I have a bumper sticker on my car that is the mission statement of my Christian denomination. I grew up in and am now an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It was an American frontier movement that got its start in the early 1800s. The men we deem as the founders would have never intended us to become a whole new and separate denomination. What they wanted was a religious movement to unite all Christians – differences and all – because our common denominator is God in Christ. Do we really need to separate ourselves because we interpret Scripture differently and therefore do church differently? Don’t answer that.
So, anyway, these are the roots of the denomination I call “home.” The bumper sticker on my back left car window reads: “A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world…” Ask the person standing in front of you at McDonalds if they know who the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is. Odds are they don’t. We aren’t a huge denomination, especially compared to the Episcopal church, the Presbyterians, the United Methodists, Baptists….I could go on. Seriously, ask a friend, stranger, or family member to –in 10 seconds or less – spout off 5 Christian denominations in the U.S. I will bet you $10 – yes, ten whole dollars – that the Disciples are not among that list. And yes a lot of it depends on who you ask and where you live. But - even here in Kentucky, the heartland of “Discipledom”, my college roommate my freshman year had no clue what I was talking about when I told her where I went to church. “Christian-Church-Disciples-of-Christ – is that a cult?” And, as an 18 year-old, I didn’t really know how else to explain the DOC other than, “well, we’re kinda like the Methodists?” Colleagues, we need to educate our people. That, and, I should have paid more attention in pastor’s class. But, either way, you get my point.
I love the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I appreciate who we are and I am thankful for who we strive to be. I love that we, as a whole, are not afraid to be honest and authentic about our identity as children of God – and what that means for our individual congregations and the way we live out our discipleship. This is hard work, and we definitely aren’t perfect, but who is? Anyhow, because of all of this, and because of that bumper sticker, I think a lot about wholeness and what that means. What does it mean to claim wholeness over brokenness?
Today is the last day of 2014. We get to start a whole new year tomorrow. It’s amazing how much emphasis, attention, and excuses to have a party we throw at this one second. 11:59:59 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. One second holds in it a smorgasbord of emotions. It holds our losses and regrets; our memories and stories of the past 365 days. And at the very same time this tiny little second holds onto the dreams, hopes, and goals we have to make this next year the very best one ever. That’s a whole lot of pressure for one night; one hour; one minute; one tiny little miniscule second. And we do this same thing every…single…year.
It’s hard not to think about this kind of stuff on New Year’s Eve. It’s a very natural, common, and I would say healthy thing to reflect on life from one year to the next. So I got to thinking about all that has happened in my life in 2014 – the good, the bad, the amazing new beginnings and the hard, painful endings that I’ve faced. And it struck me – does finding wholeness sometimes mean that we have to let go of the still-very-present and unresolved brokenness even, after what we thought were enough attempts to make something whole again, were unsuccessful? Can something be whole if the edgy pieces of what happened are still shattered and scattered on the floor?
I guess, perhaps, all of this may go back to the age old lessons of forgiveness. Let’s do a Top Ten list of the hardest things to do at the end of any year and see how many times “forgiveness” makes it to #1. And yet, forgiveness is one of those frustrating reoccurring stories that runs throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament scriptures. Darn it!
The older I get (and thanks to a dear old friend, I have updated my personal info page on this blog by adjusting the “20-something-year-old” to “30-something-year-old.” Thanks, Mary. J ) the more I realize how important it is to be free. In the most literal and metaphorical sense of the word. I stumbled upon this amazing Advent/Christmas devotional this year, written by a UCC minister named Quinn Caldwell. It’s called “All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas.” It’s so good that I would encourage you to stop reading this boring blog post now, get on Amazon and buy this book. (I've even made it easier for you, scroll down now and click on the link.) Read it now or save it for next year. But seriously, get it. If, that is, you want to be challenged. Because – shoo-wee – it’s challenging.
Today’s reading was not only challenging but also educational, for me anyway. I probably didn’t pay enough attention in my 11th grade U.S. History class to know that on New Year’s Eve in 1862, hundreds of African Americans living in the United States spent the evening in churches across the land praying for the promised enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation to come in the New Year. Can you imagine the anticipation; the fear; the excitement; the butterflied nerves that must have filled those churches? That tiny little second sure did have its fair share of pressure on that night - and rightfully so. I know there are some who can understand this kind of waiting a lot better than others. I have no clue what it feels like to not be free in this most literal sense of the word.
The devotion for today goes on to say more about the chains that we (or our culture) place upon others and ourselves today. Think about it. What are the chains that keep you locked up or locked down? Addiction, fear, loss, severed relationships, poverty, work-related problems, regret, failure, low self-esteem, unrealistic expectations, unhealthy relationships, abuse, negativity, and the list goes on and on and on. If you knew that those chains would be unlocked, released, or broken forever tomorrow – on the first day of the New Year – what would you do? How would you spend your night? How would you create your new life?
A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. Because of my roots in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I think a lot about this statement and how the church (big C and little c) can live it out. How can we be living examples of wholeness in a world that is so broken? This is hard to answer. And it can be even harder when, as I said before, those broken pieces don’t get swept up from the loss, or the regret, or the severed relationships, even though you really did try what you thought was your very best to clean up the mess. I am starting to realize now that perhaps every part of our broken humanity may not become transformed into wholeness – and maybe it shouldn’t. We should always try. But on the occasions where our attempts were too humanly flawed to succeed (let’s face it, we’re not God – thank God), perhaps we should set the broken pieces aside in the corner and focus our energy and attention on making something else whole. Those pieces may always be in the corner of our lives, catching our eye from time to time. Turning our attention in a brief moment of regret for what once was and what could have been. But it doesn’t have to own us anymore. It doesn’t have to claim hold of our lives and it doesn’t have to steal our pursuit for a full, meaningful, and happy life. Somewhere in that Bible of ours there’s a saying from Jesus about wanting us to have life and have it abundantly. Abundant life doesn’t have room for the chains of regret.
We must learn how to put forgiveness – of others and of self – back up on our New Year’s Resolution lists. Nobody said it was fun and definitely nobody said it was easy. But it is an important and crucial step in this whole “wholeness” business that we Disciples like to talk about; dream about; work for; and create bumper stickers so that maybe, just maybe, someone else might work for it, too.
Here's a link to the Advent Devotional I was talking about.