Sometime the words jump off the page—a gentle caress of heart and mind. My response is usually twofold—“WOW!” and “Why didn’t I think of that?”
So it was as I began reading the Acknowledgments of Rabbi Donniel Hartman’s Putting God Second. The words were: “I write from the inside because of you.”
Continually I ask myself why I stick with the church… why I continue to wrestle with God… why I drive 20 miles to teach a small adult class on Sunday morning.
I spent 40+ years of active ministry serving as Minister of Education, Pastor, and Executive Presbyter. During that time I tried to walk the tightrope suspended between stability and transformation—for myself and for the church. It was clear that both I and the church needed significant change in order to grow into maturity in our current age. In retirement I have come to realize that my desire for continuing growth has not waned. I am much less confident about the church’s desires.
That is why Hartman’s words touched me so deeply. Throughout my lifetime association with church folk (and some non-church types as well) there have been those who have been looking for something more than the warmed-over scraps of the good news which escaped the security filters of organized religious practice.
Sometimes those who aspire for a more vibrant and centered faith are pastors who feel caught in the dilemma of a system that prioritizes pastoral care (security) over prophetic witness (transformation). More often, however, it is rank and file members who have out-grown the capacity of their congregations to feed them meat rather than pablum. And then there are those lay leaders who spend too much time in contentious meetings over petty disputes when they are well aware that the life blood of their congregation is draining away.
I know many of you by name! “I write from the inside because of you.” I am past my time for trying to bring change the church at large, if that ever were possible or my responsibility. Instead, I choose to stay connected (“to write from the inside”) because a) it is the faith community into which I have been called (hence, my lover’s quarrel with the church) and b) the affirmation from many of you is for me to write.
I am under no illusions that my job is to change the way you think or to alter the structure of you faithing. I do feel called to continue exploring the limits of faithfulness, reading those who challenge stale religious thinking or practice, and sharing those thoughts with you. As Rabbi Hartman concludes his Acknowledgments: “One yearns to be clear and one writes to be heard.”