Wednesday, February 10, 2010

fully completely?

You who truly and earnestly repent of your sins, who live in love and peace with your neighbours, and who intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and walking in his holy ways, draw near with faith, and take this holy sacrament for your comfort; and humbly bowing, make your honest confession to Almighty God.

(Invitation to the Free Methodist Communion Liturgy)

so my friend and i came to a surprise disagreement over the little piece of holy poetry cited above:

I ask myself how can we say we have an open communion when our liturgy narrows who’s invited? Our current liturgy is personally troublesome in that the invitation, in my opinion, excludes honest, seeking people – honest in that they confess they are truly seeking God but cannot in good conscience say they yet have “truly and earnestly” repented of their sins and/or are reconciled and at peace with their neighbours, much less intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and walking in his holy ways.

Sometimes I wonder if I, by this invitation, am even invited to the Lord’s Table.

concerning the invitation, i believe that the qualifying 'truly and earnestly' is valuable. gotta say that right off the top. the way we frame in faith experiences does make a difference to the one who is engaging, and attaching strong language like 'truly and earnestly' places the onus on the one who is interested in pressing into something deeply personal, to do so with an appropriate degree of intention and ownership. i've learned, after all, that people don't value things that come too easily, and so the problem poses itself: how do you invite everyone to participate at their level in a spiritually meaningful practice without cheapening, bastardizing or even desecrating the practice for others?

oh, tradition is a messy thing, but i didn't expect a kind of spanish inquisition...

(JARRING CHORD - The door flies open and Cardinal Ximinez of Spain enters, flanked by two junior cardinals. Cardinal Biggles has goggles pushed over his forehead. Cardinal Fang is just Cardinal Fang)

Ximinez: NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is suprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our *four* *Amongst* our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again. (Exit and exeunt)

Man: I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.

(JARRING CHORD - The cardinals burst in)

Ximinez: NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms - Oh damn! (To Cardinal Biggles) I can't say it - you'll have to say it.

Biggles: What?

Ximinez: You'll have to say the bit about 'Our chief weapons are ...'

Biggles: (rather horrified) I couldn't do that...

(Ximinez bundles the cardinals outside again)

Man: I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.

(JARRING CHORD - The cardinals enter)

Biggles: Er....

Ximinez: Expects...

Biggles: Expects... Nobody expects

Ximinez: Inquisition.

Biggles: I know, I know! Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. In fact, those who do expect -

Ximinez: Our chief weapons are...

Biggles: Our chief weapons

Ximinez: Surprise...

Biggles: Surprise and --

Ximinez: Okay, stop. Stop. Stop there - stop there. Stop. Phew! Ah! ...our chief weapons are surprise...blah blah blah. Cardinal, read the charges.

Fang: You are hereby charged that you did on diverse dates commit heresy against the Holy Church...
(courtesy of the silly people at pythonet )

the messiness of tradition is only one possible explanation for the fact that more people aren't interested in receiving communion bread and wine- symbols of the redeeming sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ- in a local church, whether that church practices 'open communion' (as we do) or not. the fact that so many purpogators of this particular grace-based faith are exceptionally graceless themselves most of the time definitely weighs in.

the basic tenet in a grace-based faith, is that relationship with the Divine is 'free'

but the question of tradition and religiosity seems to circle back here: who decides whether something is too free or not free enough? is one's theology too open or too closed to describe the God of the universe? how about the practices used by this one to approach this God? are these practices and perameters transferrable, or are they strictly as individualistic as the relationship that this God seeks to engage in with these humble created personal beings?

see, it gets a little slippery, in my view, with the holy pendulum swinging back and forth causing this great gospel thing that is supposedly free and available to all to have all these hidden costs showing up which are impossible to calculate because everyone you talk to draws up the 'salvation bill' differently. what began as a movement of freedom and hope for the lost and emotionally, socially and spiritually disconnected becomes something decidely less free, less hopeful.

like when we discovered that, although napster was back online as a digital music service, the utopic 'what's mine is yours' P2P shine had been replaced with butt-covering licensing fees and such. (yeah, that was a tangent)

well, whether it's digital music or God that we are seeking to access, it appears as though it is up to us to sort it all out in order to attain that to which we are driven. God himself seems to be okay with open-sourcing his gospel and the life-changing truth that is at its centre. in fact, that seems to be how he's preferred to operate for a very long time. God has left a fair bit of room in the bible for maneuvering.

i mean, questions similar to those above of my friend concerning open communion could be posed regarding the claim that God has unconditional love, yet only those who 'believeth in him will not perish but have everlasting life...' (john3.16)

i must confess that this conditional grace doesn't go down easy for me most days, as i work hard to discern between the questions that i wrestle with in my own understanding of how this all comes together and the words i am to speak to a crowd.

see, i've heard people speak of 'cheap grace' and how it is incorrect to consider that God may just say on that day of days:

"you know, you were lied to by the prince of the air your whole life about who you are and who i am and i agreed to abide by your will, as ill-informed as it was... but i'm God and this is my day now- the day of the Lord- and i, the Lord say to one and all 'behold now, the kingdom. enter into my rest.' ''

i'm not so sure. it sounds like that kind of grace, although perhaps 'cheap' for the recipient of it, is pretty damn expensive for God. this would make it grace- unmerited favour- for real. yet i mustn't preach those thoughts lest i be branded a heretic or at least a bleeding-hearts liberal. in my heart of hearts, the question is perpetually posed for consideration.

we have liturgies that have been prayerfully drawn up to give us a structure for our worship, and i believe that their orthodoxy protects us all if these more liberal versions of God's grace, although they may feel right to me, are a little off. by including these thoughts in the invitation, those who have been entrusted with leadership are equipping people for meaningful decision-making with righteous intention: we say everyone is invited and we include, in the invitation, words of preparation. (1 corinthians 11.27-29).

as to the degree to which a person understands (or misunderstands) those words of invitation, it's probably between that person and God. God knows what any of us really mean and how fully completely given to him our hearts are, yet he invites us to step forward in faith and assures us that these steps are not in vain...

yep, more grace, courtesy of God.

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