Prayer of the Day: God our creator, the resurrection of your Son offers life to all the peoples of earth. By your Holy Spirit, kindle in us the fire of your love, empowering our lives for service and our tongues for praise, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. John 14:26.
Over the years I have often been accused of being a “liberal” or a “conservative” or asked to declare myself one or the other. I hesitate to respond to such queries or accusations and often find myself equivocating. That isn’t because I am afraid to own up to my convictions. It is more that I feel as though I am being asked to sign a blank check. I am not sure those terms mean much of anything anymore. They are more tribal identifiers than descriptions of what a given person believes. People who press these questions are usually asking, “Are you in my tribe?” “Are you one of my people?” “Are you on my side.” I cannot honestly say that I am conservative or liberal when so confronted because I don’t know exactly what I am signing on to. There was a time, of course, when the terms “liberal” and “conservative” actually had content. Furthermore, they were not mutually exclusive. If I am allowed to return to what conservatism and liberalism actually mean, I am probably both in roughly equal parts .
Literally speaking, a conservative is one who desires to conserve. To be conservative is to believe that what has happened in the past is worth remembering. What we have learned in the past is worth preserving. Because I am conservative in this sense, I continue to consult with the likes of Ignatius of Antioch, Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, Irenaeus of Lyons, Ignatius of Antioch and the other women and men who throughout the ages have reflected deeply on and articulated our faith. I believe their insights are as valuable and important today as ever. Because I am conservative, I believe the ecumenical creeds should be a prominent part of every worship service. They reflect centuries of the church’s best thinking about the scriptures’ testimony to the God we worship. As a conservative, I favor hymns, liturgy and music that are deeply layered, nuanced and have stood the test of time. I should add that I am not overly concerned about whether a first time visitor to my church can easily understand our worship. Any faith that can be sized up in an hour’s time probably isn’t worth having. I care less about what is relevant and more about what is and always has been true, beautiful and good. Not everything that is trending on Google is worthy of one’s attention. To be conservative is to believe in the Holy Spirit and be confident that the Spirit continues to remind us through centuries of testimony what Jesus has said and done.
By contrast, to be liberal is to be generous and, in particular, generous in one’s understanding of all points of view. It is to recognize that, being finite, we each occupy a unique space in history, a particular cultural milieu and imbedded biases that govern our thinking. I am liberal because, though I affirm the canonical scriptures as the source and norm of the church’s faith and life, I recognize that they are not the sole source of truth. Because I agree with Saint Augustine’s affirmation that truth exists, that it is knowable, that our senses are capable of perceiving it and our minds are capable of understanding, I welcome scientific discoveries. I am not threatened when they challenge established church dogma, but rather welcome such instances as opportunities to think more deeply about the meaning of our faith and its implications. Liberals do not see the creeds as boxes neatly containing the sum of all truth, but rather as portholes through which we gaze at a mystery finally beyond understanding. To be liberal is to recognize that, however much we might admire and learn from great teachers and theologians of the past, we also acknowledge their shortcomings, blind spots and biases. To be liberal is to welcome the testimony of persons historically excluded from the church’s moral and theological deliberations, recognizing that they are essential in assisting us to repent of our sins, correct our erroneous views and deepen our understanding of the good news that is Jesus. In short, to be liberal is to believe in the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit is still calling us to greater faithfulness through the testimony of contemporary prophets, preachers and teachers.
Jesus tells his disciples that the Holy Spirit will teach them everything, which means that they do not yet know everything-any more than we do. If the church really were in possession of the whole truth, there would be no need for the Spirit. As it is, “we see in a mirror dimly” and “know only in part.” I Corinthians 13:12. We need the Spirit to guide us into “all the truth.” John 16:13. There is no inconsistency between learning from teachers of the past and honoring our traditions on the one hand, and openness to the prophetic voices addressing us today, often from those historically neglected or rejected, on the other. Though it works through humanly constructed institutions and agencies, Saint Paul reminds us that the church is a body-The Body of Christ. It is organic, not inert; evolving, not static; living, not dead. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8. No such guarantee is made regarding the church!
Here is a poem by Wendy Videlock that might well serve as a Pentecost prayer for the church.
Change is the new,
word for god,
to raise a song
a sea of wrongs,
like other gods,
and estrange us.
we seem to say,
Source: Poetry (January 2009). Wendy Videlock is a writer, visual artist, teacher, and a life-long student of the world. She lives in Palisade, Colorado. Her books include Nevertheless (San Jose, CA: Able Muse Press, 2011), Slingshots & Love Plums (San Jose, CA: Able Muse Press, 2015), The Dark Gnu (San Jose, CA: Able Muse Press, 2013), and a chapbook, What’s That Supposed to Mean (New York, NY: EXOT Books, 2010). You can read more about Wendy Videlock and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.