Faith Works 7-4-15
Freedom In a Changing Landscape
July the Fourth.
We all know what John Adams said to Abigail, even if he meant July 2nd at first (they voted that day for American independence, signed the "engrossed" or formal document, most of them, on the Glorious Fourth). He knew this was a major step, with significant implications far beyond our shores, so he thought that the date "ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…"
It's not a commemoration of the church, but many churches will note the occasion, if only by way of a decline in attendance, with celebrants on the road as much as at home.
While my family was on vacation, we stopped to take a picture. That's not unusual. Where I stopped left both my wife and son and probably a few passers-by puzzled, since it was by the side of a busy four lane highway, looking out over a fairly non-descript landscape, even if the more distant mountain peaks were lovely… but in northern New Mexico, that's true almost any direction you turn.
I was in a neighborhood of Española, Nex Mexico, a place called Hernandez. The spot, and the angle I was depicting, was the same place that a man named Ansel Adams stood at in 1941. He and some friends were driving back from the Chama Valley towards Santa Fe, when suddenly he asked them to stop the car, and he jumped out to get a picture.
"Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" is considered in black and white photography the equivalent of the recently made (at that time!) "Citizen Kane" in film. It's a dramatic composition of sky, clouds, the moon, and a Penitente morada, or church, with a cemetery next door. Truchas Peak is in the background to the right, and marching off into the distance to the left are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Like "Citizen Kane," it's hard to grasp the significance of the picture looking at it today, because the pioneering tools used to make both, choices and equipment alike, are so commonplace now that they look almost ordinary, if well-made. But at the time, each made quite an impact.
For me, it was a small thrill to stand there, and to take that picture. But I had a digital camera, the shot was taken in color, it was afternoon, not evening; it was June, not November 1.
And it was 2015, not 1941. The trees have grown taller, the church added a bell tower, the cemetery has more crosses. The foreground, barren and covered with scrub, now has a cluster of newer houses and outbuildings. In other words, you can't take that picture again. Even if I waited until fall, even if I stole Adams' original camera to take it and had the same phase of the moon, even if I could somehow summon up the same cloud forms under that lunar light: I couldn't take the same picture.
So here we are with a culture and nation that has changed; since 1941, since 1776. We've had, in this country that marks its birth from the Declaration of Independence, a number of significant events recently with implications far beyond the immediate impact. That Declaration was not enough to carry America forward, so we wrote a Constitution. That document has been amended, and the Supreme Court interprets it, the legislature implements it through laws, the executive has a task to enforce it.
But then and now, what changes most is the cultural landscape. I don't think, as a Christian, as a pastor, as a community leader, that legislatures and chief executives do as much leading as they do following. The people, the nation shifts and changes course, and the institutions tend to follow.
For many faith communities, there are concerns and also some opportunities in what's happened in the last year in our country. It's up to congregations, I believe, to reflect on what their values are, what does not or should not change, and what has already changed whether they felt they were part of that move or not.
What is marriage? That's a discussion that neither the Supreme Court nor the media can truly resolve. It's up to faith communities to discuss that question, to look at their practices as well as their beliefs, and to live out their witness whatever the culture, or country turns toward. Our surrounding landscape is what we have to tend.
I've been asked to "take a stand," which is too often code for "take a side." Marriage has been changing, both within as well as without of our churches. We need to take a serious, measured look at what's going on, and what we're doing, and how we will do it. This discussion will continue, in the congregation I serve, and in our community.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him what you're discussing in your church at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.