I was talking with another UCC minister today. It seems that neither of us is completely in tune with what we perceive to be the main thrust of the UCC’s vision for the future of the church; that is: social justice. We both noted how it can feel a bit wrong to admit such a thing. Certainly, Jesus cared about just systems, lifting the lowly, and embracing the marginalized. To not grab hold of the UCC’s vision with complete enthusiasm can come across as a bit un-Christian, un-loving, or un-dedicated. To many, the priority of social justice is obvious, a “no-brainer.”
My friend and I both agreed that working for social justice is important. Putting faith into action is important. Caring for what Christ cared about is important. But, we both feel that the church’s power, sense of vitality, and influence in the world is rooted in something other than determining the right side of social issues and standing on the front lines of the battles. (I cringe as I write this because sometimes we do need to stand on the front lines of social battles.)
What if, rather than giving our members a cause (or causes) to fight, the church decided that its top priority would be to engage the souls of its members? What if the church were to say, “There is a light within us, a sacred Spirit which ties us all to the divine life of God, and it is our mission to awaken one another (and the whole world!) to that reality. Our top priority is to facilitate experiences that bind us together with a God who is holy, mysterious, and utterly transcendent, while also self-giving, imminent, and personal.”
If that were our mission, if the effort to engage souls in this way guided our agenda, don’t you think we would also be guided to act faithfully in the world in ways that would offer love and care to God’s people? Our acts of justice would be rooted in our own sense of transformation; they would be rooted in humility and grace, and they would be colored by a sense that we are participating in God’s work. (To me it feels like the difference between saving the church and being the church, and the latter feels much more “right.”)
The tricky part about embracing the task of engaging souls is not quite knowing how to do it. In a way, it is easier to pick some social issues and start fighting. Nonetheless, there is guidance out there, and my particular experience is that beauty is a key component: beautiful concepts, beautiful art, beautiful music, beautiful action, beautiful worship. Beauty begets wonder, and wonder ties us to the transcendent.
So, I might ask you to think about beauty as it pertains to our life together. What specific actions might we take to embrace beauty’s power to tie us to God? I thought that our Lenten Taize services were beautiful. I thought that our Good Friday service was also particularly beautiful. What struck you as beautiful? What beautiful ideas do you have for our church?