By Steve Magistad
The times we are living through leave many of us feeling unmoored, as historically reliable institutions and norms of behavior that connect us to each other are pulled apart. On long and hard fought issues that seemed finally settled, the clock has been turned back, as if parts of our collective history never happened. It feels as if scar tissue from very old wounds is being savagely, needlessly, ripped open. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that much of this is intentional and carefully planned by those in power or seeking power. Others turn a blind eye because standing up for what is right may save their soul, but it won’t save their current political seat.
I look around and wonder, “Where do I even begin to do something to stop feeling so helpless and disoriented. Where do I find a reliable source of authority and truth?”
Many people experience recent events only in terms of politics and the power of money. We think of possible actions only in these same terms. In too many cases our responses come up short. We think, “politics is broken – what is the point of participating?” We complain and protest, often online. I have struggled to discern actions that are more meaningful, actions that address my short-term need to protest while moving things forward and helping me to feel whole again. The more I work at this, the more I realize that my faith and my church provide me with the bedrock of truth and authority that I need.
I am a white, straight, politically liberal American male. I have voted exclusively for Democrats for the last 25 years. (I used to vote for both parties – the Republican Party lost me). I work in the financial services industry. I grew up in the Catholic Church. I would not know how to be a person in this shifting world if I was not a member of the United Church of Christ congregation I joined when my children were born.
Progressive Christianity. How many Americans have not even heard the term? How many Americans who are politically progressive could benefit from understanding the Bible as progressive Christians do? Many people have a negative experience or perception of Christianity. It is often tied to their personal history with another denomination and does not reflect what happens in the United Church of Christ, or the Methodist church up the street, or any number of other progressive church communities. My heart breaks for them, because often the broken parts of their lives could be repaired by what my progressive Christian church offers. I wish they knew that a church can be focused on love and social justice, vs. rules and judgment; on grace and gifts vs. sin and shame. In the church I belong to we freely admit we don’t have all the answers. We ask “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” rather than “Have you been saved yet?” We value science and education, as well as non-Christian faith traditions. We share music and food and our lives with each other – our church is fun!
All human beings, if they are honest, know that they do not have all the answers – that they are not in and of themselves sufficient. We are simply not capable of putting it all together and explaining existence and meaning and purpose and truth. But we also know something else – experientially. The more we get outside of ourselves and serve others, magically, the happier we are. My church challenges me to do more in service to others, and provides tangible ways to live my faith. Examples include our involvement in the “Vote No” marriage amendment campaign, working at Dorothy Day Center, traveling with my kids on Mission Trips to build homes, or attending an Environmental Justice Conference. My church inspires me with the energy and ideas I need to fight the good fight, and helps me to be a better father, citizen, and person.
If you’re a progressive person and need to find a way out of the wilderness our country now seems collectively lost in, please consider a church community as a place to belong. Here you can have your batteries charged, connect with others around a purpose or around searching for a purpose. Here you’ll find a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on. Go to church websites and see how they describe themselves. Look for inclusive language and clear statements regarding social justice, LGBTQ members, environmental justice and other clues.
And, if you live in the Twin Cities please consider St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ – my church home near the St. Paul Campus of the U of M. We’re waiting with open arms and lots to be done!