Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What It's All About

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog post, I am currently away from home through Friday participating in what United Methodists call "Annual Conference," the yearly gathering where equal numbers of clergy and lay people come together to celebrate our worldwide work, consider what God is asking of us in our region and reconnect with friends and colleagues. After fifteen years of attending it has become a kind of "homecoming" for me as I greet former parishioners, clergy friends from other times in my life and foster new connections.

If you've read my blog entries about my vocational life, you understand that I am quite satisfied with the work God has called me to do. Even on the worst days, when I wonder what else I might do, I can never come up with anything that would provide the depth of meaning that my life as pastor does. I love what I do, even in the most challenging of weeks.

I am reminded while attending this year's Annual Conference that part of the reason I find my vocational life so meaningful is that it supports and empowers my life as an adoptive parent. In reality the two are mutually reinforcing, because my theology as a pastor has been stretched and deepened as an adoptive parent in ways no formal, academic study could equal. (And I've had my share of academic experiences, with a Bachelor's degree from a conservative "evangelical" liberal arts college, a Master's degree from a moderate "evangelical" seminary, and doctoral work from a progressive, "mainline" University School of Theology).

I am one of the fortunate few in the world who has the opportunity to live fully in both the vocational and family realms without feeling like I am betraying one for the other. This is a gift I often contemplate, although I am not nearly grateful enough. Experiencing this week's exceptional worship services, being reminded of my calling as a Christian to love God with all of my heart and my neighbors as myself ... and hearing once again the ways in which we Christians who call ourselves "United Methodist" see our world ... all these moments remind me what it's all about.

United Methodist Christians see life as a two-sided coin. On one side of the coin is a heart filled with the experience of Christ, in which we continue to grow in grace, offering the love of God to those around us in word and action. On the other side of the coin is a passionate, fiery commitment to justice in our world. United Methodist Christians like to talk about "social holiness" (pursuing God's vision for justice in the world) and "personal holiness" (continually getting our personal spiritual lives in order so that we can share the abundance of that faith life with others).

As I listen to the valuable work being accomplished in the world by United Methodist Christians, I am touched to be part of a movement that embraces the world as its parish. And it causes me to ask a couple of questions:

Could I be an adoptive parent without a Christian basis of faith?

Could I be a Christian and not be an adoptive parent?

I would have to say the answer to both questions is "yes," since there are any number of adoptive parents who profess no particular claim to faith. It is true that there are many adoptive parents who are, in fact, Christian. It is equally true that there are adoptive parents who see the "spirituality" of their journey, but may not modify their experience with a "sectarian" descriptor. And there are adoptive parents who profess no life of faith nor of spirituality; they are, by their own description, atheist.

The second question is a little more difficult to answer, based upon my reading of the Scriptures. From the Hebrew Scriptures through the Christian Scriptures people of these faith traditions are enjoined to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. It is not one isolated passage or a few here and there that assert this priority, nor is the call to this kind of justice limited to a particular time period in the history of Judaic or Christian faith. It is, literally, everywhere in the Scriptures Jews and Christians hold sacred. So the very living document that Scripture is for people of my faith tradition breathes this call to justice in the world by caring for the most vulnerable. But not at all Christian people practice care for the alien, the dispossessed or the left behind.

Maybe I'm being too judgmental, but I'm not really sure why that is. Because that's the foundational ethos of Christian faith. It's what it's all about.

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