I have come to see Sister Joan Chittister as one of the great sages of faithful aging, a prophet for all of us as we attempt to walk the second half of life. Chittister begins the chapter on religion in her book, The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully, with these words:
“Religion is not a topic, not a course, not simply a body of beliefs. It is a process of becoming. The major error where religion is concerned is the assumption that having one dimension of it – topic, course, and body of beliefs – we have it all, and if a person does not share this dimension with everyone else, they have no real religion at all. Those judgements can be fatal – both for ourselves as well as for the effect of such ideas on others.”
As she closes that chapter, Sister Joan goes on to add:
“In old age…the arguments about who is right and who is wrong, what is true and what is not, begin to give way to questions of what is good and what is not, what is life and what is not, what is important and what is not….Religion becomes what it was always meant to be: a search and a relationship with the Spirit who draws us on. Always on. Even to the point where ‘on’ is unclear.”
My email inbox is full these days of messages on every side of the current conversation in The United Methodist Church about LGBTQ+ inclusion.
- Just this morning there was a message from the recent For Everyone Bornconference sponsored by the Love Your Neighbor coalition.
- There was also a forwarded email from the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s UMActiondeclaring that the General Board of Church and Society was “seeking to comprehensively rewrite and replace the entire United Methodist Social Principles.” There was no mention in that e-blast that the General Conference had approved that task as part of our work to live into being a more global denomination.
- There was a request to speak at what I know is one of our more traditional churches and one to speak at what I know is a more progressive church. Yesterday I had a conversation about a presentation at a church where we’re not quite sure how the congregation feels.
Someone asked me last week if my name had ever been placed on one of the “hidden” lists of nominees to support as lay delegates to General Conference from Virginia. Yes, actually my name has been on those illegal lists for both ends of the theological spectrum….Never have been able to figure that one out except that people do know I listen to them intently.
Discernment about whether to continue in this journey with The UMC further than the Called General Conference session next February has taken center stage in the last few weeks. Conversations with family, trusted friends and advisors have filled many hours. There’s a part of me that wants to just say “No. I’ve had enough.” There’s a part of me that can’t let go. There’s a part of me that loves The United Methodist Church to the deepest core of my being. There’s a part of me that recognizes the denomination has to be transformed.
All of me knows “the arguments about who is right and who is wrong, what is true and what is not” have given way “to questions of what is good and what is not, what is life and what is not, what is important and what is not.”
Deep in your heart and soul, what is it that is vitally important to you in this conversation within the church?
For me, it all comes down to a question of what type of disciple Jesus is calling me to be – now and for the rest of my journey.
- Can I live my life as an authentic follower of Jesus if anyone is excluded from the table – progressive or traditionalist, rich or poor, tall or short, stout or thin, come here or born here?
- Can I find a safe place for my continuous questioning of my relationship with God and growth in my understanding of being a part of the Body of Christ if people with varied theological understandings and perspectives are not traveling with me?
- Can I risk being absent from the conversation?
“Beware the religion that turns you against another one. It’s unlikely that it’s really religion at all.” – Joan Chittister, God Speaks in Many Tongues: Meditate with Joan Chittister