I am at an American Baptist Churches, USA, conference in Orlando this week. The theme of the conference is Going to a New Land:Journeying towards God.
In worship this evening, I found myself deeply disturbed. We sang, we praised, we joined in song, and we began singing the hymn “Holy, holy, holy.”
The room erupted–500 strong–with American Baptists singing with great intensity. All present seemed to pour everything they were and had into enunciating these words and vocalizing these votes. It was truly amazing, prompting tweets on our hashtag like “Holy Holy Holy + 500 voices = amazing (by my friend @celticwander).
But while most were inspired, I found myself disturbed. For some time I wrestled with my unease. St. Ignatius was encouraging me to pay attention to it, to spend some time present with my unease.
As American Baptists, we are a diverse group. Many ethnicities, languages, and geographic regions are represented at this gathering. Sometimes we do well about mixing & honoring one another, sometimes not.
I realized my unease was not a condemnation, but a wondering: What might this gathering (& the ABC & the religious landscape of the US…) look like if we invested that much in each other? If we were focused on overcoming those differences among us to accomplish something real & lasting? What if we put the same amount of energy into our relationships as we did in singing this one old song?
I know I will get some flack for this, but I don’t know how interested God is in being told God is holy. And I can’t remember anywhere in the narratives of the Bible where humans are proclaiming the holiness of God. The Psalter, yes. And angels–angels always seem to say that God is holy. I’m no angel.
We are “going to a new Land.” But are we going together? Are we trying to get there first? Do we sufficiently respect one another to believe that God might have given THEM the key to OUR own journey? Can we come together to do more than sing a hymn that is older than any of us?
I cannot help but think that this is a key to our collective & individual journeys. If our communities will ever be able to think of our churches as places where there is intelligent discourse and intellectual & spiritual freedom–not to mention genuine love & understanding–we must first learn ourselves to come together: really, truly, genuinely, and wholly.
Wherever your journey takes you, I will be trying to find places for our paths to cross. My “journey to God” is headed your way.
Close the door, draw the blinds, turn out the lights–but don’t say I didn’t warn you.