Faith Works 7-11-15
Your choices, everyone's considerations
Thank you for the fascinating and thoughtful e-mail these last few weeks.
I want to promise everyone that I do, in fact, read every last bit of it, and I try to answer, even if briefly, all of them (although I do suspect in the clutter of my inbox I may miss a few, so feel free to re-inquire if you've asked me a question and heard nothing!).
And occasionally I even get a hand-written note, which is delightful and something I wish I did more of.
On the controversies swirling around us all in the United States these last few weeks, I could take any number of directions to address what I think faith communities can and should do, what I believe will or won't happen down the road as the implications of Supreme Court decisions and denominational stances play out.
In this column, as I've reminded many of the correspondents who've written in, I'm not representing my faith tradition per se, or the congregation I serve as pastor, or even my own beliefs. I try to be open and honest about them as I address subjects that go off in a different direction, but the goal here is to keep a conversation going in Licking County about faith and life and choices. The pastor's column is where any faith community leader can put their beliefs and practices front and center.
But since it's come up from a number of angles, I think I should simply say something clearly for myself, but that I believe is in everyone's best interests.
I believe that Christmas presents should be opened Christmas morning, not Christmas eve.
Yes, there are many of you who choose to open the packages the day before Christmas. I've heard reasons and explanations for why that's so, and there are also compromises made by some, where one small item is unwrapped before the services at church, the rest saved for Christmas morning, or the big presents are opened before but the stockings get saved for the big day under the tree. Fine.
I am not interested in saying those of you who do so are bad people, or that your lives are hopelessly ruined by having done so. I just don't believe that's the best path for happiness and contentment and thankfulness.
You could also ask me "is it in the Bible, specifically, that things should be that way? Or is it just a comment made by Crash Davis in a movie and your personal opinion?" Well, it's true, you're not going to find a single verse that spells out in particular that this is the only way to live your life and build up your household. That's why in this as so many areas I tend to talk about the role of "Scripture and Tradition," because there are beliefs and practices I would say are Biblical that might not have a single, unitary verse behind them, but can be explained and taught and interpreted through the practices of the church and the reading of narratives and passages taken together in the Bible. A critic might take any two and say "I'd put these together differently than you are," and I'd respond "yes, but there's a weight of tradition behind why we read them *this* way, it's not just personal preference."
Of course, there's not even a smidgen of Biblical authority or church tradition behind when you open up your Christmas presents. Do what you will and harm none.
I would say, gently but unambiguously, I still teach and share that my understanding of Scripture and Tradition is that the best path to receiving the blessings God intends for us is to reserve sex for marriage. I am perfectly aware that few agree with that position, and fewer follow it as their own pattern of life. And I don't refuse to do weddings or condemn individuals based on this, I simply try to keep preaching what I believe is true. I'm aware that doing otherwise does not always result in great harm, that many argue for benefits accruing from living otherwise, and some say my way of living could be harmful and that I'm not only wrong, but dangerously wrong.
Yet I would not say those who disagree with me are thereby directly endangering their future prospects, in time or eternity, nor would I make it the central element of my preaching. I just ask that folks understand: I teach this simply because I believe it is true, and a path for greater blessing.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you think about traditions and practices at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.