January 30, 2006

Two Toms

"I sometimes tell people who come to visit," he said, "that perhaps this isn't the right church for them. I tell them how I interpret scripture, and that, if they're looking for a pastor who's more conservative, whose methods of interpretation are more literal, that perhaps they should go to church somewhere else."

The speaker was the president of the Center for Progressive Christianity; the occasion was a workshop on communicating one's progessive identity. It was one of the three workshops I attended at last week's Earl Lectures, at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. Of the three, it was the only one I really stayed awake for. (Hey, when it comes to workshops, you win some, and you lose some.)

I liked what I was hearing at the workshop. However, this one comment bothered me. While I would like to be more intentional about identifying myself (and perhaps, one day, my congregation) as "progressive," I realized that, in my rural community, there is no other church to which I could refer anyone, except for the Catholic church. Furthermore, as a child of the Stone-Campbell Movement, I really do believe that "Christian unity is my polar star." How does telling someone to go somewhere else work to unite Christians?

After the workshop, as I thought about these things, two Toms came to mind. Tom #1 is a fellow pastor who works with me on our regional church's outdoor ministries committee. He has become an incredibly valuable member of our team, helping the rest of us (and me in particular) understand those within our regional church who are separated from the majority by both geography and theology. Tom #1's own theology is more conservative than mine, but in our meetings we have had open and honest discussions about these differences. Tom #1 has helped me to understand the perception many of our more conservative churches have of the more liberal majority, and what we can do to improve those perceptions and continue working together. My conversations with Tom #1 have greatly enhanced my own faith journey.

Tom #2 has been my close friend since we were kids. I officiated at his wedding, and am godfather to his oldest daughter. Like Tom #1, #2 is more conservative than I am, theologically and politcally. But I won't forget one 4th of July weekend, in the summer of 2004, when, on a backpacking trip in the Sierras, Tom #2 and I had a long and meaningful conversation about politics and faith. For two hours or so, as we sat on a rocky ledge high above Upper Twin Lake (or maybe it was Lower Twin Lake, I can't remember which was which), I gained a greater understanding not only of Tom #2's beliefs, but also of my own. It was a kairos moment for me, something that was emphasized by a setting sun which caused the reflections of the clouds in the lake to glow brilliantly pink.

I don't know how one part of the body can say to another, "I have no need of you." But this I do know: even though I do identify myself as a progressive Christian, my life and my faith would be a lot poorer if I had to make the journey without the two Toms.

1 comment:

mark said...

Thank you for this! I think one of the things people in the Church are guilty of is thinking that "everything would be better if only everyone thought and believed exactly like me!" When, in reality, if this were true the Church would be lacking in some wonderful ways.
We are all gifted children of God and bring wonderful things to the table. Everything would be better if only everyone was able and willing to see that. Thanks for sharing this message with us in your post!