Every once in a while a reader, either here or on other social media, asks me what my religious beliefs are. The expected answer to such a question is the standard label of a denomination of some sort. My response, however, is that knowing the group I belong to (and I do) should not effect the way my thoughts are viewed. With the exception of some groups suspected of mind control, standard religions are generally trusted as being motivated by pure intentions. Having both attended and taught in seminary settings, and knowing a great number of clergy, however, it becomes clear that denomination is less important than one might think. In short, I answer this question in the public forum of neither classroom nor blog as I truly believe there’s nothing to be gained by readers/students knowing where I personally seek meaning, denominationally.
It’s no secret that it was once the Episcopal Church. (I could not have taught at Nashotah House otherwise.) It was made pretty clear after being at said seminary for many years that the Episcopalians had no official place for me. Even when I worked a few blocks from the church’s headquarters in New York City I could find no one willing to listen or consider my credentials. Its Church Publishing branch wouldn’t consider me in their book wing. Were it not for some former students who still minister to me, it was clear they did not miss me. So it was with some surprise that I found myself in Nativity Cathedral in Bethlehem on Saturday for their Celtic Mass. The Cathedral itself is lovely with a négligée of wrought iron tracery for a reredos, appropriate for a city built by steel. Eight angels with outspread wings stood atop it. Like most sanctuaries, it was a place of refuge from the busy, noisy street outside.
The reading from Amos 7 stood out to me. Lectionaries, by definition, take pericopes (selections) out of context. Amos’ vision of the plumb line is actually part of a series of visions, but here stands alone with the episode of Amaziah trying to send Amos back to Judah. The prophet responds by saying he’s not a prophet, but just a guy who’s received a message from God. In ancient times there were prophets paid for their services. They supported the government positions and governments made sure they were cared for. The situation hasn’t much changed, at least among conservative religious groups under a Republican administration. There were other parallels here, but saying too much on them might end up giving too much away.