My photo this week was taken last Saturday when the St Martin’s Men’s Community SMMC initiated a service project at the Episcopal Cathedral of St John on North Main Street. This is a wonderful building and 17 of us were proud to be participating in the process of the Cathedral’s restoration as a venue with great multi-use potential. We worked hard, removing all the doors from the box pews as well as hundreds of delaminating vinyl kneelers – a slightly disgusting experience - as the first stage in removing all the pews to make way for more flexible use chairs. Thanks to all of you who participated. It was a great expression of the SMMC’s commitment to community service. A special thanks to David Ames for facilitating this opportunity, and of course to Waylan Tucker, site supervisor extraordinaire.
Please join us for the next work session on Saturday November 10
But now for something completely different as they used to say on Monty Python. In his opinion piece in the New York Times,
mentions a study reported in the Journal of Positive Psychology by Pelin and Selin Kesebir of 50 terms associated with moral virtue – terms like honesty, patience, and compassion. The researchers note that: “Overall, our findings suggest that during the twentieth century, moral ideals and virtues have largely waned from the public conversation”.
Merritt notes that:
“Language about the virtues Christians call the fruit of the spirit — words like
love, patience, gentleness
— has become much rarer. Humility words, like
, fell by 52 percent. Compassion words, like
, dropped by 56 percent. Gratitude words, like
, declined by 49 percent”.
Words do more than describe experience. The words we use, or no longer use, are what give shape the way we see and experience the world around us.
Episcopalians find themselves among that section of the population that finds it difficult to engage in spiritual conversation in public, or even it might be said, among ourselves. We shy away from using God words because we want to distinguish ourselves from those who weaponize and abuse the use of spiritual terms. Merritt describes these as:
“the toothy televangelist keeps using spiritual language to call for donations to buy a second jet. The politician keeps using spiritual language to push unjust legislation. The street preacher keeps using spiritual language to peddle the fear of a fiery hell”.
I think more to the point however is that Episcopalians alongside mainstream Protestants no longer feel confident or able to use moral and spiritual terms with any fluency of understanding. Consequently, those who abuse the use of spiritual language are enabled to do so only because the rest of us have stopped articulating our experience of life framed within the richer landscape that speaking spiritual language creates.
Merritt echoes for me Bonhoeffer’s reflection -that all that is necessary for evil to thrive is that good men and women do nothing when he writes:
“when people stop speaking God because they don’t like what these words have come to mean and the way they’ve been used, those who are causing the problem get to hog the microphone”.
Our reluctance to speak God or to use spiritual terms to guide our civic conversations and shape our mutual encounters in the public space actually empowers those who will always high-jack God language for pernicious ends. Merritt concludes:
“Christians in 21st-century America now face our own serious
. We must work together to revive sacred speech and rekindle confidence in the vocabulary of faith. If we cannot rise to this occasion, sacred speech will continue its rapid decline — and the worst among us will continue to define what the word
Maybe this is why it’s important to be in church? See you there, on Sunday!