Hello Dear Ones –
It’s reasonable to ask how any religion is relevant these days. Religions often use old, outdated forms and liturgies, and many religions also cling to outdated bigotries. In my home town of Buffalo, the local bishop recently directed the diocese Catholic Charities to withdraw from facilitating adoptions and foster care rather than comply with the requirement that same-sex couples be treated as equals of opposite sex couples. Evangelical faith leaders fawn over the president, even as he seeks to erase the identities of trans people. Religion can be a deeply flawed pursuit.
So why bother?
I write this on Friday October 26. This morning, the ashes of Matthew Shephard were interred in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. You probably remember Matthew Shephard, who was killed for being gay in Laramie, Wyoming twenty years ago. Matthew’s parents chose that Episcopal cathedral because Matthew loved the Episcopal church. It strikes me as a moment of redemption, when a gay man is honored in what some call “the spiritual home of the nation”.
Earlier this month, the Roman Catholic Church ordained Oscar Romero, a priest who was outspoken in his criticism of the corrupt regime in El Salvador, and in his service to the poor. He was assassinated by the government for his efforts, killed while giving a sermon.
Religions are alive until they are dead (sorry Canaanite Polytheism), and as long as they are alive, they can evolve. They can learn from their mistakes and grow and move from life-limiting to life-affirming. These two small acts by big churches are part of that evolution. Evolution means living with contradiction. Consider the Catholic Church, with their bewildering homophobia sitting side by side with their significant systems of safety nets for the poor. It’s confusing and yet a little comforting. There’s hope in that contradiction.
It may seem like that evolution is the work of popes and denomination presidents and imams, but really it’s the work of the individual believer. By that, I mean us, the folks in the congregations singing at Sunday worship and going to meetings and leading religious exploration. We make religion evolve by evolving ourselves.
Part of that work is who we choose as heroes. Who are our spiritual ancestors? Who is worthy of emulation? One of the things I love about Saint Oscar is that he was a conservative drudge when he was appointed bishop in El Salvador. Bookish and more concerned with heady theology than public policy, he was considered a safe choice for the powers of the day. But his friend was killed by the government and he could not un-see what he had seen. And he evolved.
This Sunday we’ll consider our spiritual ancestors, as well as our familial ones. They helped us evolve and deserve our gratitude and honor for that. I look forward to hearing about your spiritual ancestors, and how they helped you evolve.
Wherever you are in your evolution, I’m glad to be evolving with you, and I wish you the best on your journey.