Sunday, August 13, 2017

From mainline to front line

I have seen more than one tweet or Facebook comment in the last twenty-four hours suggesting that for those who wondered how they would have acted or reacted in the era of the civil rights movement, well, you're finding out now.

To be sure there's some truth to that. It might be slightly more accurate to say that if you haven't yet, you will soon.

I say that only in the sense that such realization might be forced on you in a way it has not necessarily been yet. You may not live anywhere near Charlottesville, Virginia, but don't be under any illusions that your town is necessarily immune from such white supremacist violence.

So I've been looking at my own town of residence with an eye towards what might incite the nation's white supremacists and Nazis and violent racists of whatever stripe to show up here.

I've never lived in Charlottesville, but in my time in Richmond I ended up making a lot of visits, some of them for work or internship reasons. Gainesville is not that much like Charlottesville. The vibe and culture are quite different. The point here is not to prefer one or the other (and neither of them will ever hold a candle to Lawrence, Kansas, to me anyway), simply to note that they are very different towns.

The universities housed in those towns are also quite different. They both claim a role as the "flagship" universities of their states, but otherwise they work in very different ways. UVa can be much more of a "snob school" than UF can get away with being, due to varying regulations and attachments that require them to take students that wouldn't get into UVa. Partly as a result, UF is larger. In fact, it is (blank)ing huge. I had no idea when I moved here how large it had become. It's like a freakin' educational Death Star.

But the two towns and universities housed in them have a few slight similarities. Both Charlottesville and Gainesville (as do many university towns) sit in pronounced contrast to the parts of their states immediately surrounding them in terms of educational level as well as social and political attitudes. But other than that, there really isn't anything in Gainesville that should set off the firestorm that happened in Charlottesville, right? No renamed park or removed statue...

Oh. Forgot about "Old Joe."

That's a statue that currently stands on the grounds of the local county administration building, placed  in 1904, and now a source of disagreement. The most recent move by the local county authorities has been to offer it to an area United Daughters of the Confederacy group (the organization that originally placed the statue) who would then be responsible for its removal from public property (supposedly it might be moved to an area with a number of graves of Confederate soldiers).

For the moment this resolution seems to have held sway. But who knows? What if some copycat bunch of hooded sheets decides to cause trouble when the time for removal arrives? So, it's not impossible for something to happen.

And if it does I have no choice to be on the front line.

That's part of the call for the mainline right now. If we're really going to live up to the gospel we claim, we have to been there when the likes of this weekend's marauders in Charlottesville show up in our towns seeking to commit racial terrorism under the guise of "free speech." We have to stand with those being terrorized, even (dare I say especially) if it's risky. We cannot pretend that racists and those hated and hunted by racists are somehow equally at fault.

Furthermore, we have to take our cues from the ones hated and hunted by those racists, the people of color who face this threat basically for waking up in the morning. It's not our job to come in and save the day; it's our job to be there with the ones who are under threat.

A lot of mainline pastors, including some old seminary classmates and friends, did this beautifully this weekend in Charlottesville. Singing "This Little Light of Mine." Praying and singing and worshiping God. Together. And then standing in the way of the racists.

Not every individual is physically capable of that kind of literal standing on the front line. But the mainline really has to, individually but even more collectively, be there with the ones who really do know what persecution is. Otherwise we might as well just go ahead and die off like all those evangelicals keep saying we're gonna do.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A requiem for Brother Snooty

While the unnervingly usual tumult of life-or-death headlines washed over the nation and world last week, we here in Florida were ... caught up in those headlines pretty much like everybody else.

Floridians were also, however, caught up in the death of a manatee.

Specifically, the death of a manatee called Snooty garnered attention across a large swath of the state, leading to the kind of impromptu memorials normally reserved for athletes killed young or other such human tragedies.

The first-above link largely captures the Snooty story. Written by Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times, a noted chronicler of Florida weirdness, it covers the life story of a manatee who lived to an unfathomable age for manatees in captivity, and died in a sad and stupid accident the day after his birthday. In between, from birth in captivity on a boat in Miami to years as a feature attraction at a museum in Bradenton, Snooty achieved the peculiar kind of legendary status that sits at the intersection of overly human-oriented animals, the ever-present desire of humans to escape their own rottenness and pettiness in a way that cute animals can provide, and the above-noted Florida weirdness.

