivers per day that pass by.
I certainly can’t claim too much credit for the theological direction of Parkrose Community United Church of Christ (http://www.parkroseucc.org) where my former Eastminster members continue to go to church and call it their own. But I do wonder if laid the groundwork for it happen. Years before the 2012 closure and legacy deal I taught a class titled An Introduction to Christian Mysticism. Partnered with that class I preached on a handful of different mystics from the pulpit introducing the congregation to St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Thomas Merton, to name a few. I remember when one person came off the street because of this sign mentioning Thomas Merton. A few weeks later she joined the church.
We didn’t make the language of mysticism a big deal. But I do remember that both conservative and liberal members were able to relate to the experiences that were the source of mystical writings. Three years later I took my slightly over-ambitious 4,000 mile cycling pilgrimage around the West. For the first time in my life I found myself writing about some of my experiences using the poetic imagery of mysticism to capture my experiences. Simple descriptions weren’t enough to describe playing with God in a lightning and thunderstorm or standing far above Lower Yellowstone Falls and wanting some way to become one with the violent rush of water. My head told me it was foolish. My soul wanted to feel what the water felt.
But PCUCC saw an opportunity and Eastminster, I believe, was ready to invite another group of faithful spirited Christians to take the reins of the church. Nine months later the deal was done. Eastminster officially closed, but the community lived on in a new form.
Since then I have continued to explore this return to/resurgence of religious mysticism that I believe will eventually become our common language again. I preached another series on the Christian mystics in my next church, then went on a pilgrimage to visit the site of Rumi’s Tomb in Konya, Turkey, and have flirted with some mystical themes in my current church. But honestly I have sometimes wondered if I am speaking in an empty canyon where my words echo on forever but no one but me actually hears them. Or I wonder if people hear the words, but they fall flat like well-spoken French that sounds lyrical but no one actually understands.
So for now I am going to take the picture of the sign that I helped erect, in front of a church that once I pastored, for a community of people to whom I introduced mysticism as a personal message from God (or Walter) that says, “Keep going Brian. Trust the process. You are producing fruit.”
A Christian Church quoting a Muslim poet and prophet? Maybe there is hope for us yet!