To Remain True

This is the time of the year when the “old school” among us call for Rank by Rank Again We Stand to start the church fall season. I like the last lines of what is now the final verse: “one in name, in honor one, guard we well the crown they won, what they dreamed be ours to do, hope their hopes and seal them true.” 

I am remembering all those ministers and lay members of liberal religion who have come before us. We start the year, remembering what they dreamed, and take those tasks on for ourselves, “seal them true,” a vague phrase which I guess means stamping them done well. 

What is it to be faithful and true? Fidelity is an act of memory; it is being loyal to memory. Like those who came before us, remembering them, guarding what they accomplished, remembering  today and tomorrow, the commitments we made yesterday. 

This will be an important year in the story of liberal religion in our times.

The People’s Climate March in NYC this weekend.

The emerging national movement in defense of black people from the police. Police shootings of black people which will go on and on and on. Remember this name: Darrien Hunt —an African American man killed by police in a town in Utah which is 93% white. This injustice can and will happen anywhere.

The renewed focus on domestic violence and child abuse — in the very very bright lights of the National Football League. Can there be any place more likely to get the attention of men?
Yet another war in Iraq. 

Yet another war in Iraq.

I ask my ministerial colleagues, and all those who offer leadership to the liberal religious cause: What do we have to offer now, how is it that we are true now, this year, amidst all of these unfolding crises. 

Our people are smart and well-informed. They have their political opinions and they know what they are capable of doing. Most of our elders are not going off to demonstrations; there are some exceptions, of course.  Most of our young families are not going out over bath and bedtime, no matter how great the cause. The conservatives among us are going to be conservative no matter what.

Nevertheless, I think people look to their minister of liberal religion for a signal of how serious all of this is. They look to us for guidance: Have we passed the point when they can no longer in good conscience treat their daily life as the most important thing in their world. 

They look for us for that sign that says the world's events are no longer a "tornado watch," but now a "tornado warning." And yes, they watch us even though they know that we are professionally excitable — that we are going to be concerned about things that they will think are merely interesting; or are situations that that are far away, or are just the way things are, or situations that may someday be a problem, but not today.

They build in the fact that we are more upset about the state of the world than they are; in a way, some have outsourced their anguish to us. So be it. After all, some of us have announced the apocalypse so many times that their pulse hardly quickens anymore when we mount the pulpit with our hair on fire.

Nevertheless, people who look to us want a way to participate in the events that shape this world — many of them came to our churches because they wanted to a part of a community with purpose, and vision. They look to us for a way to participate in history: a way that is appropriate to them and their life circumstances. 

Some of our people may be ready to go to prison. Some to graduate school for research and study. Some need us to bless them on a bus trip to DC or NYC or Raleigh. Some are ready for self-examination and introspection. Some can only clap along with the songs of the struggle when we sing them in church, but they need that opportunity to take a stand. As leaders, we will probably remain as we are, both too far behind the times for some, and too far out in front for others. They are still looking to us. 

We must remain true, this year. True to the dreams of our predecessors of a society where people have the confidence in their own agency to build peace and justice and inclusion. True to our promises to our people that we will never lose sight of their unique and personal situations, that we will never treat them as means to an end. True to the promises of our ordination, among which is that we speak the truth in love, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. 


  1. Steve Cook5:42 PM

    Professionally excitable--yes,we are. Nothing ever happens fast enough for us, whether it is the decision to host the Farmers' Market on our green or the fact that "we still have to protest this stuff." (Name the stuff of your choice.) Somehow, most of us still manage to stay in relationship with these goodhearted yet distracted congregations. If that's not Grace, I don't know what is.


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