We are a nation of spiritual seekers. We are hungry to learn about the life of the spirit, although many of us hesitate to translate that hunger into institutional allegiance. The majority of us are “unchurched.” Others are drawn to “seekers’ churches.” Still others are exploring the life of the spirit within a denomination and a tradition.
Lent tears us from the glow of Christmastide and Epiphany and propels us into a harsh new season. The early warning signs—the flight into Egypt, Rachel’s uncontrollable wailing, the talk of the cost of discipleship—were easy to gloss over while the “Noels” were still ringing in our ears.
In these litigious days, fast food restaurants warn us of the obvious. Before biting into that deep-fried McDonald’s apple pie, we read, “Caution: Contents may be hot.” What looks like soft, sweet, greasy comfort food could scald your trusting tongue. The familiar treat is not harmless. It may bite you back.
One Sunday soon, I’ll have news to share with my congregation. I’ll announce, with great fanfare, my denomination’s latest partnership agreement with another denomination. Or I’ll share the latest vote on full communion. And then I’ll look out into the pews and see members showing polite interest at best, or yawning.
When members of my family introduce someone, they always give that person an automatic promotion. If she’s a doctor, they will exaggerate, introducing her as a brilliant surgeon. A teacher’s aide becomes a full professor. I am told that I do the same thing, even after ten years of living in New England, the land of understatement.
I have a friend who creatively blends his ethnic and religious heritage. He is a black man with an Afrocentric consciousness and also a committed Christian. His Afrocentric commitment does not nullify his belief in Jesus, while his Christian commitment does not abolish his ethnic awareness and pride.
After the hectic and holy Christmas season, after the unusual turning of a new century and, wonderfully, a new millennium, the church and the culture will settle back into familiar rhythms. For the church and its calendar, this means the season of Epiphany with its festivals of Magi, miracles, baptism and transfiguration.
I was watching a PBS series on the Book of Genesis with a dozen older women at a retirement home. The segment dealt with Abram, and how he responded promptly when the Lord said to him, "Go." We listened as Lewis Smedes wondered aloud whether a tape recorder would have picked up a real "voice" of the Lord back then.