My grandparents were born before cars and planes, endured the “greatest war” and the “greatest depression”. They had few means to communicate directly and immediately. They had less information and resources at their disposal. Their parents were immigrants, shamed and broken by those who took advantage of them. Though they took no direct part in slavery or displacing the Native American, they still benefited from the enormous profits of production and lands taken. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The ability to watch and listen to a presentation on the other side of the country, the freedom to read any online world press release, the ease of seeing the other’s face as you speak with them on the phone, are all wonders. Yet with all these at ready access we fail to act against the outrage of injustice, to disagree with civility or even engage in significant discussion over real issues, and forget to say the words that invoke real intimacy. We look back over more than a century and consider ourselves advanced and still advancing, yet war continues, famine and displacement are on the increase. Poverty in in our nation is far worse than my grandparent’s time. We each may consider that our life has advanced, but at what cost to those around us and far from us? Proximity is not the same as intimacy; immediacy does not imply action and communication does not replace community. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
A few Sundays ago 60 minutes did what turned out to be quite a controversial piece about the disappearing Christian population in the Holy Land. http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7406228n&tag=api
Not only will Christians disappear, but also the places to which Jesus and the disciples journeyed. This may not be significant to our faith if an ancient church built on the site of a miracle crumbles and disappears. And do we really need to visit there anyway to impact our spiritual reflection? After all people groups are always moving. Of course to be forced from your home, if you’d rather stay is another matter. Does our personal faith journey collide with political reality? Perhaps our faith journey here has less to do with maintaining holy sites as it does with upholding human rights.
A personal faith that insists on privacy has no political consequences. There is no voting, no opinions about the world, others’ needs or ideas about what makes a community. There is no need for education, for a private faith is not malleable, untainted by influence. Private faith rules out involvement in a faith community because we’d have to contend with diversity, discussion and shared-ness. A private faith is free to care less; care not at all about neighbor, for that would involve expressing of one’s personal faith. The risk of engagement would be too great. “Neighbor” is a meaningless notion except that they too are private persons, left alone to their own devices and despairs. But, if we consider how God views us, it implies that God views others in a similar fashion and we should also consider that view as well. But, and this is a big but, once we decide that “neighbor” is a significant notion, then everything becomes political, because I am not alone, without community and touched by the lives of others. Yes, perhaps a private faith is easier, quieter, unencumbered. British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wondered how to talk about the private nature of religion publicly. It ain’t that difficult Alfy baby! How does what I believe motivate what I do that touches another’s life? If what I do harms, demeans or dislocates, perhaps what I have come to believe is wrongheaded. Without the playing field of political/relational action where else do I test out the integrity of my faith? The personal, even private part of this is that inward struggle that lines up my preferences with another’s outcome, which may risk hypocrisy. That duplicity is the tension within all of us. Let’s all say it is there, not that we’re happy with its presence, but that we are seeking resolution within it, so that our personal faith lines up with its public expression to yield authenticity.
The overwhelming claim of the scriptures upon our life is that the creator God, fleshed in Jesus of Nazareth as true God, loves and governs each of our lives and all the world. It is our response then to this that we offer an obedient love; it is our endless task and endless joy of a life of faith.