Teaching Our Society About Itself

Devotion from the Board Meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 14
By: Chris McHugh, Saint Paul Area Council of Churches Board Member

Patricia mentioned that a good number of our members are on vacation and so one presumes they are with family while others are needed at work and so are not with family. This is the month too of vacations-from work- but also a month of preparation in the academic world of our youngsters. Many of them are looking forward with varying mixtures of anticipation and fear. We pray for safe journeys, productive work and a good year for our students. We call on God to guide us today in our work.

Family time away from work, work time away from family, school time with peers and non-family adults remind us how we now segment our lives. I have just returned from a New Brunswick reunion of my mid nineteenth century great-great-great grandparents born 200 years ago whose lives were so much harder but more integrated than are ours. As C.S. Lewis puts it “Life was one” with socialization, work, family, school all more connected than we find today. Indeed when one daughter in law died in 1873 the community school teacher living with the deceased’s in-laws became the next wife.

Segmentation also occurs among us today in our religious expressions and traditions but we are gathered today to un-segment -a process that would have made my ancestors and yours of 200 years ago ask simply, ‘why would you do such a thing”?

The other segmentation we have today besides our private lives is mirrored in the larger society between politics, society and religion. We Americans have been proud of our separation of church and state. From the more conservative parts of our society you hear this questioned and we must admit that a reason separation of church and state has been successful is that there is much separation in the lives of church-goers-the business of Sunday is perhaps too separate from the rest of the week.

The three Abrahamic faith traditions when emerging were not like this and some who practice today still do not so deeply segment. Society, family life, individual behavior then were all expressions of faith with the goal being as Psalm 27 says, “to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord.”

Really that saying is our mission here at the Council. I say that because most of us would not think we have much in common with those who would more overtly integrate faith and society-the blending of the civic with the religious.

But with our new strategic plan we are attempting to bring our geographic area back to the founding ideals of the country-“we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

These two core ideas animate us today and bring our various faith traditions into justifiable dialogue with the political and the social. Self-evident truths implies a startling societal consensus on truth-our truth-while the reference to a creator suggests a shared view that we are children of God.

Indeed this is a good start for cooperation among all the faith traditions not only in our programs but in our synthesizing advocacy. While serving others we simultaneously remind our society about its fundamental civic core beliefs that are identical to these core beliefs of our three faith traditions.

This should give us great confidence. We are un-segmenting our doctrinal pluralism within the Council so we can take action while also helping our society un-segment its policies from its core founding beliefs.

In this season of Memorial Day, the fourth of July and Labor Day we recognize that ‘these self evident truths” of the children of God that are the basis of these celebrations are indeed the “fair beauty of the Lord.”