Our Common Life…

Our Common Life…Words from the Conference Staff

Myth may be of indeterminable historicity, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.

 

Like all human institutions, the church – even the mainline church! – is subject to myth. Here’s one of ours – “Once upon a time we mattered! Once upon a time we were influential and when we spoke movers and shakers sat up, paid heed, and changed their ways.”

 

Whether that was really ever the case, it’s not anymore. If we went down to the coffee shop in your town tomorrow morning and asked how many of the folk there were online the first few days of July to find out what the UCC General Synod thought about the issues of the day, without exception, the response would have been, “What’s a ‘General Synod’?”

 

Let’s face it – the set of people who care about the pronouncements of our church is so small as to be statistically insignificant.

 

So….shall we give up?

 

There is, it seems to me, a marked difference between “bearing witness” and “being influential.” It’s mostly an attitudinal thing. The behaviors of those intending to bear witness and those hoping to be influential may at times look quite similar, but the motivations undergirding those respective behaviors are quite different.

 

In some respects, I’m a romantic idealist. I hate to say so out loudRich Pleva because it makes me feel so utterly stupid, but facts are facts. When I’m cynical or sarcastic, that’s almost always cover for a breaking heart. I easily resort to flippancy not because I believe words and actions don’t matter, but because I do, and I feel naked in my distress at what I see all around me, so I protect myself with a sharp tongue and a devil-may-care attitude.

 

Lest I elevate myself with the implication that I’m at all unique in these respects, let me assure you – I know better. I’m a poor copy of Elijah, who complained to God about his isolation in faithfulness. I’m a dreadfully poor copy of Jeremiah, who spoke in spite of the constant and profound trouble his words caused him. Elijah and Jeremiah (and a host of others) spoke for God in circumstances certifiably dangerous and challenging – circumstances profoundly unlike any I am ever buy vicodin canada pharmacy likely to experience.

 

There’s a biblical word for being influentially marginalized – it’s called being a “remnant.” In our day, a remnant is that scrap that’s left over after the new carpet has been installed throughout the house. But in the Old Testament, the remnant was that cadre of committed men and women who is spite of a cultural ethos to the contrary, continued to promote values of true religion – fundamental justice, radical inclusivity, over-the-top hospitality. The remnant was the small segment of society that hung in there and spoke the words that no one else really wanted to hear. In the short term, there’s no evidence that the remnant was ever influential. It doesn’t appear that the powers of the day were anything but annoyed by the persistent questions and challenges from the remnant – the faithful remnant.

 

My friends, I’m tired of hearing complaints that the soccer league plans practice on Sunday morning, or that this or that or the other organization is encroaching on the so-called sanctity of the Wednesday church night. Those days of institutional influence are gone. The rest of civil society will no longer prop us up. If we can’t compete on our own with soccer and play practice, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves why that is and whether we are offering anything of any intrinsic value.

 

In Isaiah 37:4, King Hezekiah enjoins “…prayer for the remnant that is left.” He’d just had the stunning insight that the faithfulness of the remnant was valuable for the whole of society. Perhaps we need to embrace the attitude of the faithful remnant. Perhaps we need to grieve the loss of influence and then move on to our new station in society. Perhaps we need to pray for each other in this different and not entirely satisfying role – the role of “speakers of truth” rather than as setters of prevailing norms. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that we have become a remnant….and embrace that reality as our call for this time and place, and see, if by God’s grace, we might become known as a “faithful remnant.”

 

There could be worse things to be known as!

 

With Hope and Perseverance,

 

Rich Pleva
Iowa Conference Minister

7 comments on “Our Common Life…

  1. Here’s to being a remnant! although we long for the days (I guess) when the church was an influence, our influence was not always one to be proud of. For example, the vatican had a huge influence on the Third Reich–in promoting it. So maybe influence isnt all it’s cracked up to be. I too am sick of hearing the lament of soccer instead of church. maybe we just dont want to do the extra work it will take to be better than soccer.
    However, I have to say that I refuse to give up “flippancy” as a defense mechanism. It’s one of my strengths! jane

  2. CHARLES PLEAK on said:

    Rich-
    You are definitely not a “poor copy” of anything. You are you. You do what the rest of us cannot.

    “fundamental justice, radical inclusivity, over-the-top hospitality”–These things are important, but I fear that we get so hooked on “change” that we forget about the main course of the scripture. There is a definite hunger for the word out there. We must remember that our primary mission is about the word. We must remember that we are a church, not a political party.

    “we need to ask ourselves why that is and whether we are offering anything of any intrinsic value.” What we offer that is of intrinsic value is connectivity with God.

    God bless you!

  3. Tim Darmour-Paul on said:

    I suspect you are right, Rich, in suggesting that we really haven’t lost as much in the way of societal influence as we sometimes imagine. But what we have lost is our privileged status. We are now learning what it’s been like for the Jewish community, for example, to have Shabbat services compete with Friday night football.

    Losing privilege is painful, and grieving that loss is necessary. But as followers of the one who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…,” we do have a model for faithfully moving forward. As a remnant, we have opportunities to clarify our identity, focus our vision, and shape new community with others who may have never had privilege to lose.

  4. Bill Y. on said:

    Oh my, but I just HAVE to say in my whiney voice, “But it would be SO much EASIER if the community would respect Wednesday evenings (or Thursdays, or whichever you use) and ESPECIALLY Sunday morning for gosh sakes! After all, so many insist that we are a ‘Christian Nation’ ya know.” O. K. I’ll try to get over it, but it ain’t gonna be easy!

  5. Duane Lookingbill on said:

    I read this blog along side the scripture that will be the focus of worship this coming Sunday (Exodus 32:1-14). I am grateful for the influence the thought of the one has on my reading of the other, and vice versa. This is ‘influence’ at the stage of ‘interpretation.’ But the interpretation moves from “influence” to “witness” — and I wonder what performing the scripture might be like if the same move were to be enacted, or embodied in the plot of the sermon on this scripture. The Remnant, God’s people, has no influence except that of the witness(es) to the revelation of Scripture as word of God — (the passage from Exodus shows the contrast and comparison of Aaron among the Hebrews delayed at the foot of the mountain, with Moses who persuades God to repent of divine wrath) — a witness that may be powerless in the world except for having all the power granted by the grace of God. This blog and the comments illuminates the interpretation of Moses before God and the people of God under Moses’ leadership being noticed by God for idolatrously worshiping the calf of Gold — Moses is prophetically mitigating the covenant promise between the people and God, what one might say is the very prophecy of the prophets Elijah and Jeremiah. Thanks for the blog, and for the responses!

  6. Kenneth Briggs on said:

    I agree with Tim. I don’t think we have lost as much respect in society as we think. I also realize that every organization must daily earn the respect of the society we are a part of. I also think we are a strong remnant especially when we are strong enough to get out of the boat and live our faith. Frequently, no matter what the church building looked like, if the folk of a faith community were taking the chance to live their faith their stories were expressed throughout the wider community. Their lived stories were known and had/have a recognized impact in the community. I rejoice in those happenings and am eager to let others know what it means to get out of the boat and risk living the faith we profess.

  7. Rev. Craig Henderson on said:

    For me, offering and responding to scenarios seems like a natural extension of what the church does very well. We tell stories of faithful wonder and we invite each other to respond and move toward them. I felt very empowered by this chapter. It invites us to look outside of our “church” building to a world of political and technological influence and demographic and cultural change, and realize that we are changing ourselves constantly, and we wonder and lament why our church does not seem to keep up, but we have not invited the “changing” portion of our everyday lives into the narthex and sanctuary and fellowship hall and to our our communion table and the new “storylines” of our faith experiences. We have not always recognized God’s forgiveness as evident in the social changes we try to absorb (because of a cultural guilt) and we have failed to see and accept God’s blessing in what might be a new and better opportunity to see the progress of Christ in a call to a more globally-intertwined life. Finally, in the language of the scenarios offered I found so many useful values and images in which to lift up as part of a council or congregational dialogue: “tapestry,” “hunger,” “connection,” “face-to-face,” — I could almost envision a remodeling of the worship space around a communion table, as I read the chapter! If the 20-somethings marry late and delay children, then maybe the church needs to be offer new rituals such as apartment blessings to reinvigorate a journey toward the sacred in more individualized lives. To me, the information gathered through the work of imagining scenarios can be empowering, regardless of its heaviness at times. It challenges all of us to put on our ministerial imaginations.

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