Sunday, December 19, 2004

Community Reinvestment and Church Memories

I’ve decided on a theme that I hope will inspire me to write short postings on a more frequent basis. I’m hoping to write about memories of my church experience which influenced me for good. The idea was born out of a very angry moment today which at first glance seems totally unrelated.

I don’t intend to write about political issues on this blog, but this one really bothers me and I need to get it off my chest.

I read a blog entry on Bruce Prescott’s blog, Mainstream Baptist, regarding a proposal by Bush Administration appointees to essentially gut the CRA (Community Reinvestment Act). The CRA is a 1977 federal law that prohibits banks from discriminating against low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. This law was enacted because banks through their own bank policy “red-lined” minority areas and offered them neither credit nor banking services. With the original CRA requirements, banks with $250 million of assets had to provide services to all communities in which they were chartered. With the proposed change 90% of banks will no longer fall under CRA. I don't trust this generation of business people to voluntarily offer just and equitable lending and banking services on their own anymore than we as a country trusted business 25 years ago.

As a country I don't believe we have squarely faced our spotted history of racism, abuse, and discriminatory attitudes. Yes, we acknowledge them, but usually with a “that happened a long time ago and it’s in the past.” My belief is that people are ultimately driven by wealth, power, and reputation. Unless curbed these instincts divide instead of build up. They separate the “haves” from the “have nots” which eventually results in the consolidation of wealth and power. These misperceptions of superiority breed oppressive and abusive behaviors. I guess I’m a progressive at heart because I believe in good government. I believe that government can bring about good laws and regulations that curb (keep in check) the excessive instincts of humans and serve the common good.

I believe the church has a responsibility here also. Although I’m not currently an active member of a church congregation (more on that later – I hope), I still believe in the church’s ability to bring about good on this earth. I believe in the church’s unique place to provide an environment that encourages and challenges people to live the ideals spoken by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. He called people to live differently and to make decision differently. The differently is living “self-sacrificing” lives. I don’t think this means to hate oneself. Quite the contrary, to deny selfish instincts and selfish behaviors; to practice vigorous honesty which means to acknowledge (confess with no excuses) and repent of (turn from) self-centered living. I believe Jesus knew self-centered living eventually destroys the soul. These behaviors not only destroy the individual, but can poison and destroy those around the individual.

Okay enough ranting….Onto my new theme. I was close to tears and angry when I read the blog entry, but in keeping with my overarching theme of “Small Glimpses of Goodness” I decided to write on memories growing up in the church. I’m hoping to mine those memories from my church experience that have influenced me for good and have called me to live out Jesus’ commands.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


Today I read a new blog, Velveteen Rabbi, recommended by RLP. Velveteen Rabbi recently wrote a post prompted by her experience at an Advent service with a friend. She ponders questions about taking pleasure in the rituals of other faiths. A wonderfully thought provoking post.

I loved her description of the Advent candle lighting ritual.
Peter and his congregation lit the first candle in the enormous evergreen wreath that hangs from the vaulted ceiling of their church. Next week, two candles. Then three. Then four. And on Christmas Eve near midnight, they'll light the central candle, the final light, from which flame will be brought down to light the small tapers of everyone in the room.

Leaving aside for the moment the matter of Jesus, who is naturally a problematic figure for most Jews, I love this Advent ritual. It speaks to me. November has been a dark and in many ways difficult month; in my own personal world I feel the need for light, and when I steel myself to listen to the news it's clear the larger world needs some light too. This lighting of candles to celebrate the gradual revelation of spirit is a metaphor made manifest. Last year I was at Peter's church on Christmas Eve, and the experience of watching the light come down from the rafters and fill the room, tiny flame by tiny flame, was powerful. (Velvateen Rabbi)
Oh, how it brings back such sweet memories of Advent past. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in the Episcopal Church. My church was a relatively small parish of about 100 people. I loved the little church and have many fond memories of the people and community we shared.

Our church sanctuary was beautiful: a large stone altar in the center and a lectern and pulpit to either side. Above the altar hung a large austere silver cross. It descended down from a naturally lit vaulted ceiling.

Anyway, the advent season…the candle lighting service…purple, pink, white…such sweetness…such reverence. I’m transported back to those times I participated in this wonderful ritual. I’m grateful for Velveteen’s beautiful description. Precious, simple, yet profound.