There is inherently something sad about such a story, given that Snooty was born, lived, and died in what can only sanely be described as captivity, and that virtually all non-natural causes of manatee death are human-related; we are in a sense their worst enemies. In nature, manatees are all too frequently maimed by boats, whether large or small. Another human-created threat to manatees comes from the spoilage or destruction of their natural habitats (even the red tide that can kill manatees is frequently linked to runoff from human activities). Those manatees that are on display (a telling phrase) in places such as The Seas at Disney World's Epcot theme park and Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park (my two go-to manatee viewing spots) are frequently manatees in rehabilitation before a hoped-for return to the wild; in some cases the extensive damage the creatures have suffered mean they'll never be able to be released. Snooty's case -- actually born on a boat after his mother had been critically injured -- meant he most likely never would have had a chance in the wild. There was little for Snooty to be other than a feature attraction; that he did so and was so beloved (so to speak) as such is both heartwarming and tragic.

In many ways it is only as an object of this peculiar variety of pity that manatees have much of a chance in Florida. Manatee lives in the wild aren't particularly interesting; Discovery Channel is never going to create Manatee Week. They swim, coming to surface every twenty minutes or so to breathe (they are mammals), and otherwise munch contentedly on green vegetation in shallow waters. (Manatees in captivity or rehabilitation are usually seen munching on lettuce, which is I suppose close enough.) Because their particular food is found in shallow waters and they have to surface frequently, manatees will pretty much always be vulnerable to boat traffic. Beyond that, manatees don't really do anything exciting to garner human attention. Mind you, a manatee life actually sounds pretty enticing to me; find a way to work in books and music and I could go for it, but for too many people manatees are just big stupid "sea cows" who oughta get out of the way.

That manatees like Snooty or his wild compatriots actually hold so much fascination for as many people as they do (myself included) almost feels like a form of self-indictment.

Not Snooty; a manatee in rehab at Epcot.

It's almost as if we know better. The manatee's ultra-simple lifestyle, extreme vulnerability to us humans, and frequent captive status are a full-fledged three-strikes-and-out on us humans and our relationship to manatees and pretty much all of creation, if we're ever honest about it. They're not useful or exciting to us; they get in the way of our recreations. Even Snooty, bless his aquatic heart, first got his "in" with humans by being able to learn some simple tricks on command, not because of his essential manatee-ness or creatureliness. 

Even I'm guilty of using manatees in writing this blog post, in order to make a point (there is one, and here it comes). The human relationship to creation, Snooty included, is something that the church has failed monstrously. We have gotten all riled up by horrible translations of Genesis and indulged our thirst for "dominion" by despoiling creation on a regular and continuing basis. Seas are filling up with plastic, water is horribly abused, we've screwed up the climate royally, and the things we do in search of fossil fuels are grotesque. And church folk pretend these things aren't happening, or worse say horrible things about how we owe the oil industry our gratitude (I actually heard this with my own two ears, at a presbytery meeting no less) and our money. We use "natural resources" without any connection to the nature of which we are a created part.

So, mainline, maybe this is a humility we could learn to practice? 

When even the Apostle Paul chimes in from scripture about all creation "groaning in labor pains" (Romans 8, lightly alluded to in my sermon today!), we probably ought to learn that we really are in this together with all of God's creation. We suffer when God's creation suffers, and God's creation certainly suffers from our doings. Our fates are inseparable; maybe we could learn to live accordingly.

But that of course requires us to step away from the whole dominion thing, being boss of nature or conquering or turning real live creation into "nature...on a leash." 

And maybe, if we learned the humility of being part of creation, we might also learn the humility of being part of humanity. Maybe we'd also learn to be among God's children rather than always fancying ourselves God's favorites or (even worse) indispensible to God in a way that others simply aren't. Even where we are now we haven't truly shed a lot of the arrogance of our cultural-influence peak, which doesn't help us going forward with any kind of genuine Christ-like witness. 

Maybe in our chastened state of shrinkage and decreased relevancy we in the mainline could learn that humility, OK? It won't do Snooty any good. But perhaps we might be a little less in need of the likes of Snooty to remind ourselves of our place in creation.

This is Snooty, (apparently) a few days before his final birthday.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Court Prophets Revel in Their "Unprecedented" Royal Access

JERUSALEM (ARNS*) -- Squeezed in among two dozen other prophets in residence at the royal court, Hananiah added his hand to the other reaching to pray for King Zedekiah of Judah.

The royal prayer session is just one example of the access the court of Zedekiah and his key aides have given to a cadre of prophets, from evening-long dinners to all day meetings.

"This is unlike anything we've experienced in our career in prophecy -- unprecedented access, unprecedented solicitation of viewpoints and opinions," said Hananiah.

Previous kings had granted access to prophets across the spectrum, although not always positively -- the death of the prophet Uriah son of Shemaiah at the hands of King Jehoiakim comes to mind -- but Zedekiah's court has been particularly given over to those prophets of the party of Hananiah.

Observers suggest that the cadre of court prophets gives Zedekiah a "seal of approval" among an important constituency in Judah, a significant support for a king whose situation is shaky at best. The court prophets also offer Zedekiah protection against non-conformist prophets such as Jeremiah, an agitating presence across multiple royal courts. Hananiah's spectacular attack against Jeremiah, in which he took the prophet's wooden yoke and broke it in front of the king, was reported to have been received with great favor by Zedekiah and Hananiah's fellow court prophets.

"I'm sure that the king would be happy if Jeremiah had been elimiated with Uriah years ago, although fortunately that didn't happen somehow thanks to the protection of Ahikam son of Shaphan. But to be able to put that pest in his place shows just how much the king values our prophetic utterances in support of the kingdom and of the king," Hananiah is reported to have said. "We do the job of supporting the king when fake prophets like Jeremiah won't, and the king favors us accordingly. It's the best situation we've ever known."

Clearly Zedekiah enjoys the support of the so-called court prophets; after the latest such meeting he referred to the court prophets as "my kind of people," and he was reported to have laughed uproariously at Hananiah's breaking of Jeremiah's yoke.

While prophets such as Jeremiah have not gone away, their number is far fewer and their safety is not guaranteed. Hananiah's star rose with his prophecy of the end of Babylon's power and the return of exiled people and stolen artifacts, against which Jeremiah had spoken (leading to the yoke-breaking incident). The direct attack of one prophet against another is seen as a sign of just how much favor the court party of prophets has with the relatively new king.

Jeremiah, the non-court prophet, responded to a request for comment for this story with a lengthy prophetic statement about wooden and iron yokes. Hananiah the unofficial leader of the court prophet party, was also asked for further comment but was unable to reply due to illness.

An artist's depiction of the incident in which Hananiah broke Jeremiah's yoke (video cameras were not allowed at the session).

Note: the original article being parodied is here; a quick browse of Jeremiah 26-28 is also recommended.

*ARNS = Ancient Religion News Service

(If you still need a mainline "moral of the story" at this point...don't be like Hananiah. Even Billy Graham came to regret how much he let Richard Nixon use him.)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Other people's heroes

(NOTE: repeating a disclaimer from the first edition of this re-repurposed blog: "Evangelicals should probably move on.")

I feel the need to begin with the acknowledgment that I was never all that impressed by The Message.

I'm not sure why. It's possible that the "contemporary language" Bible versions available in my youth, titles like Good News For Modern Man (not good news for women of any age, apparently) or The Living Bible (it is an eternal shame that nobody ran with the horror-movie possibilities of that title) soured me on the whole project. For whatever reason, at that young age the "contemporary" language felt more limiting to me than enlightening (but I was a total geek even then). If anything those early hip-language versions helped form in me one of the few cliché-like statements I consider myself to have invented: "you can't say 'contemporary' without automatically saying 'temporary'." For all the hoopla about it, in my few forays into The Message or occasions hearing it used from the pulpit, it never got out of that box. It's not as if I'm immune to the power of re-contextualizations of the scriptures -- I'm a big fan of Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch translations/recontextualizations of most of the New Testament, but then those are a thing quite other, daring far more than Eugene Peterson's magnum opus.

The above disclaimer is probably not necessary, but is about as much as I thought about Eugene Peterson before this week's kefuffle on "Christian Twitter," in which Peterson first seemed to have declared himself o.k., if somewhat indifferent, with same-sex marriage, even allowing he'd officiate such a marriage if asked, then seemed to be under threat that his considerable arsenal of publications would be shut out from the largest "Christian" bookselling firm, only to (by the end of the week) retract, apparently, any sentiments that might have been expressed in the earlier interview about same-sex marriage. (You may speculate as you wish as to his motives for retraction; I have my opinion but no particular need to express it.)

(NOTE: let me be clear that I don't endorse Christianity Today just 'cuz I used a couple of links to them. I feel icky already.)

One can predict more or less the ebb and flow of the week's reactions on various social media. I have no interest in rehashing the evangelical side of that kerfuffle; I am not into banging my head against brick walls. But mainliners, I gotta talk to y'all. Mostly to the straight white folk among you. And mostly (not completely, but mostly) to the guys within that subset.

