When we lived in Massachusetts before moving to Broomfield, we lived in the charming New England sea-side town of Newburyport. Our house, not unlike many others, stood only a few feet from the curb. It had the address of 4 Marlboro, which was one of the wider streets in the oldest part of town. So we had the bus route and fire engine route and snow-plow route passing directly past our little house. Across the street was a two-story two-family dark brown house that had been built in the late 1700s. Steve and his friend lived on one side. Steve had many habits that were both annoying and funny as well. For ex., every single day he sat in his car while he warmed it up for about 20 minutes, then drove it around the block, and after parking it carefully, got out to inspect how well he had parked it. He was always more than happy to regale me with long stories that began without fail with the words, “To tell you the truth, Erv…”
TRUTH. What really is it?
In today’s meditation I share with you some of my truths and how they interestingly intertwine with our UCC community.
Our UCC has its roots in four historical threads, as you may know – Congregational, Christian, Evangelical, and Reformed. My religious life and Jo’s as well has been focused in the Evangelical story (not the fundamentalism type) but in a liberal evangelicalism best described in the life of the great 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Our United Church of Christ is a 50 year old denomination that merged the four traditions – Congregational, Christian, Reformed, and Evangelical.
In our Evangelical churches we lived by a simple piety – prayers at meals, songfests, daily devotionals, and a spirit-filled faith. The first Evangelical church on the Midwestern frontier began in a village named Femme Osage located just west of St. Louis. My great grandfather Casper Heinrich Bode served as pastor for the Femme Osage church from 1845 to 1889, almost 50 years. Casper was the first Evangelical pastor to be ordained on the frontier. Since the mid 1800’s, 18 members of my Bode family have served in the UCC ministry. My family and the UCC have been intertwined for a long time.
The greatest marking of that old Evangelical denomination was that it lived in a Spirit of the Christian faith, not in theological formulations. No-one in our family believed we had a monopoly on Truth. We believed in affirmations of faith insofar as they agree, but where they disagreed we always believed in the liberty of conscience. The Evangelical Christian always affirmed that every individual has the right to express for themselves the infinite truths of God. There is always room for diversity of belief. This irenic view of life was passed down in my life from generation to generation. At my father’s funeral 20 years ago, the preacher said of my father, “Never did he assume that it was his task to inflict truth on others. He lived simply, not talking, arguing, or seeking to convert.” He lived by a simple piety.
Craig Dykstra, a United Presbyterian pastor, says that we mainliners need to consider a reinvigorated Piety for our time. Catholics call it Spirituality. In addition to CUCC’s ministries “out there” in the community and world, which we do in an excellent way, we also need inner world revisions of our faith journeys, a substantive CHRISTIAN PIETY that lies in fundamental continuity with the faith of our forebears, but is fitting for our crazy, technological mixed up times.
I am not suggesting this morning we return to the piety of earlier centuries. I’m sure you have images, as do I, of moralisms, of deadening subjectivities, of other worldliness. That is not what I am talking about. I am proposing a new piety, based on the Truths of earlier days, a contemporary piety including the following characteristics:
Freedom of conscience,
Reverence for life,
Understanding the Bible,
Accenting right living, not right belief,
Focus on experiences of the faith, not on right doctrines,
A hope for the world,
Servant living, and
These characteristics begin to shape a new reality. They become a life force, grounding us for our life in community.
HUMILITY is one way to a new piety. Great people throughout history have understood their place as flawed human beings. Living humbly allows us to not take ourselves too seriously, to admit that others do things better than we, to roar with laughter when our faults inevitably appear. We cannot be “sucked in” and follow people down false paths. We are given insights to commit to Truth rather than to spin, to not being full of ourselves.
Jesus says it all in his counter-cultural words “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be the ones who will be exalted.” Luke 14:11
Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Job, David, Daniel, Jesus, Mary, and Paul all were eminently humble people. It is a standard I believe we are to follow in these days. It is extremely tough to emulate…We may not have the special gift of public speaking, or have exquisite tact, or the best of knowledge of any given field, but we do have the capacity for humility. If nothing else in our lives, we may choose to be humble…it’s our choice. We can avoid being arrogant, boastful, or vain, and an attitude of “me first.” As my wife has been known to mutter occasionally to herself, “Jo, who made YOU queen of the world?”
The new piety offers us life in the Spirit. Rather than building fences, we become more SERVANT-LIKE, HUMBLY learning from each other, growing and prospering together as the CUCC in Boulder.
Aaron Bode, one of our grandchildren, spent this past year studying at Oxford as a part of his four years at Notre Dame. On school breaks he traveled extensively through Europe, and even went to the Middle East and China. One weekend he boarded a local bus through northwest Germany, and landed in Schledehausen, a village of 500 located near Osnabruck. He walked to the village church, and sat in the back pew for a couple hours. The church was built in the 1200’s as a Roman Catholic parish. At the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s, it became a Lutheran Church, and has remained so since that time. We know also that it was the church from which my great grandfather – Casper Heinrich Bode – emigrated to America in 1832. After meditating for a long time, Aaron began to cry for apparently no reason. He finally figured it out. For the first time in his young life, he “got it” that he had a place in something bigger that his own life, that he had a place in our family’s history, that he is a “connector” between the Bode family story stretching back to the 1500’s and unknown years ahead. He experienced an overwhelming feeling of responsibility and also the privilege of helping to shape our family’s future contributions.
Add your story to ours. Sometimes it feels dismal in these 21st century days. But what a privilege to live them. Go boldly, go with a renewed piety, be servant-like, and walk humbly with your God.