The Voice of a Christian
The Voice of a Christian
One of the strange realities of our newly-dawned “Information Age” is that we can become acutely aware of every great and serious topic from every sphere of life. Our local community hears news from our town, our state, our region, our nation, and the world.
One challenge this creates within the life of faith – and especially faith lived out in community, including our own parish, is that we can get hold of full or partial information about many of the great topics of our age. I confess that this is one of my greatest satisfactions from technology: it means quite a bit to me to be aware of the movements of history and nations, and to feel secure in my sense of my own place within them. I love to take up serious topics in conversation. The challenge of this is that our opinions, formed by diverse experiences and the different aspects of a story that we come to hear or experience, can become sources of tension, anxiety, or even division within our friendships, families, and churches.
I offer two thoughts in response. One is that Scripture is as true for us today in our Information Age as it was for the early churches to which Paul wrote – and in particular the community of the church in Corinth. I encourage you all sometime to read Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (you can finish it in about 20 minutes). It’s a letter to a church divided: they’ve chosen different leaders, and they’re unclear about what public Christian behavior should be, what sexual morality should be, and whether they still have a need of the Jewish law or not (any of this sound familiar?). Paul writes wonderful things to them, including a reminder that no human vision is perfect (“now we see in a mirror, dimly” 1 Cor 13:12), and that we all have a need of one another (“For just as a body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. […] The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” 1 Cor 12:12, 21). Paul understood that those who seek to follow Jesus would disagree in good conscience, but that it’s Christ who gathers us all together again, in spite of the visions and expectations we have – as scattered today as they ever were after Babel way back in Genesis 11!
The other thought is this: Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury and head of our sister church, the Church of England, wrote this in a Lenten book called Christ on Trial (one of my favorite spiritual reads): “In the late nineties, Britain and other countries took up arms against tyrannical regimes elsewhere in the world. These military adventures may or may not have been justified or helpful, but the underlying problem for the Christian is how to be truthful about them. Yes, there is a cost in civilian deaths. Yes, such and such a policy, at home or abroad, will cost resources that will not therefore be available for other things. Yes, politics is frequently about the choosing where the cost will come, not about finding a cost-free option. The Christian is certainly called on to take up the unpopular position of being the person who asks about specific costs, about the tragic element in public decisions – not to turn the screws of guilt, but to remind us that facing cost is the only adult way of understanding the full nature of freedom. The Christian may also be the person who has the still more unpopular task of saying that this particular cost is unacceptable in terms of social or international wellbeing or public integrity,” (p 115).
It strikes me that we are in a time where that is precisely the public conversation we are having. Christians, and others, are raising our voices to face costs: the cost of taking on risk in our own nation if we seek to shelter others and someone who would do us violence might slip in amongst those fleeing that same violence, and the cost of locking in the innocent with the terrible. Each of these comments is a matter of facing cost: each has at its core a hope that human lives will not remain in danger.
I have already valued at Saint Augustine that we are able to have these conversations and understand that our higher commitment is to remain a part of Christ’s Body the Church together. That whatever cost is paid, we will acknowledge it soberly with our prayer and, when possible, our relief. We have had Syrian refugees as visitors at our parish on several occasions, and they have been treated with respect and hospitality. Few of us have the ear of the powerful, to offer our voice directly to them, but I believe we take on fully the challenge of living out the faith that demands that we follow Jesus, and not our own simple pleasures, and I believe that we have the capacity for loving conversation even around the weightiest topics of our age.
May we never neglect to face the true costs of our choices, nor the actions of our nation, and may we always speak to one another what we could also offer to God in prayer,
Fr Benedict Varnum,
St. Augustine of Canterbury, Omaha