Saturday, March 3, 2007

Who are we?

I've become a little distressed lately at the growing realization that the children I'm teaching don't understand that Christianity is a decision, that there are options and choices to make. They are Christians by default. They don't know anything about the other religions in the world, and therefore, they don't know what it means, by comparison, to be Christian. We've been working on this by giving them some understanding of Judaism at least, but I think they don't understand that there are still Jews in the world, not just in the Old Testament. They don't seem to get that there are people in the world who aren't Christians, despite the repeated exhortations in the general Sunday school curriculum to "talk to your friends about Jesus."

There's also no understanding of who we, as the Churches of Christ, are. All my Methodist friends know about John Wesley. They've read his writings. They know what he was thinking when he founded the Methodist church. My Lutheran friends sing hymns written by Luther.

In the average congregation of the Churches of Christ, I don't think many people even know what it means to be Campbellite. Actually, I don't know much about it. I don't know what impulses there were initially that drew us apart from the Methodists and Baptists. Our preachers study this kind of thing in preacher school, but no one else gets at it. I understand and agree with the concept that we should revere the Bible above other works, and that we should regard Jesus Himself as the founder of our church...and yet...what are we missing out on? Because of our reverence for the Bible, we tend to ignore the writings of countless theologians and scholars between Jesus and us. However, we think that Cynthia Heald and Max Lucado have something good to say to us. Why can we read the Bible through the guidance of those figures, but not through the guidance of David Lipscomb or ... See? I've actually been trying to educate myself lately, and I still am only able to name two church founders, one of whom has a university named after him.

There is basically no readable history of the Churches of Christ, that I can discover. If you know of one, please tell me. I also imagine that there wouldn't be much market for one, if such a thing were to be written. It would violate our fiction of an unbroken lineage straight back to the Cross...which is not a fiction, in a spiritual sense, but definitely is one in a historical sense. We miss out on so many great writers...why aren't we doing Bible studies guided by Luther or Thomas Aquinas? I don't get it.

Our denial of a historical context also deprives us of our traditions. We've maintained the tradition of a cappela singing, but lost the tradition of pacifism. We know that our auditoriums generally don't have windows, but I don't know why...

Last night, I was trying to do some research on the Churches of Christ, and I found the amazing liturgical poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, whose chapbook, The Unutterable Beauty, is online. One of his poems brought tears to my eyes--it was so beautiful! I got angry for a moment, thinking, WHY is this not part of our tradition? WHY have I never even heard of this guy before? JC was reading over my shoulder, and he said, "Hey, you know...we're teachers."

Oh yeah.

Now, we don't have the time in our class to cover comparitive religion. Maybe if the kids ever get the whole trinity thing, or sin/salvation concepts, or even a decent grasp of Old Law/New Law, we can try to go there.

We don't really even have the time (or in my case, the knowledge) to cover church history. Plus, I don't think 4th graders would care.

I'm not sure we have the time for talking about famous members of the Church of Christ..I'm not sure many of them would have heard of our A-list (James Garfield (I used to live next to his house!), Pat Sajak, Weird Al Yankovic, and uhm....Kenneth Starr).

But we do have the time for one small thing, a poem isn't much time at all. Here it is, for your enjoyment. I wish I had read it months ago.


G. A. Studdart Kennedy

SUPPOSE it is not true,
And Jesus never lived,
But only grew,
Like Aphrodite, from the foam
Of fancy--
From the sea
Of pure imagining, that frets
Within the soul eternally.
Suppose the Word was not made flesh,
But just another dream,
Which dwelt amongst us, only
As a gleam
Of glory from the land,
Where sand
Is gold, and golden sand
Shines bright beside the sapphire sea.
Where up is down,
And down is up,
And mortals mount on wings,
To sup
From golden goblets
With young stars
The nectar of eternity;
Where trees have souls, And lilies arms
To fold us in,
And charms
To soothe our sorrows into peace.
Where cease,
And sink to silence
Of content,

The sad complainings
Man has sent
To heaven's high throne
All down the years,
Where bitter tears
Are turned to diamonds for the crown of God.
Suppose He never trod
This earth nor saw the sun,
Nor looked up to the skies,
That sinless one,
All spotless clean,
Untainted by man's curse,
The might have been,
The ghost of good undone.
Suppose the gospel story lies,
What then? Why, then
There are no fairies
Any more For men,
The shore
Of fairyland is dry,
Unlapped by any sea.
All fancies die,
If Jesus never lived,
For living fancies need to be
The symbols of a Truth.
He is the door
By which we enter in
To wonderland.
By Christ's strong sooth
Set free from sin,
Poor Cinderella weds her Prince,
As we long since
Were taught and may believe,
For God is found of those who seek,
Exalts the humble and the meek,

And puts the mighty from their seats,
In Christ.
Her tryst,
If Jesus never lived,
Is still unkept;
By those dead ashes where she wept
For Paradise,
She weeps on still,
And moans upon her fate;
The pumpkins still are pumpkins,
And the mice still mice;
Still by the cold and empty grate
She sits in rags and tears;
Through all the years--the empty years,
No fairy comes--nor ever will
If Jesus never lived.
In Christ's pure light,
Fair Snowy-White
Can lift the coffin-lid,
And leave her tomb,
And vanquish all the gloom
Of death.
Because He lives
And gives
To Sleeping Beauty
One long kiss,
She opens her blue eyes and wakes,
Her sleep and shines for ever,
Beautiful in bliss.
There is no chance of childhood,
But for this
One Child of God, who knew
That childhood's sweetest dreams come true,
And was their Truth.
Lord Jesus, live for me,

Open my eyes to see
Thy face,
So by Thy Grace
Shall all the world be peopled
By bright forms.
The wind of many voices,
In its storms,
Shall speak of Giant powers,
The many-coloured flowers
Shall hold their lips up for a kiss.
Still in the deep
Shall mermaids sleep,
And dryads from the oak tree
Stretch white hands,
While through the leaves,
Small faces peep
And laugh in elfin revelry,
Binding with silken bands
My spirit to the glades.
So shall my soul swing free
Of this small world,
And dance with daffodilly maids,
Amid the bluebells in the sun.
O live for me, Thou sinless one,
Cleanse Thou for me
The earth and sea,
Sweep all the clouds from off
The sky,
For fancies never, never die
If only Jesus lives.

No comments: