Being Conditioned

As most of you know by now based on previous writings we installed one of those underground fences in our yard to help keep Simeon safe and within the bounds of our yard. The underground wire is attached to a sender located in the basement that emits a radio signal that can be adjusted to give Simeon some cushion between a caution signal and a bit of a Zap should he actually try to cross the boundary.

Simeon wears a collar with a receiver attached and the receiver has three similar settings ranging from a mild reminder zap to a more emphasized ZAP! He has learned well the boundaries of his existence while running and patrolling both the front and back yards. He knows just how close he can get before the warning vibration starts and often will sit in the driveway within a few inches of where the wire crosses to watch the traffic go by on the street.

Now and then when he is in the house we removed his collar just to give him a little reprieve and to give him a well-deserved neck rub and scratch. When that happens, either because I forget or am too lazy to go retrieve the collar, I will let him outside collarless. He does not stray though, from his normal routine. He still knows where they boundaries are and does not press them. Luckily for us he has yet to relate the boundary zap to the collar he wears. So he will still go to the back and come up front skirting the prescribed boundary and sit on the driveway just out of reach. I have no doubt though if we left the collar off permanently he would slowly and gradually realize the zap is gone and away he would go. We have witnessed the beginning of this when the battery in the receiver gets low.

All of this to say Simeon is well conditioned to the boundaries and does not need much reminding where they are or why they are important. Boundaries are a good thing. They let us know what we can and can’t do. They protect us, care for us, and keep us safe. Being conditioned to know where these are is good as well, we don’t have to think a lot about them, and they have just become second nature to us. These are all good, well intentioned, and necessary …especially if you are a dog.

In the world of human society and culture boundaries are good as well, and at the same time they can become so ingrained and outdated they become burdensome and even unjust. I pondered this especially the week before last as I gathered with other clergy from the Kansas and Nebraska areas and listened once again to Diana Butler Bass share her thoughts and most recent book, “Christianity After Religion, The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.” She spoke of this new awakening and current statistics regarding decline within the church and a rise of those who find church as usual irrelevant or unnecessary.

One of the things she said that caught my attention was that awakenings always broaden the table and that adding rules, pages, structure, and I would dare say boundaries to our churches is not broadening the table, those things are about narrowing and excluding. When boundaries become burdensome and unjust they need to be faithfully addressed, faithfully pressed, faithfully expanded, and sometimes simply faithfully broken through.

I read a blog by a colleague the other day in which he stated he believed the United Methodist Church is in the process of imploding which set me off on one of my pondering journeys. Implosions are not necessarily a bad thing. Those who put together an implosion for a building are highly skilled and exacting in placing the explosives in just the right places to make sure the building falls in the right direction. Implosions are often done not for the sake of simply destroying a structure but for the purpose of removing a structure that has become antiquated, irrelevant, outdated, and inefficient to make room for a new vision and updated way to be in the society and culture in relevant, efficient, and meaningful ways. Maybe that is what is beginning to take shape in the UM Church, maybe that is what is beginning to take shape in the Church Universal, and maybe that is what is beginning to take place across the religious landscape of our world.

Perhaps this new awakening that Bass speaks of is a process of imploding those boundaries that continue to be more and more burdensome, more and more unjust, and more and more complicated. Perhaps this is the new awakening toward a church, a world, a culture of justice, kindness, and humility. Perhaps that is what we are being about here at College Hill UMC, a group of Progressive Christians working at knowing where to place the imploding devices that might help not only us but the church and our corner of the world challenge and break through those boundaries that have for too long held others outside the doors of the church and away from both sides of the table.

I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” Perhaps we have been too long conditioned to the boundaries of safety and the way it has always been. It is not easy work to exist within the boundaries and still work for change and expansion. But I believe it is what we are called to be about; a voice of inclusion, a voice of justice, a voice of compassion, and a voice of equality within boundaries that for too long have been unjust and burdensome for too many children of God.

May we here at CHUM continue the disciplined hard work of justice making and challenging the boundaries of injustice and bigotry, until that day when equality, peace and justice for all is the rule rather than the exception. May it be so. May it be soon.

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