Monday, January 04, 2016

Mondays With Martin: It's Cold Out There

I was struck again, this morning, by the same block of text that grabbed me last month: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
It was breezy and about 30 degrees out this morning. Not bitter cold, by any stretch, but, as the blooming forsythia mutely testify, a darn sight colder than it's been all of what has passed for winter in these parts. I was pretty chilly, and appreciated the ranger who thanked me for volunteering on a cold Monday morning in January. It was not comfortable out there, but it is no great measure of one's fortitude -- much less any more ultimate measure -- to stand outside on a cold but sunny day and welcome people to a beautiful memorial.
So it wasn't the cold breeze that lifted these words above the others. Rather, it was a letter to the editor of the Post over the weekend that got me to thinking about how we measure things. The letter, from a member of National Capital Presbytery's committee on church property, was ostensibly in response to a Post story about the journey of Arlington Presbyterian Church that has led the congregation (and the presbytery) to the decision to sell that church property to the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. APAH will build a mixed-used high rise on the property that will include 173 affordable apartments. It is a bold, visionary, and gospel-based mission for the property and for the congregation, but the letter writer saw fit, instead, to decry the decline of church membership and lay the blame for that decline on "the recent dramatic leftward lurch of our clergy and the ordination of gays as ministers and elders."
I don't often read letters to the editor. They fall under my mantra, "don't read the comments." But this one was brought to my attention by members of the congregation I serve who were angered by it. As I read the letter I shared the anger.
I also felt an unhealthy dose of resignation at a perspective that seems to value the comfort and convenience of an unjust status quo over the challenges of controversy and change.
Dr. King addressed the same dynamic in his famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail in 1963. He wrote that letter to moderate white church leaders, including leaders of Mainline Protestant congregations at the peak of their membership, and he warned them that "the contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century."
The church hasn't lost its way when it welcomes the outcast to the table, when it listens to voices long silenced, when it finds creative ways to build shelter for the homeless. When we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God we're following Jesus and standing where our true measure will be revealed. Such a stand is neither convenient nor comfortable, but it is where we are called to be.