Can we please not get so hung up on seeking the approval of other people's heroes?

Apparently Eugene Peterson was actually ordained in the PC(USA), my denomination of affiliation and choice. That said, the arc of his career and writing make it pretty clear that in the current moment he's about as much PC(USA) as Donald Trump (which is to say, not). That's fine. He's made a life and a living in the evangelical pool, and might even be said to have some celebrity status in that particular stream of the church. As far as I can tell he's probably one of the less offensive members of that particular brand of celebrity, which is probably o.k. but doesn't really mean that folks in the mainline-progressive need to be clamoring for his approval.

To be honest, I'm kinda with this guy:

Would that we'd hear. (And yes, I'm an old straight white man.)

The mainline denominations have as members a number of LGBTQ+ persons who are the folks regularly getting kicked in the teeth by the evangelical wing of the church. I'll understand why a LGBTQ+ person would get excited by the initial Peterson reaction; maybe I'll get kicked in the teeth a little less. We are also home to persons of color who are getting told far too often to accept second-class citizenship by the world at large. We are home to immigrants or descendants of recent immigrants being scapegoated by this country's government. And yet rather than listening to those voices within the mainline (brothers and sisters in Christ all), we keep our ears cocked, it seems, for any sign of approval from an evangelical celebrity. 

Can we not, please?

Can we spend more of our energy listening to the voices of those getting dumped on rather than the ones doing the dumping?

Can we listen to the least of these, even if we run the risk of realizing that, just possibly, we might be the least of these too?

Can we worry about getting our own (shrinking but maybe a little less quickly shrinking) house in order, rather than worry what the doomsayers and vultures and vultures have to say about it?

Can we actually listen for the "sound of a sheer silence" instead of getting caught up in the yelling?

Maybe I'm naive or stupid, but I can't help but wonder if we mainline types (at least the straight white portion of us) would be better off if we didn't care so much what Eugene Peterson thinks, except to the degree that it harms our sisters and brothers in Christ. That's the thing to care about, not our puppy-dog need for approval.

In short, move on and listen to the folks who were really hurt in yet another round of crossfire.

He's made his bed, he may now lie in it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Don't be jerks

I sometimes wonder if the best starting point for a lot of mainline churches to figure out how to move forward (whatever that turns out to be) would be to put a sign on their most public lawn saying, very simply, "We don't hate you." Nothing fancy, not clubbing folks over the head with a Bible verse, just a very simple "We don't hate you."

Once when I expressed that opinion a ministry colleague responded that such would require the church to live up to it. That colleague had a point.

While away this weekend I met a lot of people, but one in particular (really, one family in particular) struck me. The mom of the family was actually on the program staff of the conference in question, despite not being a Presbyterian (it happens, actually fairly often). In fact she is a member of a much more conservative evangelical denomination. She's worked with Presbyterians and the conference center in particular quite a few times, though, and has gotten relatively comfortable working with PC(USA) types, enough so that (in her words) moving to PC(USA) would not be that hard.

If such a move ever does happen, though, I don't think it will be because of getting called upon to work with Presbys. It will be because of her daughter.

That daughter is in high school, fun age that that is. She is what might be called by some "quirky" or a "free spirit"; she is, by mom's description, not great at conforming to the rigidities of modern education, and doesn't play the shoot-for-Harvard game that is usually thrust upon kids with her test scores. When I met her, her hair was an undecided shade somewhere between purple and lavender, and she was wearing a t-shirt proclaiming her Harry Potter house -- not that such is all that uncommon, but it wasn't Gryffindor, which I don't see as much.

This young woman has, apparently, a pretty miserable time not just in school but also in the denomination to which that family belongs. She ends up much less stressed when she joins up with activities in the PC(USA), be it in local churches or larger gatherings (she was in fact arriving for a week upcoming at the same conference center). Apparently her contemporaries at these gatherings don't make a fuss about her career ambitions, or her unusual educational background (a period of homeschooling that ended in disappointment, to some degree because of raging fundamentalism in that field), or her hair (except possibly to ask how she did it).

In other words, she's accepted. Welcomed, even.

Radical concept, that.

