Thursday, January 24, 2013
“THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY” AND MY TWO BROTHERS
I have two brothers. The biological one is a hard working man. A college educated veteran, his life’s work has been independent, both skillfully moving pianos and carefully digging foundation footings for new construction. He is often frustrated by swings in the economy that can’t help but impact his bottom line. Approaching his mid-60s, his angst is often expressed with the thought that “I’ll be out of here soon and I can’t wait. I know something better is coming for me.” He believes fervently what he believes about politics, relationships and the state of the world. He attends an all-men’s church regularly and heeds counsel of the pastor. He uses the term liberal as a pejorative, believes the local police are afraid of the blacks in town, and shakes his head disdainfully at the gay rights movement. Eagerly declaring himself a Christian, it could be said that he thumps Bible.
My other brother comes from another mother. Raised in a series of Church of Christ congregations, his upbringing involved strict adherence to the Word. Many Sundays were consumed with a storefront church service followed by a meal at the home of a fellow congregant. Right was right and the Bible outlined it all. As his life progressed through a stint in the military, a university degree, business success and failure, childrearing and aging, the absolutism preached in his youth became peppered with doubt borne of experience. Now, he decries the corruption of our political system by Christians, believing that the church’s narrow focus is wielded as a tool to subjugate the poor, justify military adventurism throughout non-Christian areas of the world, and generally bully the electorate. He’s been known to use the word Christian as a pejorative and disdains those who wrap themselves in a hollow, unpracticed belief system as phonies.
I love ‘em both.
With the recent decline and passing of my father-in-law, we assumed the collection of his mail. A retired Methodist minister, he must have been generous to a fault as his mail was thick with periodicals and coin club come-ons and requests and thank yous from any charitable organization one might imagine – many working at cross-purposes to one another. Cancelling so many of those relationships is a chore.
One of the few pieces of mail “Papa” received that we will not cancel is a magazine called The Christian Century. Early on, I’d set a few of them aside, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps the word “Christian” put me off. One day while nursing a sore throat or a bum knee, I began to thumb through a copy. I did not get past the “Letters” section before I started reading. Then came the editorial. Then a couple of pages of short-takes from other sources. Then a feature section on the social responsibility and upcoming election from a couple of religious backgrounds. It took me ninety minutes to “thumb through” this 48-page periodical. With the turn of each page, my perspective tweaked just a bit. Articles were researched, well written, and reasonable. Some questioned adherence to the Scripture, some spoke to how the Bible informs us today. Some explored the current human condition (Flea Market Individualists, January 23, 2013) and raised questions about ministering to every population. Some compared and/or linked popular culture to presumed foundations in faith (Remembering Brubeck, same issue.) In the few months I’ve been receiving the Century, pieces have been published from Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Rabbis, Imams, and Atheists; from those with divinity degrees and those who simply attend.
When the manuscripts that became the Bible were assimilated, their content was intended to fill two spaces. One was to explain those phenomena we could not yet explain such as the origins of the universe or the reason for drought or plague. The other was to set forth a moral code that would both keep us from killing one another and establish a governmental hierarchy sometimes assumed by the church. As scientific research expands, the former of these two spaces recedes. We know how the earth evolved; we have proof that thunder and lightning are atmospheric conditions, not conditions of God’s anger toward us. However, that science has resolved some of the mythological issues does not mean the moral code of the Scripture is any less relevant. The Bible, the Torah, the Koran and many other ancient works still offer a viable blueprint for our personal behavior. Intrinsically, people want to do good. For some, reference to the early texts helps light the way.
The church I attend is that of the Open Road. A few twists of the BMW’s or the Guzzi’s throttle coupled with a few twists in the road and much that I mull or fret or wonder about comes into a more precise focus. Perhaps it is meditation over a motor. Still, I know there is a place for religion in our society.
From my casual reading of The Christian Century, it is clear that the editorial policy surrounds inclusive, centrist ideas of creativity and faith. Published bi-weekly, I look forward to its arrival and set aside whatever I’m doing for the ninety minutes it takes for me to be refreshed by its content. Interestingly, the faith it restores in me is not in a deity, but rather one in mankind’s inherent goodness.
I’ve passed copies along to both of my brothers in hope that they, too, will see the middle ground occupied by most people of faith.
Resource: For more information on The Christian Century, check out their web presence at: http://www.christiancentury.org/
© 2013Church of the Open Road Press