Wednesday, September 14, 2016

In defence of ramblers, seekers and questioners in my faith community

I am postponing my planned second post,  because I must do something else first.

As a lifelong rambler, seeker and questioner, I honour those who walk their spiritual paths - even if different from my own- with integrity and passion.

I resist any attempt to impose orthodoxy- to say , you must believe this , or you are not welcome.    Even in feminist/liberation communities, I strenuously resist any attempt to say "This is how you have to be feminist".  

If you seek to live compassionately,  with respect for living beings and for creation, if you seek to contribute peaceably and humanely to a better world for all,  I am happy to walk with you, whatever you say you believe or do not believe.

I call myself a Christian, and I am a Christian minister- but because I believe in the vision of justice and peace and liberation lived and taught by Jesus- a vision taught and lived not only by Jesus, but many other wise and compassionate and prophetic women and men: including some in our era.  One such who recently died -but whose witness and writing continue to inspire us- was the scientist and peacemaker and Holocaust survivor and Quaker Ursula Franklin.    You can add your examples to this  "cloud of witnesses"  [a phrase from the biblical Letter to the Hebrews] - people of many spiritual paths and persuasion.

One of my colleagues, Rev. Gretta Vesper, of West Hill United Church is inspired, as I am , by the United Church of Canada vision of inclusiveness and justice.  In her spiritual journey with her congregation,  she has found herself walking a path which some in our denomination do not approve, do not consider compatible with ministry in the United Church.

You may have heard that , by a complex and - to my mind questionable - process, she has been investigated for her suitability for ministry- not because of her relationship with her congregation or her overall ethical way of living and behaving, but because of her beliefs.

She has described herself as an "atheist".  I honour people's right to name themselves.  I choose to name myself differently- I don't believe in a  male Father God up in heaven, but for me there are many other ways to speak of- and pray to/with- the Divine.   But I welcome Gretta's insistence on exploring honestly what words, what concepts ring true in these rapidly changing times.  I also minister with - have long ministered with- people of very diverse spiritual paths, who would use diverse language to describe their beliefs and their image or non-image of the Divine.

Some would say , an "atheist" has no place in Christian ministry.  If that's what you say, I respect your view.

Others- and I am among them- would say: I am more interested in how people -including clergy- live than in what they say they believe.  If they seek to live justly, compassionately , with respect for others and creation , and if they inspire such living in others- if they are inclusive and welcoming to those who are commonly excluded and marginalized- then they are living the way I believe Jesus taught and modelled.

To cut a long reflection short, I'd invite you to read the background to Gretta's situation here.

And if you already know it, or even if you don't, I'd definitely like you to take a look at this petition and if you feel so moved , sign it.   I have along with over 600 others.

Tomorrow- Thurs. September 14- decisions will be made about whether Gretta will be allowed to continue in United Church ministry or not.    It has not been our custom to investigate and remove clergy on the basis of their beliefs- I hope and - yes- pray that is not the way we are going.  For a spiritual rambler, who values the freedom and diversity of seekers and questioners, this would be very bad news.

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