June 20, 2011

Let the Mystery Be

I was reading Dave Walker’s The Cartoon Blog the other day. I usually do this in search of funny cartoons about the church, and I was surprised to find a brief post with a YouTube video of singer Iris DeMent. I had heard of DeMent but had never heard her sing, so the video was of interest irrespective of the song being sung. As it happens, DeMent’s song was decidedly interesting, however, and not just from a musical perspective.

I was a regular churchgoer as a teenager and was unusually interested in theology. In fact, I was searching for the correct, perfect, and true theology. This preoccupation could have turned me into a religious zealot had not my mathematically oriented mind convinced me eventually of the futility of the enterprise. This resulted in my being not very religious for a very long period—until I discovered The Episcopal Church, in fact.

As fate would have it, I have since spent a good deal of time dealing with—some would say fighting—people who had found the religious certainty to which I once aspired. It remains a mystery to me how people can be so sure of propositions for which there is so little evidence, even in the Bible. Yet such religious certainty has been the source of much conflict over the years, some of it deadly.

Such insights were the inspiration for my poem “Christian Unity,” which I wrote in 2002:

Around the table gathered, we
Are one in sweet community,
For Christ has ransomed one and all
Who answer to his loving call.

We worship God in many ways;
We celebrate on different days;
But Jesus is the guiding star
For Christians near and Christians far.

God’s plan for us is seldom clear;
We may a different drummer hear;
Yet, if we study and we pray,
The kingdom will be ours some day.

So let us vow to never fight
About who’s wrong and who is right
Concerning truths we cannot know
That turn our Christian friend to foe.

And let our worship fit our needs;
Let us unite in Christian deeds;
May we God’s love and mercy show
To those who don’t the Savior know.

This brings us back to Iris DeMent. The song in the video is “Let the Mystery Be,” and the message is that the singer is not going to trouble herself with religious concepts whose validity cannot be established. I certainly resonate to that message. Listen and see if you don’t also.

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