Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meet the New Boss, Unlike the Old Boss

Reading through my new employer’s handbook a few days ago nearly brought me to tears.

We will, in the spirit of the Sisters [of this group], reveal God’s healing love by improving the health of the individuals and communities we serve, especially those who are poor or vulnerable.
Many resources combine to show God’s healing love.
The greatest of these is our employees.
They must receive from us respect, fair wages,
An environment in which they feel trusted,
And the opportunity to share responsibility for our goals.
They deserve leadership that is capable and just.

In describing the religious order from whence this particular institution arose,
“Whereas the aim of most religious was their own perfection… ‘these Daughters are used… for the salvation and comfort of the neighbor.’”
Repeatedly, [this saint] admonished her Sisters to be “diligent in serving the poor… to love the poor, honor them, my children, as you would honor Christ Himself.”

What a difference from the philosophy of my previous “Christian” employer who paid a salary that hovered near the Federal poverty level (yes, I looked it up) and whose overall guiding principle was “griping is not tolerated”.

I'm so ashamed I ever thought that was acceptable. May God have mercy.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

For the Love of All That is Holy Communion

Another dramatic change since leaving Fundamentalism: I now love Communion.

I never really did in my old life. It was something I endured yet also strangely desperately hoped I was good enough for. Fortunately, the agony only happened once a month at most. Since exploring mainstream denominations, however, I don't think I've gone a week at church without taking Communion - and it has been an unexpected joy every time.

I've been pondering over the difference lately. Why does so much of Christianity practice Communion as an integral portion of weekly worship but the Christians who claim they're the most faithful to the Bible do not? And why do I love it now when I didn't then? To arrive at the answer, an examination of how communion was practiced in my Fundamentalist experience is in order...

Plates of tiny individual square crackers and a trays of grape juice in tiny plastic individual serving cups were covered with a white sheet on a table below the pulpit during the singing, sermon, and invitation. Once the main service ended, the deacons would take off the sheet, fold it, and the "communion service" began. Usually at this point, the pastor read the following passage from 1 Corithians 11 (KJV):
23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.
30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

A great deal of time was usually spent on the eating and drinking "unworthily". The Christian was cautioned not to have any unconfessed sin and to be living a life "worthy" of taking communion. The point was driven home by the warning that if you participate despite being unworthy, then you may be killed by God or at least given some illness or tragedy in recompense. Often, Matthew 5:23-24 would be invoked as well.

After duly warning the audience, the elements are passed around while the pianist plays quietly. Despite the admonition to be sure you're worthy before participating, *not* participating also marked you as Someone Who Probably Needs A Talking-To By Those Who Are Watching For That Sort Of Thing.

No wonder we Fundamentalists rarely had communion. Who would want to have such a dangerous service frequently? Communion was an open invitation to personal tragedy! Who could ever feel truly worthy? Any unremembered sin could condemn you. It was small comfort to be told that if we condemned ourselves enough then God (probably) wouldn't condemn us for taking communion.

Unfortunately, the three verses prior to the above passages were never included. These three verses explain what "eateth and drinketh unworthily" actually referred to. The introduction to this passage reveals that in the Corinthian church, people were using this time of feasting and enjoying the Lord as a way to serve themselves instead. People who were rich brought enough food and drink to stuff themselves silly and get roaring drunk. And despite this abundance, they did not share with their brother in Christ who was so poor that he came to this time without enough to eat and went home hungry. The point was that they were being unloving and celebrating communion in an unworthy manner. *That* was the "unworthy" portion. Not the people, the process. The Matthew reference had also been twisted to this errant idea - a passage about man bringing an offering to God was instead applied to a celebration of Christ's offering to God for man. Appalling.

This oversight again underscores Fundamentalism's basic theological error. Fundamentalism, whether consciously or not, says, "I can do enough to be worthy, to please God, or do things that make me a good testimony - I just have to try hard enough." Man-centered, self-worshipping, unattainable, wretched, tragic theology.

I cannot be worthy of taking Communion. None of us could ever *be* worthy, otherwise we would not need to come to Christ to commune with Him. I cannot please God. God is pleased with me because of Christ and His worthiness. It is *His* worthiness that is in place when I take Communion. Communion is a joyful oneness with Him and with the Body, not a Sword of Damocles waiting to fall at the slightest imperfection.

Theological traditions that correctly understand this concept approach Communion in an entirely different manner, and the change of experience has been breathtaking. Communion is a joy, not a terror. Communion is unity, not individuality. Communion celebrates God and His holiness, not me and my sin. I'm now heartbroken if a service does not include Communion. I am part of the Body of Christ. I need the Body. How can we worship and *not* have Communion? It's unthinkable.

The wine of Holy Communion is rich, powerful and sweet; the grape juice of the past pales in comparison. Alleluia.