I suppose you’ve noticed that it is both Shrove Tuesday and Super Tuesday. It’s Mardi Gras at the polls, which means that either all the fools are cutting loose with everything they’ve got, or the entire country is seeking to be shriven of their individual and collective sins.
We’re spending the first few weeks of retirement on Maui. We’ve been coming to these islands every year for twenty-five years, and for me they are a place of instant relaxation. I am fascinated by the history, culture, language and geography of Hawaii and have always wondered why it affects me so. But I digress, and will again. We worshiped today at Holy Innocents in Lahaina where we have often worshiped before. More than ever I was taken by how wonderful it is to sit in the congregation, focus on worship and open my mind to the wonders of God’s holy Word preached in a sermon that is so very different than one I would have preached. Bill Albinger is the Priest-in-Charge, and if I recall correctly he came here about three years ago agreeing to a temporary assignment of six months. I suspect that Bill is another one whose soul lives more fully here than anywhere else. The fluency of his liturgical Hawaiian would say yes to that. My own first trip here was in 1968 and I knew the moment I got of the plane that somehow a part of me was deeply connected to these islands and their people. Notice the use of ‘their.’ These islands seem to have life and personality that makes it impossible to think of them as just the tops of volcanoes sticking up out the mid-Pacific. But I also know that a part of me is as deeply connected to people and land of our adopted home in the rural west of the Blue Mountains. One of these days I need to look into the spirituality and psychology of connections like these. It’s one thing to have such feelings about one’s native land, but what causes that within the soul of a stranger, a visitor?
I do not believe there is such a thing as “generic Christianity,” although I often referred to my own parents as generic Christians. In the rural, dust-bowl community in which they grew up during the Depression, the church had a denominational sign out front, but they got the pastor they could get for however long they could get him and it didn’t much matter which denomination he came from, if any. That early pattern meant that while mom and dad were dedicated churchgoers, they were satisfied with whatever Protestant church was nearest at the time, and we, as children, went with them. To be sure, they were devoted Christians their whole lives long. When other families took summer off from church we went every Sunday. Grace was always said at meals, and we children did not have much choice about going to confirmation classes. But their knowledge of what Christianity really meant remained stuck in what they learned in Sunday School and the little mixture of this and that they picked up from each of the many churches they attended in the various places they lived. In their retirement years they were content with a preacher who could entertain a congregation with a humorous, reassuring message that did not demand too much.
That’s not an altogether bad thing, it’s just not good enough. Because denominations were not important to them, they missed out on a deeper understanding of why each church worshipped they way they did and why they expressed the faith in ways deeply rooted in very serious thinking about God, Jesus, humanity, sin, salvation and all the other elements of core church doctrine. What was it about Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists and Lutherans that made them different? Was it just a matter of liturgical style? Local custom? Or was there something very important about the ways in which each understood Christianity? My parents would never know. There is something to be said about a plain generic and steadfast faith. Don’t get me wrong. But I believe there is something greater to be had through a faith that more fully understands the how and why of denominational differences. That greater understanding is what enables a deeper conversation to take place about God and what it means to be the body of Christ. It is the differences between us that allow us to learn from each other and come to new, more profound, understandings of God in Christ that will pave the way for future generations of believers.
I imagine there is more to be said: a book perhaps? Why don’t you add your own thoughts.