Alan Jones is an Episcopal priest, once the Priest at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, who wrote a book entitled, Soul Making, in it he wrote, “How can I be a believer in today’s world in such a way that involves my whole self — my passion, my intelligence, and my allegiance?”
It might be perceived as a tough question.
It is a question I think is particularly important as we enter in to an election year where rhetoric being bandied about attempts to define exactly and for everyone what it means to be a ‘believer’ and also, in some cases, attempts to closely align believing in a particular doctrine of Christianity with allegiance to U.S. citizenship.
It is a question that I think we must carefully consider.
First however I want to carefully open up the definition of terms in a way that allows us to consider the question in an acceptable way. To “be a believer” means something different for many different people. For an Evangelical Christian it is going to include an assumption of being “born again”. For a Progressive Christian it is going to mean that the teachings of the man Jesus are worthy to be followed and it will probably include an assumption that Jesus’ teachings are compatible with and equal in importance to, other major religions of the world. And for the one point two billion Roman Catholics in the world being a believer is going to include seven sacraments rather than the two in Protestantism.
The differences are wide and varied and must, in my opinion, be allowed to be individual while also looking towards collaboration. We ought not to have political leaders who dictate what our spiritual beliefs ought to be. Nor should we have a situation where it is expected by popular belief that all Christians believe the same way. Differences of opinion occur on the threshold and where change is allowed growth and advancement of thought occur.
When the door to the possibility of change is slammed closed freedoms are taken away. Ultimately we need to ask ourselves where our allegiance lies or in what do we put our belief.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians is asking a similar question or, warning of similar divisive outcomes if allegiance is given to something other than the sacred and holy presence. There is a word of caution in his letter that is often understood to suggest that he is cautioning people to stick with Jesus. In his day and in his time I am certain that is exactly what he is doing. He says there is far more to life than the pleasures. There is the recognition in his letter that we are, all of us, part of something far greater. I believe we are.
I believe we are citizens of a sacred world community of people, faithful to the belief that life itself is sacred, that the world in which we live and the universe which it is a part of is all part of the sacred essence. And within that belief we harm ourselves, by dividing against one another as Christian or Muslim, citizens of this country or another one, or even democrat or republican.
To rephrase a few words that came in a letter from our Conference minister this week, “What if we were to think with less polarity and more synergy? The Church of tomorrow will need all sorts of “friends” such as; New Age thinking, the integration of Buddhist practices or simply discovering the sacred in nature, who partner with us even if they don’t enter our doors. The way forward for all of us is community based and collaborative – the places where we can connect with others around shared values and mission, such as: homeless shelters, food pantries, farmer markets, child care centers, tutoring programs, refugee resettlements, support group hosting, interfaith dialogues, Habitat builds, intercultural projects, etc.”
We are extremely fortunate people in this country. Warren Buffett has said that it is like winning the lottery just to be born here in the U.S. It’s true. I am thankful of the opportunity to be here. I am thankful that this country allowed my immigrant father to come to this country. I am thankful for the protections we have in a constitution that seems sometimes to strain under the changing times but guarantees that we have the right to many things, including the freedom from a state sponsored religion. We, and all people, are free to worship as we will.
As members of this community of faith we are citizens with an allegiance to a higher calling, a calling that knows no allegiance to political boundaries let alone political parties. We are equal to and at one with all people of faith who seek a pathway to the sacred. As members of a United Church of Christ, we acknowledge that the Christ spirit has been, and is, for us, the primary revelation of the path to the sacred – but not the only path. And here we are eager to learn from and partner with others.
How do we adhere to a path that lifts the ‘sanctity of all life’ above all else in today’s world, in such a way that involves our whole being — our passion, our intelligence, and our allegiance?” We do it by truly honoring the sacred above political allegiance, national allegiance and allegiance even to any one way of spiritual thinking. We do it by honoring the sanctity of all life. We truly become citizens of what Paul calls a “high heaven” And by “high heaven” I mean the glorified state of being where everyone treats everyone with a self-less spirit of the sacred. That is a place where as Thomas Moore says, we enter the precinct of the sacred, a place where we are all willing to give up our personal agendas. It is that place where the Rebel Buddha wakes us from the false pretenses of our own minds and instigates a revolution within.
The world around us is in turmoil. There are any number of wars going on, some we hardly hear about. Hunger still ravages in parts of this country and violence is so common it hardly gets talked about when it comes from certain places. And there are people of ALL faiths striving to work together to make the world a better and more peaceful place to raise our children and grandchildren.
Our God, or by definition “that-which-we-worship” must be recognized as the sacredness of all living things and the planet on which we live. Love does command both heaven and earth and as we work together we can sing of the joys of being able to rise above earth’s lamentations. We can acknowledge a new creation, not by the waving of a magic wand but by our working together with people of faith from around the globe who also recognize the importance of being one with all. We are, as people of faith, greater than any one country. We are people of faith born to bring the world together.
Our lives do flow on in endless song above earth’s lamentations
We can hear the sweet though far off hymn that hails the new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife – Love commands both heaven and earth.
How can we keep from singing!
We are part of something much bigger.
We are citizens of a glorified state of being that is ours to create.