Some Reflections on the Future of LMF by Holly Nelson
Some Reflections on the Future of LMF
Now that Edith has shared a story about what LMF has done, I am tasked with speaking about what LMF should do in the coming years. I feel like the Ghost of Christmas Future in Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol, though I hope to speak of better things.
This year marks the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation. It was ½ a millennium ago that Martin Luther made public his 95 theses or propositions pointing toward the need for the Catholic Church to morally reform and re-form. While I do not hold to all of Luther’s theological views, his recognition of the need for the church to reform in his lifetime reminds me of my own belief that both the Christian individual and the church as a whole should be in a constant state of re-formation.
While ritual and tradition are important elements of the church, and many young Christians are increasingly being drawn to the Catholic Church and Greek Orthodox church because they long for some kind of anchor in the existential, angst-ridden storm that is our life, stasis is not always life giving. A suffocating inertia can result from merely repeating and embracing the familiar. We must somehow, I believe, balance the comfort we acquire from ritual and tradition and the need to re-form ourselves as the Spirit moves us.
After all, Jesus was all about re-formation. I sometimes think of Jesus as a deconstructionist: he is inclined to look at the inner workings of the familiar and then turn the whole thing inside out. Along the way, he destabilizes what religious leadersthought they knew, all in the interest of serving the needs of “the lost, the least, and the last.”
Just as LMF will need to balance the traditional and familiar with the novel and the unknown, I think the ideal future of the church demands the balancing of centripetal and centrifugal impulses: being pulled toward and away from the centre. A church that is too insular and exclusive—always pulling toward the people who established and for the most part run the church—tends to die off as regular members age and pass away. It can become almost incestuous and de-formed when its energies never or rarely move outward toward the local, regional, national, and global community of which it is a part.
This is not to say, however, that the church does not need to attend to the spiritual, psychological, and intellectual well-being of its own members. On any given Sunday, there are people sitting beside us, some of whom we have known for years or decades, who are living in “quiet desperation.” Most of us at some point in our lives will feel, even if only for a short time, isolated, alone, anxious, dejected, rejected, or unloved. It is imperative that the members and adherents of LMF truly encounter and see each other as we really are. We can rarely take away each other’s suffering, but we can help each to work through it by listening to, encouraging, and spending time with the afflicted, embodying the love, mercy, and grace of Christ for each other.
This movement inward also can require the radical forgiveness Jesus described when we are hurt by those within our midst. We are told to “bear with each other and forgive one another; if any of” us “has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). According to theologians, God either imparts or imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, so when we forgive each other, we should do likewise, seeing Christ in the one who offends and treating them as we would Jesus rather than seeing their flaws and re-calling their offenses.
But as I mentioned earlier, the centripetal impulse in a church is not enough; we have to balance self-care and self-compassion with a centrifugal force that pulls us outward to the community, and in particular to the “abject.” The “abject” are those who are considered “contemptible, base, low, vile, worthless, debased, degraded, despicable…unworthy… [and] ignoble” (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/thesaurus/abject). Throughout history, people always seek to deem certain people or groups “abject”: we project on to the abject all that we despise or loathe in ourselves, especially our fleshly or bestial nature, because we do not want to admit that dark and disturbing side of ourselves exists. So it is easier for us to cast onto some “other” that which disturbs us about ourselves to make us feel as if we are pure and perfect.
The ‘other’ or ‘abject’ changes over time: at various moments in European and North American history, it has been the Jews, the disabled, the blacks, the Muslims, the Mennonites, women, gays and lesbians, trans men and women, and the list goes on. Of course, the last thing many people want is to be associated with is the ‘abject’—everything that is considered loathsome by society. After all, from a global socio-economic perspective, many of us are probably among the top 1% of the world’s population: you only need to earn $44,000.00 CDN / year to fit into this category (http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/050615/are-you-top-one-percent-world.asp). We are among the world’s elite.
But we at LMF, like all Christians, are called upon to align ourselves with the abject, just as Jesus did when he walked this earth. That means that we have to stand at the side of, and be aligned with, those others call “despicable” and “unworthy” and we may be maligned by others for doing so. Some will think us “vile” and “contemptible” as a result, just as they did Jesus. But this is what a future LMF must continue to do: reach out to, befriend, and show grace and mercy to the “abject,” whoever they might be in the time and space in which we live.
So what does this look like practically, not just theoretically, in a church like LMF, which is ecclesiastically traditional but theologically progressive? I would suggest that it will look rather messy and will make a lot of us uncomfortable at times. It means bringing in people who don’t look like us, act like us, or even talk the same language. It means giving up the idea that we are pure and that others are unclean, that we are worthy and others are undeserving. It means that we must engage in a kind of kenosis or self-emptying, so that Jesus can dwell in us fully. It means bringing in new and different ways of knowing God and being Christ-followers while retaining a commitment to our past and traditions. It means sacrificing our time to listen to the laments of those around us and, unlike Job’s friends, attending without judgement. It means working to develop the spirit of humility, grace, and mercy, so that we can bring a sense of peace and hope to others, regardless of their station in life or their life circumstances.
In many ways, I know I am “preaching to the choir.” When I look at the lives of many of the people who attend LMF, I am quite simply astounded at how they have embodied the love, mercy and grace of Christ in the world: some at LMF have dedicated their lives to working with youth who struggle with mental health problems, others with prisoners who seek restoration and redemption; some have staged plays that give voice to the dis/placed, notably the refugees, while others have sat quietly and listened to the painful and traumatic lives of Indigenous people for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; some have given voice to the faithful whom Stalin hoped to silence, while still others work to better the lives of those who have suffered with traumatic brain injuries; and there are those who work with ‘special needs’ children trying to make their way in the world. These are but a few of countless stories of the lives of those who attend LMF.
Living in a world constantly in flux and in need, LMF and its members must continue to be committed to enacting the gospel within and beyond its walls and in doing so, must be willing to welcome anyone—even, or perhaps especially, the abject. As Rachel Held Evans writes,
The gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, ‘Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk… [After all], God’s kingdom is a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more. (Searching for Sunday 149)
May God “hold us in the palm of His hand” as we continue on this spiritual journey.