This does hold a lesson for us mainline types in our struggle/quest to move forward (whatever that turns out to mean), and I think it's a fairly obvious one. It is one that the old guard (or at least some of it) didn't always get, feeling compelled (or privileged?) to take up God's role of judgment to themselves. Judging is pretty easy to do, but it's particularly insidious when directed at some designated other, a them perhaps, with the intention of keeping the outsider distinctly and clearly locked away outside. And frankly, it is a nasty little luxury the mainline doesn't have. Any judgment on the part of the mainline needs to be directed at the advocates of injustice in the world, of which there are too many to count. But as to the misfits, the quirky ones, the weirdos or Hufflepuffs or free spirits, the mainline really needs only one simple rule:

Don't be jerks.

Supposedly I'm a Ravenclaw, for what it's worth...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Face the past

One of the challenges the mainline faces in finding a way forward (whatever "forward" may turn out to be) is that we oftentimes haven't quite finished reckoning with the past. And as everybody knows, those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

To be more specific here, mainliners have no memory, or maybe in some cases a selective memory, about the degree to which the mainline was once a frequent, some times even a primary perpetrator of many of the same things for which mainliners now get peeved at evangelicals for doing.

For example: do you think that the only pastors to whom Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was writing from the Birmingham jail were evangelicals? Uh, no. While a few mainliners managed to stand with the civil rights movement, many, many more were either keeping silent or chiding King for making trouble or wanting to move too quickly. 

I am reminded of the kerfuffle over the "new" book by Harper Lee that somehow appeared late in Lee's life, Go Set a Watchman, in which Atticus Finch (the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird) was a rather less than heroic figure. I'm not sure which was more upsetting to many folks: the original perception that Go Set a Watchman was a sequel, suggesting that we were finding out that a beloved literary character was less wonderful than previously thought, or the later realization that GSAW was in fact an early version (a first draft, if you will) of TKAM

For me, I think, the later version is ultimately a more depressing version of events. One could easily get the idea that Lee more or less wrote what she saw and experienced, raw as it was, and sent GSAW for potential publication with Atticus as the more flawed character she had probably known in many of the men she had known and seen as a youth, only to discover that readers of the late 1950s/early 1960s needed to have the story "sweetened" to make it palatable; they required a good guy, and specifically a white good guy. (This is of course leaving aside more mundane editorial issues that needed to be addressed in GSAW.)

Modern mainliners may be guilty of this to some degree. 

It's not hard, for example, to be in Presbyland and hear of Eugene Carson Blake. A Presbyterian minister and educator, later denominational and ecumenical leader, Blake holds a place of high regard in mainline Presbydom for having stood with and even marched with King and other civil righs leaders in the March on Washington, and speaking at the Lincoln Memorial. I don't know how many other folks outside Presbyland would know of him, but he is highly regarded within this particular domain.

As far as I can learn and discern, Blake was legit, a throughgoing progressive on race and many other matters. But we moderns shouldn't necessarily assume that Blake was necessarily representative of all of the then-PCUSA or UPCUSA denominations in which he served. 

So yes, Presbydom and the mainline in general can take some measure of solace in Blake's work. But the mainline also has some real pieces of work in its various family trees, like one James Fifield. A Congregational minister who fought like, well, hell to prevent the merger that created the United Church of Christ, Fifield is particularly noteworthy as the "Apostle to Millionaires," embracing without apology and with horrible exegesis what would seem like a proto-prosperity gospel, except that its aim was far more sinister, and far more directly corporate. It wasn't just prosperity for which Fifield shilled, but specifically the prosperity and profitability of American tycoons. The "Christian America" rhetoric of today (like this) has its roots not in anything of the colonial era, but in Fifield's work. 

Note: I have already recommended Kevin M. Kruse's One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Created Christian America, in which Fifield figures prominently. This NYTimes article from a couple of years ago summarizes some (but not all, not nearly) of the salient points of that book.

In short, if we're gonna claim our Blakes, we gotta own our Fifields. We gotta be forthright about the role we played in how supposed Christianity in this country got to the point where it is today. A lot of the stain might be on evangelicals now, but they didn't do all the work. 

There won't be any successful going forward (whatever "forward" turns out to be) until we do that reckoning.

Rev. James W. Fifield, Jr., the "Apostle to Millionaires," or "St. Paul of the Prosperous"

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ridiculous Comparison: The mainline and Broadway

So if the mainline church is lacking in celebrity (whatever that means in churchworld), what of it? Where's the fit? Despite the most virulent naysaying of the vultures, the mainline is not dead yet, and as long as that's the case it maintains some toehold in American religious culture (whether that's a good thing to be part of is a question for another time). So, what is that toehold?

I'm going to put forth a Ridiculous Comparison. I'm liking this so much I'm putting that in caps, as a potential recurring feature of this blog. Or a threat to do so. Who knows? But here goes:

The role of the mainline in American religious culture is somewhat, a little bit, kinda sorta like the role of Broadway in American entertainment. (Yes, I'm currently watching the Tony Awards. Why do you ask?)

No, I'm not trying to make a full-fledged equation betwen the two, although somebody will probably try to claim I'm doing so. But there are similiarities, I think, at least enough to justify a Ridiculous Comparison.

So, for your consideration, a few rough comparisons of Broadway and the mainline:

1. They're both quite overshadowed by far more pervasive and flashier options in their respective fields of endeavor. Speaking of the Tony Awards, the occasion of that broadcast is for an awful lot of people the only awareness of Broadway they ever get. In many ways I do count myself among such people. I don't get to New York very often at all, and while I'll try to get to a show if one comes near me, I'm not living in a place where that's the easiest thing to do.

On the other hand, Hollywood churns along with ridiculous sums of money going into movies that can potentially tank incredibly badly, and yet the cycle happens again and again. If that happened to a producer one time on Broadway you'd probably never hear from that producer for quite a while; Hollywood somehow doesn't work that way.

Throw in television in its various permutations, streaming services, and other entertainment options that frankly encourage people never to leave their homes (or to not look up even if they do), and Broadway becomes a lot of work and a good deal of expense by comparison, at least in the perception of a lot of potential audience members.

A mainline church can seem like a lot of work. If they're doing worship right you can't just show up; you actually are asked to participate. You might even end up speaking as much as the preacher (or is that just my church?). They can be rather hard to find depending on where you live -- the mainline is getting a bit more scarce in some rural areas, for example. Mainline churches don't tend to carry quite the prestige that they once did, and certainly not the sense of social compulsion that once filled pews if nothing else would. Megachurches tend to consume a lot of oxygen in the communities they inhabit, and mainline churches can struggle to breathe. The mainline and its churches don't get to fail; when you go down, you're gone for good. Church celebrity, as noted elsewhere, tends to be an evangelical thing. In multiple ways, the mainline just gets overshadowed.

2. For both, the most vital signs of life are found when those long excluded, and their stories, are , included. Suffice to say Broadway benefits tremendously from the presence of artists male and female (and even in-between), artists of color, LGBTQ+ people, and more that I'm sure I'm not thinking of in every role possible -- on the stage, directing, providing technical prowess, composing, and all the other jobs that make a show happen. Further, an awful lot of the best of Broadway happens not just when the excluded are in the cast or behind the scenes, but also when their stories are the ones being told.

This last point might be more aspirational than current in the mainline, but as far as the life of the church, the places where church is actually showing life tend to be the places where the once-excluded are included. You want examples of the moribund and fading mainline to justify your vulturing? Find the churches where the old white guys still hold sway. When the folks who have spent generations being shoved aside or thrown out or worse are now part of the church, not just on the margins but being heard and welcomed and having more than a token voice, the church is living and even feisty.

3. They are both at their best when they tell the story differently, finding an unconventional perspective to illuminate what we (think we) know. Hollywood can give you movies, for example, based on the events of September 11, 2001. They can give you a movie about what happened on that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, one about the emergency personnel responding to the attack, a forthcoming movie (originally a play, admittedly) about people trapped in one of the towers that day, and so forth. Broadway can do those, but it's at its best when it tells the story of Gander, Newfoundland, the place where all those transatlantic flights on 9/11 landed when they could no longer get into the US. (I really, really want to see that show now.)

Similarly, this may be more aspirational than real, but the mainline church is at its best when it "tells the story slant" (to crib from Emily Dickinson). The more the church opens up the whole of scripture, finding the stories the rest of the church doen't hear or doesn't want to hear or wants to stop anybody else from hearing, the more the mainline is telling the whole story of faith, of salvation, of the relentless God who would never accept human lostness. Are you willing to learn from the midwives Shiprah and Puah, or the slave Onesimus, or the Syrophoenician woman who, when first rebuffed by Jesus, nevertheless persisted? They're not tidy stories, but they still tell us of God's moving among God's people. And those stories certainly haven't been told enough.

Maybe this is silly, but it's not as if we don't have some things to learn as a community of churches trying to be faithful, even if a faithful remnant. If we can learn something from Broadway, let's learn.

A number from Come From Away at the Tony Awards. 
Yeah, I want to see that show.