by Laura Onstot
I recently found myself discussing the down-for-repairs organ with a friend and music director for a large Baptist congregation in southern California. “So are you using a piano then?” he asked.
“No, just the choir.”
“Couldn’t you at least get a keyboard or something?”
“Yeah… We don’t believe in worshiping with things that plug in.”
His church has a rock band. And I have to admit, I kind of judge him for that, which I’m pretty sure is something Jesus wouldn’t do.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about lines and where we draw them when it comes to faith and worship. Believing someone’s faith is somehow less “right” because they use electric guitars and no hymnal seems pretty obviously wrong. But what about the ordination of women or a strict Calvinist view of salvation, complete with the requirement to be a confessing Christian? Two very dear family members attend churches with very conservative stances on both of those things. And much as I love them, I’m not sure this is the kind of place where we ought to agree to disagree.
What speaks to me about the message of Jesus is grace. Grace is that crazy circular logic where God just accepts you, warts and all. And as a result, you can and should love others. Again the warts thing applies. And finally, when you screw up and treat other people like dirt, because of your warts, you get to forgive yourself, even if they don’t. And why is that you ask? Because God forgives you. I love how that works. (And Lord knows I’ve needed my share of grace.)
But when people are suddenly pushed into boxes (that coincidentally always seem to reflect some kind of social norm—there was a time when Blacks had to sit in a different section of the congregation) it seems to tip that whole elegant grace cycle off its axis. Something about telling one half of the population that because of their genitalia at birth (or sexual orientation for that matter) they can’t use potential vibrant gifts for ministry seems completely counter to the message of grace. So does deciding who is and isn’t saved by virtue of their spiritual path.
And I’m not sure that two Christians, one who sees Jesus’ message as one of grace and one who sees the message as one of grace with a whole lot of caveats, really both have the same religion. I attended a Unitarian solstice service once and came away realizing that while I disagree with them on some things, at least if they’re wrong they’ve erred on the side of seeing Godliness in everyone else. It feels sometimes like if my family members are wrong, they’re erring on the side of putting people into tiny boxes arranged in a hierarchical pyramid of salvation. And I’m just not sure that’s something we should agree to disagree on. Then again, maybe that’s where I fall away from grace.
Laura attended her first St. Paul's mass on Ash Wednesday 2004 and now sings in the Parish Choir. She is a staff writer for the Seattle Weekly (online at http://www.seattleweekly.com/), a novice knitter, a lover of mountains, and is always up for communing over an aged scotch.