15 December 2005

All of me

Hello from Atlanta. A couple of Sundays ago, back in Portland, at Reedwood Friends Church, we sang a chorus that went more or less like this:

I want to be a servant, Lord
Please take all of me
I want to be a servant, Lord
Please take all of me.
All of me, please take all of me.
I want to be a servant, Lord
Please take all of me.

I want to be a witness, Lord, etc.
I want to be a sacrifice, etc.

Barry Frisby, our pastor for children, also gave a wonderful sermon in which he retold the whole story of Jesus's birth, starting with the Annunciation, and asked the kids in the meeting room to keep score of which parts were wonderful and which were messy.

When programmed meetings and Protestant congregations in general get into the full swing of Advent and Christmas programming, it feels very hard for a prophetic word to wedge its way in. For one thing, a lot of the church culture is riding on the glow of Christmas, the cuteness of kids, the familiar warmth of all the Advent paraphernalia, all of which has undoubted community-building power. But on this particular Sunday, this particular chorus, and this particular sermon, gave my spirit a nudge to stand up during open worship and speak.

The opening was there, but that didn't make speaking easy. What struck me about the chorus (I said) was how little it matched my life. I should rather sing

I'd like to have the reputation of being a servant, Lord,
Please take 10% of me.

Musically, the chorus (as originally written!) swings very nicely. I could usually sing it, with at least an aspirational spin, quite enthusiastically. But as I told Friends that Sunday, the Christian Peacemaker Team members in Baghdad were not 10% servants or witnesses, and now they were certainly not 10% hostages. Their commitment as servants was 100%. We do not yet know what level of sacrifice will be required, and I would rather pray than speculate. [Wikipedia link updated in 2021]

The honesty of Barry's sermon added a dimension to the message for which I was an instrument. "God with us" was not and is not a pious tableau or an improving Sunday school story. It was messy as well as wonderful. And so is being a servant, a witness, a sacrifice. How I want to be these things 100%, how I want to keep God at the very center of my life (as Deborah Haines challenged us and me in a never-to-be-forgotten Pendle Hill Monday night lecture 28 years ago) ... and how often I settle for a respectable 10%.

I will never sing that chorus with the same mindless gusto again. I will sing it, just differently.

Come and spy on us. Do you have mixed feelings about the protests against government spying on churches? I don't like the abuse of power any more than the next Quaker, but if we truly avoid objectifying human beings, we should not see the government spy as any less of a human than the ambulatory mixed bags of motives that the rest of us are.

In fact, should not the person who represents the FBI or CIA or terrorism task force have every right to hear the glorious good news of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, as we understand it? If our peace witness has integrity—if prophetic expression and nonviolent direct action are truly aspects of evangelism—should we not eagerly welcome those least likely to have already enlisted in the Lamb's War?

Planning for prayer-based civil disobedience and other direct confrontations with evil may be another matter entirely. The three scholars whom Herod asked to report back after their visit to Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12) were warned in a dream to disobey Herod and go home by another route. There may be times when we too need to avoid Herod and confine our counsels to those with equal commitment to prayer and mutual accountability. But in all other cases, I think we should focus more on the integrity of our evangelism (including its components of radical discipleship) than on worrying about who might be listening. We have no right to assume that anyone is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit.


Zach Alexander said...

I have mixed feelings too. On the one hand, I feel like if we are honest in what we are doing, we have nothing to fear from spies. I don't think they have the right to spy on people (honest or not), but in our case, as religious communities, I think we shouldn't worry about it too much, aside from when people are planning civil disobedience/direct action.

Johan Maurer said...

You say, "I don't think they have the right ..." and that brings up a point I neglected to address. If those government agents break the law or practice any kind of intimidation in their monitoring of our worship and discipleship, I wouldn't hesitate to hold them accountable.

I just don't want us to fall into the trap of exaggerated outrage and self-righteous victimhood that ends up slapping those government representatives in the face and denying their humanity.

This reminds me of a story that took place years ago in another country with a more overtly authoritarian government. A Friends meeting in that country had an informant among its attenders. When an American visitor asked why the informant was treated so kindly, the answer was that he was so incompetent an informant that everyone was on to him--and furthermore, nobody wanted the government to realize that his cover was blown. Friends realized that if the government found that out, the current informant might be replaced by a more competent one.

Nancy A said...

Your story reminds me of my activities in the American Citizens for Peace group in Costa Rica. We knew there was an informant somewhere in the group, given the high-level activity going on in Central America back then (the 1980s).

ACPCR began every meeting by welcoming everyone and the informant as well. The leader then explained to whoever the informant was why we were engaged in these activities and what we hoped to achieve. Then the meeting would begin.

Johan Maurer said...

For federal agents to attend a public event such as a meeting for worship or a public presentation does not upset me unless there's intimidation involved. (Even then, we can't say we weren't warned.)

The wiretapping of our telephones and e-mails without due process is another matter. When I call my friends and relatives overseas, I should not have to wonder whether my own country is spying on me. I can hear the cynic saying in the background, "Get used to it, buddy." No, I refuse to get used to it.

I'm sure there are people who ought to be wiretapped; that's why we have courts and warrants. This current U.S. administration, having played fast and loose with the truth and consequently with thousands of people's lives, having aligned itself with some of the most corrupt politicians in Congress, is in no position to thrust aside our civil protections with a plea of "trust us." We don't and shouldn't trust that crowd.

Dick Cheney justifies these smelly shortcuts by claiming that the vast majority of Americans would approve of them. (1) Where's the data? (2) Since when was the suspension of the Constitution made permissible upon the tides of popular opinion?