Thursday, April 17, 2008

Re-Member Me

We had another great discussion last night at our weekly gathering about progressive Christianity and spirituality at South Enders. Part of our conversation was about life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I went to Pine Ridge last summer with my high school youth group from Cleveland. We worked and stayed with an organization called Re-Member. At a communion service on the hill overlooking Wounded Knee Creek - right outside the cemetary where a mass grave contained over 100 Lakota who were murdered - I learned a whole new way to think of Jesus' words at the last supper. We usually say, "Each time you eat of this bread, do so in remembrance of me." But they say, "Each time you eat of this bread, re-member me." As in, each time you eat this bread, re-member, put my body back together to return and serve my people. If anyone has noticed, I now always say "re-member me" and I remember the experience at Wounded Knee where Christ is truly weeping over the treatment of the Lakota people and the continuing sorrow of reservation life. Yet, at the communion table, we are re-created as the Body of Christ, and we re-member Christ's body with his courage and strength, and we return to the world filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Statistics as of 2007
• Unemployment—80-90%
• Per capita income of $4,000
• 8 Times the United States rate of diabetes
• 5 Times the United States rate of cervical cancer
• Twice the rate of heart disease
• 8 Times the Unites States rate of Tuberculosis
• Alcoholism rate estimated as high at 80%
• 1 in 4 infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects
• Suicide rate more than twice the national rate
• Teen suicide rate 4 times the national rate
• Infant mortality is three times the national rate
• Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United
States and the 2nd lowest in the western hemisphere.
Only Haiti has a lower rate.

For more information, visit I hope to take a group from the church in 2009 - including all the students who are confirmed in 2009. It is a sorrowful, humbling experience, yet oddly empowering. And an experience I think everyone should have. It's a Third-World county less than half-a-day's drive from Denver.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

An Encompassing Church

I was reading some old papers today and came across a fabulous quote about the United Church of Christ that I want to share with you. It comes from an essay by Barbara Brown Zikmund, noted historian, about our identity. She calls the UCC an "Encompassing Church" which means we encompass a variety of beliefs, multiple worship practices, mixed patterns of ecclesiastical governance, active witness and service, and peoples of diverse convictions and cultures. We draw a circle to include rather than exclude - no line in the sand, no one outside the walls.

This is the great quote: "Today the UCC continues to offer theological hospitality to refugees from rigid fundamentalism and to seekers looking for meaning beyond secular individualism."

I like the two part nature of the statement. We are indeed a refuge from theological rigidity. We have focused a lot on that as part of the God is Still Speaking campaign and it is key to our witness as an Open and Affirming denomination. All are welcome here. But the second part needs a little attention as well - especially as I encounter the much more secular environment of Denver. Have we sufficiently made the case that the church, Christianity, offers a more satisfying, more deeply fulfilling life than purely secular pursuits?

The stereotype of Christians only as rigid fundamentalists is a hard nut to crack - unless we are truly out in the world, in the neighborhood, living a life of faith intimately connected to service and justice that others would like to explore. Many people are truly surprised that I say I am a liberal because I'm a Christian. I can't read scripture or understand the life of Jesus in any other way than he was an avowed progressive - not about a political agenda but a worldview. If I was not a Christian, would I be as liberal?

Anyway, ponder: theological hospitality to refugees of rigid fundamentalism AND meaning beyond secular individualism. (Interesting how fundamentalism is also often an individualistic endevour - me and Jesus.)