I have been thinking a lot about what Highland has taught me about life and faith recently. Often when I survey public discourse from Christians, most of the voices conservative, I find little in common with the understanding of the world present out there. When talking with friends who are not religiously affiliated nor identify as Christian, it is hard not to agree that American Christianity is doing a lot more harm than good these days, broadly speaking. What do I have to say for myself, then, that I remain among the priesthood of all believers who call themselves Baptist, but whose interpretation of Baptist freedoms has led them into the so called liberal values of equality and justice and love and welcome?
What I have learned and am learning is that our theology has to be able to make it to the hospital and back out again. Unlike what so many of us were taught growing up, God does not put you in the hospital, but God is with you in it. God does not work arbitrary miracles, but God is always at work.
What I have learned and am learning is that our theology must be able to dream even amidst the darkness. Our faith clings to hope beyond the legislative assault on women’s rights in states like Alabama, Ohio, and our own, beyond the racism and untruth that flood our culture through elected officials and public policy, beyond our financial struggles, beyond our personal shortcomings. We must believe that God is calling us into new life even as there is so much to be overwhelmed by in our private and public lives.
What I have learned and am learning is that our theology must give us joy. Not mere desire satisfaction or fleeting pleasures, though those can be good, too. But the deep and resilient joy that comes from knowing others and being known, from investing one’s gifts in the congregation and being invested in, from being affirmed in the uniqueness and peculiarities of our personhood, from knowing that we are not alone in this.
I have learned and am learning these things from you and among you. I have no special claim on truth, that is what being Baptist means. I am still dreaming, though I never lose sight of the darkness. I am thankful, for at Highland I have found the resilient joy I need: it is not my own, but a gift freely given. It is a joy not always most powerful, but never completely extinguished and always there.