We knew all those years ago what our slow-walking and half-measures would mean for you. We knew that even with all the progress we have made over the last several decades, powerful climate impacts were already baked into the atmosphere. We knew that your world would be fundamentally altered from the one we had known. We knew that glorious future you are getting ready to explore would be more dangerous and more unpredictable because of us.
When football teams brag that God gave them the win, when musical artists sing about drinking and sex and then win an award and point to the heavens and thank Jesus, when people put silver fish on their cars amid bumper stickers about God and guns . . . I’m sick of all of it. Sick of tee-shirts with bloody images of Jesus on his cross and yards signs declaring Jesus is Lord of our county. Even Christian music, all the time, blaring from a car or piped into a place of business gets to me. I know it’s mostly well-intentioned, but I am repulsed by it.
Dr. King, the brightest light of the Civil Rights Movement, the descendant of enslaved people, is being appropriated by white conservatives for purposes which, if you peel back all the layers of rhetoric, are ultimately racist. On this day, of all days, it is time to repudiate this, in Ottawa County and beyond.
Eugene was far more comfortable with ambiguity than most hometown believers I knew back then, and he generally assumed (a presumption many interpreted as naïve) that people of goodwill could arrive at vastly different conclusions but still, awkwardly perhaps, learn to live together.
We need the stories of the Gospels more than ever as our churches bicker and break apart. We need to walk with Jesus and to hear his teaching. We need to know what love looks like, how to face the empires of our day, how to resist evil non-violently. Jesus is the Word of God written by the finger of God on the tablet of the earth. The acts of Jesus are our commandments and guide to the abundant life.
Gramps should have known that there are some things you really can leave behind. Stale, smelly salmon, for one. Like you can leave behind shame, when fresh starts are possible. The latter took him years, forged by the forgiving love of his good wife, and the welcoming Gospel message he heard at their small Lutheran church. It was the hospitable warmth of the Gospel that drew him closer to Jesus and offered a way to leave shame in the past. His only limiting limp at his age was physical.
Syd Hielema’s portrait of the future church a quarter century from now ends with the “NBY” expression of the emerging community around the Table celebrating the ancient practice of the church, the Eucharist. That’s a picture infused with hope. Even now, in a time when there’s an incarnational yearning to experience the integration of spiritual and material reality, and when participation in the self-giving love of God invites us into the transformation of all life, the Table centers us. We belong. Sacramental life and embodied spiritual practices, far more than rational formulas or fearful boundaries, will define the church of 2047. If we regard Hielema’s picture as prophetic, we are called to live out our faith in Jesus Christ in that pattern today.
The NBY network also refer to themselves as “The Includers;” welcoming all into their fellowship; experiencing deep belonging is their highest value. They are Generation INC. They do not ground themselves in a statement of beliefs, but rather, in a set of values which they intentionally seek to embody together.
The more I listened, the less I injected my answers, and the more my empathic imagination began to grow. I had learned in seminary that “theology is application” (thank you John Frame), and that my theology “should be a home and not a prison” (thank you Richard Pratt), but it took years of listening to stories before I could actually be faithful to that training.
In an age of increased anxiety and depression, where mental health struggles seem to be an almost universal experience, Christ uniquely offers the world neither distraction nor temporary remedies, but everlasting good news.