Coventry Cathedral in England posts this message at its door, and periodically on its order of service:
“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, straight, gay, confused, well-heeled, or down at heel. We especially welcome wailing babies and excited toddlers.
“We welcome you whether you can sing like Pavarotti or just growl quietly to yourself. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woken up, or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven’t been to church since Christmas ten years ago.
“We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, and junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, are down in the dumps, or don’t like ‘organized religion.’
“We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or are here because granny is visiting and wanted to come to the Cathedral.
“We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both, or neither. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as kids, or got lost on the ring road and wound up here by mistake. We welcome pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters -- and you!”
I commend the Coventry statement to all churches, all religious institutions. With one caveat.
The Coventry welcome sounds omni-inclusive, and in many ways it is. But – and there’s always a “but,” isn’t there? -- it doesn’t say who’s NOT welcome. More precisely, WHAT’S not welcome.
Don’t bring them with you
A couple of Sundays ago, Bob Thompson, our minister-for-the-day, talked about what the United Church of Canada believes, or doesn’t believe.
He said, “I often hear that the United Church is tolerant. I don’t think it is. Like Coventry Cathedral, we do welcome ‘pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters – and you.’ But when you come in our doors, you need to know that we are not tolerant of attitudes that dismiss or demean others...
“If you are racist, misogynist, white supremacist, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, or anti-immigrant, you are still welcome to come in. But don’t bring those ideas with you, and don’t expect them to be welcomed.”
I like Bob’s distinction. Many religious communities have Statements of Faith – things you MUST believe if you want to belong. Anything else you want to believe, beyond that official statement, is up to you.
Sometimes it’s equally important to state what you may NOT believe. For example, that white males have a divine right to dictate what “inferior” genders and races may do. That other religions must be vanquished. That modern science is an enemy of faith.
Or, perhaps most pertinently given our current ecological crisis, that life on this earth is but a passing blip on the great screen of eternity, an unimportant interlude before moving on.
I know that my own faith journey had to start by identifying what I did not and could not believe any longer.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Several of you took the last week’s parable of the triangle player to heart.
Tom Watson pointed to former Governor General David Johnston’s book, "Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country."
“In one of the chapters, Tom noted, “he suggests that we all be barn-builders. When one farmer's barn burns down, all the neighbours get together and help build a new one. It takes all of them to make a team, each playing their part. Each is akin to the triangle in the orchestra -- take out one and the whole team is less effective.”
David Gilchrist: “For the last several days, as I have been preparing for a service, your theme has been ringing in my memory through a favourite old Gospel Hymn from my youth:
‘Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar;
To the many duties ever near you now be true:
Brighten the corner where you are!’
“But I love your new take on it, and will include your triangle parable -- with due credit -- in the sermon. Thanks.
“The heavy smoke in the air in many parts of our country this season makes it imperative that more of us tune our triangles to your note of warning, and seek other orchestras in which to sound them, so the message is heard by more people -- especially the leaders who can direct greater efforts at saving what’s left of this wonderful world, and the critters that remain in it -- including our own offspring.”
Ray Shaver called the column, “A nice way of putting our humble lives in realistic perspective.”
Isabel Gibson found a matching message: “I've seen this bit from the Talmud quoted in more than one form, but think this one from Rabbi Jill Jacobs is as good as any: ‘You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.’ (Pirkei Avot 2:21)
“A reminder to all of us to keep doing what we do.”
Bob Rollwagen remembered “always being assigned the triangle when we had Rhythm Band. I wanted the drum. Now when I go to symphony concerts I enjoy how the triangle fits into the percussion section and its importance.”
Bob applies that lesson to life: “I try to make input any time I have an opinion. As a handyman, I help clients reduce, reuse, or recycle by repairing, adjusting, or maintaining what they own.
“It is frustrating when I see Provincial leadership fighting climate change or passing responsibility down to individuals when group systems are more powerful and more cost effective. I make one small step forward while the Premier takes several high steps backwards.”
Laurna Tallman wrote, “A couple of weeks ago, as I was hunting on You Tube for some variety for my clients' Focused Listening pieces that centre on Mozart's, Bach's, and others' violin concertos, I came across a recent performance of my childhood delight The Moldau. It was played with a lilt and a technicolor clarity that made other performances fade by comparison. Your metaphor about the roles we play with our triangles in the greater symphony of life resonates with perfect timing.
“John Hatchard's account of a central awareness of cosmic love in his life reminds me of such events in my life. I should pay closer attention to them because we, too, are torn by the daily news of fresh disasters that we allow to batter our ears and crush our hopes.
“Tom Watson [in his weekly blog The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony] caught my attention with a related quotation: ‘We’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business serving coffee.’ (Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks).
These combined messages raise the question, ‘How am I failing to love those I would serve?’ And the answer is: ‘Make sure the triangle players are fully equipped and appreciated.’”
And Krista Markstrom thanked me “for being more than a triangle.”
She explained, “I love your paraphrase of Psalm 104, verses 23-34. I’m a celebrator of the Universe having given up entirely on the whole concept of our created anthropomorphic G_d hovering in the sky above us, long white beard flowing with ‘His’ finger on the pulse of all that matters. Your paraphrase provides a different perspective. A different pulse. One that permeates the Universe, all of existence. This I can wrap my head around. Can feel when I look at my beautiful gardens. Can see in a child’s smile. Can watch when the day turns from morning to evening as the sun rises and falls from one side of the sky to the other to make way for the stars and planets to shine overhead. Can sense in my love’s kiss. That Awareness is everywhere. Palpable. Alive and breathing.”
Coincidences abound. Last week, I printed John Hatchard’s very personal letter about his relationship with divine presence. In further correspondence, he sent me the poem/dedication he wrote for himself after that experience. I asked if I could hold it for possible future use.
This week, the appointed psalm is Psalm 8: “Oh Lord my God, how wonderful is your name… What are humans, that you are mindful of us…” John’s poem seemed to me to encapsulate that psalm as well as any of the paraphrases I have written:
O Lord, You are with me still
For nowhere can I go but You are also there;
And were there none save I alone
In all this Universe, then there would still be You.
For You are with me, in me, are me.
There is no escape from You for me,
From me for You.
We each must suffer the presence of each other.
So, if to suffer is to love and loving, suffering,
Then surely do You love me
And I love You.
(written by John Hatchard in Poole, Dorset, summer 1949, at the age of 17)
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTcaHe’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge.