Wednesday, November 27, 2013

To Be or Not to Be

For Hamlet, as for many young people, “that is the question.” In my sixties, I experience it more as a simple declaratory sentence.

I am more passionate than ever. But the often conflicting and tumultuous passions of my youth had an either-or, sometimes judgmental edge to them, rather than a both-and, welcoming quality. Choices had to be made. Nothing was worse than fence-sitting or being middle of the road, or, in the case of the church of Laodicea in Revelation, being lukewarm.

Older, presenting to church audiences a progressive understanding of sexuality, gender, and also spirituality as broad spectrums of identity and experience, I sometimes pointed to my slacks, saying, “I wish we had the same tolerance for ambiguity that my dry cleaner has. Every time I get these pants back, the crease line is in a different place.”

The lines are always changing. Boundaries too. And our places along those spectrums, lines, and boundaries. As an old hymn about God’s commonwealth declares: 
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.
Many of us had our Christianity questioned by those who wouldn’t let go of their certainties: There is “One Way”: to read the Bible, to follow Jesus, to be saved. There is one Christian lifestyle. You can’t be Christian and (fill in the blank: gay, agnostic, divorced, use contraceptives, etc.). 

Orthodoxy literally means “straight or right opinion,” and I like to joke that I can’t even think straight. My “fundamentals” of faith would be very different from those who claim a fundamentalist identity. So too my understanding of “evangelical.” I think Jesus would differ from them as well.

We often feel pressure to make choices that conform to those of peers, parents, partners, or preachers. We may question our very lives: “To be or not to be?”

We have “not been” most of eternity. Best to make the best of being now.  In the words of poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

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  1. What hymn are those words from? Please?
    And thank you, Chris. Yes. Why when younger did I seem to need "to be" more definite than "either/or". I am wondering how the youth are taking to progressive

    1. Thanks, Chuck, for your reply. The hymn is "Once to Every Man and Nation" which I tend to inclusify "Once to Every One and Nation." The words are by James Russell Lowell. All the words are quotable, like "Though her [truth's] portion be the scaffold, And upon the throne be wrong, Yet that scaffold sways the future..."

      About youth, so many have dropped out of religion altogether and already. Others who stay are often those who need certainty. I believe a progressive Christianity proclaimed from the pulpit might have kept the first group in, and helped the second group deepen their faith and spirituality. It's not too late for the second group and future generations. And many youth who have dropped out are returning in their spiritual quest. Some academics suggest the future of the church is to be found among seminarians--but I would say only if they preach what they've learned in seminary. The gap between pulpit and pew has been too wide in the recent past. Bishop Spong, Marcus Borg, Elaine Pagels, Carter Heyward are but examples of those trying to bring what we learned in seminary to the broader church.

  2. And I would appreciate the full Mary Oliver poem for a memorial service I'm doing on Saturday. Can you help? Old friends from Wilshire Presbyterian and El Rescate who wandered far afield in the faith realm but accomplished great things. The son who recruited me was from the youth group at Wilshire and is now a Unitarian linguistics professor in Ohio. Think of that!

    1. "The Summer Day" is found on p 94 of a recent book Mary Oliver, "New and Selected Poems, Volume One." And for your purposes, "Magellan" (p 238) might also work. Great to see you in October!