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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Something Old, Something New

I can't remember which actress it was, but when reflecting on her days as a childhood actor, she referred to some of the movies and/or TV shows she'd been in as "cheesy;" that is, as in "not cool," "unsophisticated," or "I'm better than that now." Of course, she probably wouldn't be where she is now if it wasn't for those cheesy movies and TV shows, but that fact doesn't appear to have crossed her mind.

I don't think her attitude is unusual. I think many of us dismiss those parts of our past that we no longer deem to be cool, whether it was places we went (e.g., Disney-land), shows we watched (e.g., Leave it to Beaver), or food we loved to eat (e.g., Ron's Hot Dogs in Los Gatos). The problem is that we wouldn't be who we are apart from who we used to be. To be sure, for many of us there are times in our lives that we could have done without, but we don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can embrace who we once were without enjoying who we are now. So, while I may no longer watch repeats of Hogan's Heroes and may not laugh like I used to when Hutch yelled, "Starsky!", I don't feel the need to dismiss those times because I'm now more enlightened (yeah, right). No, I can celebrate what I once enjoyed even if today I might not.

Somewhat analogous to this is how a lot of people view their religious pasts. Many of us belong to a denomination or tradition in which we weren't raised, but that doesn't mean we have to jettison all that came before because what came before is a large part of who we are now. As UCC pastor Lillian Daniel notes ("When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even in Church," pp. 181-182):
These days, very few of people who join our church were raised in the denomination or tradition we are a part of, and we are hardly unique in that. Most of my church members were raised in other forms of Christianity that were less open-minded than ours, and they may have some negative feelings about the church of their childhood. And so they drifted from church and sought to go it alone, without a faith community. 
But eventually, they hit something that was bigger than private, self-created spirituality. Perhaps it was the death of a parent, the birth of a child, a friend’s illness, or a lonely patch in life, but suddenly they found themselves remembering some of those childhood Bible lessons. They found themselves recalling the blessings of the Christian faith, and they searched for a church, but they did so very tentatively, not knowing what they would find and afraid of being hurt. 
When they do find us, they have the same reaction that so many people do when they discover a welcoming and inclusive church where you are not expected to leave your brain outside on the sidewalk. “This is the church I always wanted to find but didn’t know existed.” But our church isn’t perfect any more than the churches they left are all bad. 
A miraculous thing can happen to grown-ups on a faith journey. We come to appreciate moments from our past faith community, as different as it may be from our current one. We may recall a special Sunday school teacher who taught us the “sacred writings” in our childhood. 
That is why when people join our church, we always say, “We give thanks for every community that has ever been your spiritual home.” I believe that there really is a connection between who we were raised to be and who we are now. It might not be a straight line, but you can connect the dots. God works through all kinds of religious communities at different points in our lives. No spiritual home is all good or all bad. So give thanks for the small and tender blessings of every place that has ever been your spiritual home, and for lessons you have learned.

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