(These are my reflections. Others may want to add their own.)
The Dream Discovery Process conversation continued last night by beginning to reflect on some of our denominational identity and belief statements and some opening paragraphs that I penned. The goal was to consider how we at Forest Grove live out these statements, and where we have growing edges. The plan was to begin with the three brief statements of Identity, Mission and Vision, and then move on to the Affirmation of Faith (perhaps in a later discussion). It did not take long for the conversation to focus in on one sentence of the introductory section: “This quest of faith leads us to accept diversity among ourselves in both belief and practice.” The sticking point seemed to be the “looseness” and “vagueness” of this phrase. What does it mean to accept diversity in belief and practice? What are the boundaries or limits of that acceptance?
The group vocalized agreement that we are in fact diverse. The struggle was with just how diverse we can be. One advocated the notion that “If you were having an affair, I would say something to you about it. And I would expect you to do the same.” Another observed that, in her view, the bible is very clear about most things, and “if we would just preach the bible…” It was noted that everyone in the congregation accepts some of the content of the bible as culturally conditioned and no longer applicable or binding on this generation – an example given was women wearing jewelry (1 Timothy 2:9), and short hair in particular he identifies as “unnatural” 1 Corinthians 11:13-16), both of which Paul describes as signs of immodesty. These may seem small things, but in Paul’s argument they are tied to larger theological points. So the question becomes where to draw the line between cultural matters from which we need to draw the more timeless abstract principle, and matters wherein we take the text more at face value. A comment was made introducing the notions of tolerance, acceptance, community and love. We did not take time to explore the meaning of these terms and how they relate to each other and to our lived faith. This would be a valuable discussion, I think.
One speaker that there seemed to be something left unspoken. In paraphrase: “We seem to be continually dancing around some topic that perhaps needs to be brought out into the open. What specifically is the matter of concern? What is being thought but not said?” This may well be true, and if so is something for us to prayerfully consider.
Finally, the question was asked by a participant, “How would you rewrite the statement? What would you say?” (I wish I had thought to respond this way from the beginning – perhaps the conversation would have been more fruitful and less frustrating. Instead I seemed to be defending the language of “…accept diversity…” even though I said that I was not tied to it, and do not feel tied to it. UGH! My apologies to those present for not recognizing this opportunity, and gratitude to the one who did. I too am on a journey.)
And this is where we left it, with the encouragement to each person to view the statement as a draft, which is what it is, and as a model or example of the kind of thing we want to say. Then from that starting place, in about 150-200 words, introduce the denominational statements in a way that represents how you understand the church and our common faith and mission.
So, the task for this week is to read the paragraphs below, and reflect on how you would wish to state who we are and how we approach these things. Would you change just a few words? Add or delete a sentence? Or perhaps rewrite the entire thing. This is the conversation we are needing to have. It is the discussion of who we are and what it is that God asks of us and how we will live that out in the world – it is the journey toward discovering God’s dream for us. We ought not expect that it will be always fun or pleasant. Remember the long struggle of Jacob before he received the blessing, and that with the blessing his hip was permanently damaged. Remember how difficult was Israel’s journey through the wilderness from Egypt to the Land of Blessedness. Remember that for Jesus to experience resurrection, he must first be crucified, and that he calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Remember how Jesus taught that nothing can be born anew without first dying, and how you entered the waters of baptism to symbolize your journey into life through death with Jesus. Then let us walk together toward God’s dream.
As a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we are committed to embracing unity with all Christians in our common affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). God calls us together at the Lord’s Supper where Christ offers us a tangible experience of God’s grace. We believe that together we are called to study the scriptures, using reason and the best scholarship together with humble and prayerful spirits.
We trace our history to the restoration movement of the early 19th century. In response to the divisions then existing within Christianity, this movement sought to find the unity among all Christians for which Jesus prayed in John 17. This quest of faith leads us to accept diversity among ourselves in both belief and practice. By grace through faith are we able to live out this calling.
In covenant relationship with other Disciples congregations, we join together in our particular expression of faith. The Christian Church professes the following affirmations: