Worship

A quarter of a century is time long enough to take stock of some things.

I celebrated 25 years as pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in East Dallas last month. It was a movable feast with activities at church and around town, with church friends and friends of the church. Lingering emotions: joy, gratitude and hope.

For most of these years (about 22 of them), I have written this column as a gift to the community. Thank you for receiving it so well and allowing me to speak to you, for you and with you. My thanks to the Advocate staff for their generous support as well.

A few reflections, then, on this monthly salvo …

The column that lines up under the print issue’s banner “worship” is an effort at public theology. How does faith intersect with civic life, with culture and commerce, with world affairs and family affairs, with education and entertainment, to name a few?

Public theology is God-talk aimed at the common good. It recognizes that we live in a religiously plural society, not one dominated by a single religion that is more or less tolerant of others. And yet a public theologian must speak out of his or her own tradition if there is any hope of connecting with others.

Public theology is God-talk aimed at the common good. It recognizes that we live in a religiously plural society, not one dominated by a single religion that is more or less tolerant of others. And yet a public theologian must speak out of his or her own tradition if there is any hope of connecting with others. I have tried with this column to challenge and chide, encourage and exhort neighbors of all stripes to draw upon the better angels of their nature and the highest ideals of their own faith traditions by doing the same from mine. I hope that has come through.

We live in a time without easy answers, albeit with no shortage of people willing to offer easy answers. Religion is one of the worst offenders in this regard. We tend toward grandiloquent rhetoric that inspires the faithful without adding reason to the debate. Faith does not depend upon reason for its spiritual vitality, but it becomes a force for good in the world when it employs reason for the benefit also of those who do not share that same faith. Humility is a hallmark of genuine piety. It makes room for correction, gives space for other points of view, and celebrates truth wherever it is found. Any exercise in public theology should situate faith in the company of reason and humility.

Religious leaders are often schooled more at criticism than praise; we are sometimes more at home with confrontation than collaboration. I have learned that preaching that way inspires fear more than love and division more than community. Faith sees what’s right in the world and in each other as much as what’s wrong. It points out paths of peace and contentment. It notices the noble. It acknowledges virtue wherever it may be found. Faith is no respecter of persons on any basis, save for the content of their character, as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it.

Finally, public theology assumes that faith is personal but never private. We live in the world together, and we take our faith with us wherever we go. How we carry our faith with us into the world makes all the difference. Jesus summarized the law and the prophets by saying: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

That about covers it.


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