Casting Aspersions or All Wet?

Notes from
5th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018
Trinity on Church UC, Kitchener
Text: 1 John 4:7-21

Give me that old time religion… It’s good enough for me…
Let us worship like the Druids, running naked through the woo-ids
Drinking strange fermented fluids, and that's good enough for me.
Let us worship Aphrodite, in her silky see-through nightie
Though she's mean and somewhat flighty, she's good enough for me.
Let us sacrifice to Isis, she will help us in a crisis
And she hasn't raised her prices, and that's good enough for me.
Let us all bow down to Buddha, there's no other God who's cuter
Comes in copper, brass, and pewter, and that's good enough for me.
Let us worship Zarathustra, let us worship like we used to
I'm a Zarathustra booster, and that's good enough for me.
Let us worship like the Quakers  (silence)
(silence)  And that's good enough for me.
Let us now form up a caucus, so that we may worship Bacchus
For his followers are raucous, and that's good enough for me.
There's a graven image of Ba'al, that I bought for my front ha'al
At the graven image ma'al, and that's good enough for me.

Give me that old time religion… It’s good enough for me…
I began the service with a bishop’s miter on my head, spraying water with a cedar sprig from the baptismal font.  That’s how most of our people, the early Germanic, Norse, and Celtic tribes, were baptized.  Our tribal chief signed up, and his people got sprayed, regardless of their personal thoughts, feelings, or actions. Now that’s old time religion, from the first millennium CE!

That’s called ‘casting aspersions’ – spraying baptismal water, imposing identity unilaterally, assaulting and inflicting the name of Jesus on people.  Any other previous names may or may not fit the new one of Christian.  We might call it projection, transference or counter-transference.  Who gets to name me?  If I claim a name, others must validate it – ask Joseph Boyden, non-native writer!

We’re working our way through the First Letter of John in this Easter season.  Last week, I introduced C.S.Lewis’ summary of ‘Four Loves’, differing Greek words for ’love’ in Christian scriptures: storge, philia, eros, agape.  Bluff shared citizenship, closer friendship, and erotic feelings are trumped by ‘charity’, as the King James version translated the open unconditional sharing of agapic love.

How many weddings in recent decades have echoed the opening verses of this week’s reading, 1 John 4:7-11?   Perhaps fewer than 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, but in either case, we read ‘love’ in English with the erotic meaning in the centre of our minds and hearts, when the bible was talking about the greater demands of love.  Many couples discover the full meaning of their wedding text much later.

Last week I emphasized the instruction to agapé the adelphoi.  Today the more frequent object of agape is allelou, ‘each other’ or ‘one another’.  I pointed out that Cree has an entire extra grammar category for the first person plural, from a tribal worldview: ‘we’ can mean ‘us but not you whom we address’, or ‘us including you whom we address’.   They don’t assume everybody is a ‘we’.

Some people don’t want to be named ‘just one of us’, or worse ‘just like us’.  Ask any teenager, or any minority receiving the condescension of privilege dismissing their difference.  Cultural appropriation, ‘I’m really better at mindfulness than most Buddhist monks’, or Boyden’s claim to know the soul of First Nations people better than they do, like Archie Belaney’s ‘Grey Owl’, or Rachel Dolezal’s NAACP leadership and African Studies professorship, is worse.

Today, we renewed and reaffirmed our membership, saying ‘I do’ to 3 questions and then confirming that each other one was welcome.  Currently, there are 204 adults who say they belong, believe, and behave as if it were so, and are recognized by the leadership at Trinity.  Which ‘I do’ is hardest for you to say these days, without qualification?  We ask members to confirm that:

Do you want to be a Member
of Trinity United Church
within the one church?  (I do.)

Do you believe in God your Creator,
in Jesus Christ your Redeemer, and
in the Holy Spirit your Teacher & Guide? (I do.)

Do you promise to grow in this faith,
part of this community of faith,
sharing the church’s celebration and service? (I do.)

After worship today, we debriefed a couple of Sundays in March spent with staff of the Toronto United Church Council (TUCC).  We have left our building, and rented a chapel.  Our minister has left, with a temporary itinerant while we reconsider what Trinity’s mission, and thus our next staff job, is becoming.   God forbid we become a glee club without glee, a service club without service!

In formal Greek rhetoric, there were 3 approaches to make an argument: ethos, pathos, and logos. ‘Ethos’ is argument from character and authority: listen to me because my character is reliable and my opinion deserves weight.  ‘Pathos’ is an appeal to feeling, evoking sympathy or empathy. ‘Logos’ is argument from logic and reason: so names of academic disciplines often end in ‘-ology’.  

We try to ‘show and tell’ our faith tradition with all 3 approaches.  Sometimes we say ‘Trinity is the kind of church where Ken Mott leads in service to ex-cons and humble help to others’: ethos.  Sometimes we say ‘Trinity’s music lifts our hearts, and bereaved people find compassion and care from ministers’: pathos.  Sometimes we say ‘Trinity’s Jesus came to take the burden of our sin, not the burden of having a brain’.  Ours is a credible, passionate, and reasonable faith!

When others ‘cast aspersions’ on us, we can be named as far less than God knows us to be, and loves us into becoming.   People caricature religious people as pietistic, pathetic and pedantic, and often the names stick.  We in turn go ‘down the rabbit hole’ of specific petty squabbles, and the names fit.

Pietistic rule-bound morality is a far smaller thing than ethical character and credibility.  Pathetic focus on pity, accepting the reduction of ‘charity’ to the disinterested relief of others’ pain and poverty only after we attain wealth, loses our early balance of inspiring joy as well to feed compassion.  Pedantic proofs of empirical explanations for spiritual phenomena simply defer to technocrats and utilitarian maximizers in moral discernment far beyond any expert’s ‘-ology’.

Give me that old time religion… It’s good enough for me…
We began the hour with casting aspersions, as I sprayed you with water from the baptismal font, and told you that you were Christians.   We ended the hour with a lunch and discussion about our specific opportunities to claim Trinity’s name, despite the dismissive aspersions cast upon religion by glib liberals in the academy and the bureaucracy.  What do we have to show and tell?

We are part of something bigger, deeper, older than any and than all of us.  It’s part of who we are and what we are becoming, in right relations to a God who knows us and loves us better than we know and love ourselves.  Name it – proclaim it – not to impose it upon others, but because God knows we need it!