Providence has been kind this week and brought into my way several ridiculous creeds and prayers written probably by committees of people who can’t remember why they’ve been lugging themselves into those old, crumbling…what are they called? Ah, “church” buildings all these years.
Let’s begin with the most recent, shall we? Here is some sort of statement of, well, I dunno, is it belief? Or what?
“We believe that God is present in the darkness before dawn; in the waiting and uncertainty where fear and courage join hands, conflict and caring link arms, and the sun rises over barbed wire. We believe in a with-us God who sits down in our midst to share our humanity. We affirm a faith that takes us beyond the safe place: into action, into vulnerability and into the streets. We commit ourselves to work for change and put ourselves on the line; to bear responsibility, take risks, live powerfully and face humiliation; to stand with those on the edge; to choose life and be used by the spirit for God’s new community of hope. Amen.”
Amen indeed. This curious accumulation of words was said altogether by a group of people assembled to hear the Presiding Bishop of TEC preach. Jeff Walton does a nice breakdown of their time together:
“Rather than customary scripture readings, participants heard the poem ‘The Creation’ by American author and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson. The gospel reading was the Magnificat, adapted from A New Zealand Prayer Book. In his sermon, Curry preached that love looks like “death to self,” rising to a “true self” and giving to others. Paraphrasing the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 6, Curry preached that “those who have died to self, rise in newness of life.”
Apparently, the sermon closely resembled his other moment of triumph, getting to preach at the wedding of Meghan and Harry. Love is all you need, he said, and it will be a lot of work for you to accomplish, so go to it. Which underlying assumption—that if you work hard enough you can bring about God’s love on earth—is in this creed: that everyone should take risks, live powerfully, and face humiliation; to stand with those on the edge; to choose life and be used by the spirit etc. etc. Pretty sure that by “choosing life” they don’t mean everyone’s life, as TEC has an ongoing and deep affection for the death of so many unborn babies.
What I like best about this little creed is the virtue signaling, the ‘look at all the clever things we’re going to do and how good we are not only while we’re doing them, but because we’re doing them,’ the ‘thank God I am not like those unenlightened people over there who aren’t linking arms over the barbed wire. Actually, let me amend that, I love that “barbed wire” made it into whatever is passing for creeds these days.
Anyway, I happen to be in the way of having some others of these things, also written by committees of people who shouldn’t have bothered. These are from a regular Sunday morning in a Church of God or Christ or something. Not sure what kind of “tradition” it is and am confused about why they are not just self-identifying as Episcopalian.
Here is the “Affirmation of Faith”
“God of Poets and Prayers—we open ourselves to your examining Spirit. Reveal the negative and the harsh that lurk in us. Highlight the aspects that reflect your hope for our lives. Set us free from the enslaving elements of our culture and transform our expectations and our priorities. Guide us to the river of life, which brings you joy and satisfies our longings, for we are not alone.“
and The Commissioning
“You are a child of God! A ‘chip off the divine block!’ You carry the genes of the Creator. You are talented to participate in peace-making, teaching, healing, and feeding individuals through this global village. The words of Jesus provide you with wisdom. Go into this realm called life with a cheerful attitude, with a keen sense of responsibility, and with the ability to share the justice of the living God! Be contented with life, at peace with yourself, and with everyone you meet! Amen”
and something else
“God of Jesus and Us—we are aware of your creative imagination as we look at the world and the people throughout this global village. We know Jesus of Nazareth dreamed and taught that you would set up on earth a new, human, and godly government and culture. We long for that to happen! And so we gather as your helpful people, intent on being available to your Spirit, intent on being willing to live honestly and hospitably. Thank you for inviting us to be hear with you. We listen to your voice, and we respond with our voices and our actions.”
There are so many delicious lines here, never mind the heresy, that I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe just the very funny idea that being commanded to “be at peace with yourself, and with everyone you meet!” would be sufficient to accomplish that desirable end. Oh, sure! That’s no problem! All I needed was to read this paper and smile vaguely at the person next to me and I’m good to go.
The problem with this new modern, civic religion is that is has such an immensely and foolishly high view of the person and such a low view of God. Maybe it should be called “Chip Off the Divine Block Theology” or what I’m hearing more “My Imago Dei is So Awesome,” as if just “living into” the reality that I am made in the image of God I will achieve the idol of our time: “Self-Realization.”
Which is not only foolish, but also dangerous. Being made in the image of God is not worth very much if you are going to mar that image every day through wanton idolatry, rebellion, sin, selfishness, and a desperate commitment to the darkness of hell. Again, as I say so often, what’s interesting isn’t that we are made in the image of God, it’s that God stooped so low to take back and redeem that destroyed image. That Jesus came in the likeness of men, not because it was any longer a great image, but because it was so destroyed as to be almost not recognizable. Not only could we not have restored it ourselves, we didn’t even know there was anything wrong with it—witness these charming “prayers” and “affirmations.”
And yet he did. He came and took that ruined face, those disgusting loves, those ugly ways of thinking washed it all off, cleaned it all out and made it acceptable to himself. To then go on and try to take credit for such a costly and gracious work just adds another layer of shame to our already shameful condition. No, go back to the Creed. Go back to the Bible. Stop looking at yourself and look at Jesus—the real one, the one who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, not the one you are trying to twist and fashion to more resemble yourself.