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Church in the Wild

It may be that some of you follow the oeuvre of contemporary hip-hop more closely than I do, but for the benefit of those who follow it less closely (that is, not at all), I’ll provide a little background. Enormously successful recording-artists Jay-Z and Kanye West had a single on the radio earlier this year titled “No Church in the Wild”. It’s a song about a lot of things: philosophy, hedonism, and non-monogamy among them. It’s a catchy number and if you decide to look it up after you read this, just know that its themes “may not be suitable for all audience members” – a warning that would apply equally well to the likes of Bizet’s Carmen or Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. What I’ve been thinking about recently is the complaint against religion implied by the title, which I’ll summarize this way: “Your rarified ideals may have their place in dusty sanctuaries, but they do not speak to life as it is actually lived. The content of a sermon loses its meaning in the context of the street. There’s no place for church in the wild.”

Messrs West and Z are hardly the first to make this criticism of organized religion. The American suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt that the religion of her time disregarded and denied the experience and even the dignity of women. During the French revolution, the clergy became targets of popular outrage because the doctrines they taught had supported the iniquities of the deposed regime, and ignored the needs of the poor and dispossessed. We might go back all the way to the character of Job, in fact. In the book of the bible named for him, Job’s friends respond to his heart-breaking loss of family and health by quoting the overly-neat, almost smug theology of the day, and he answers them: “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are hollow as clay.” (Job 13:12) A faith which seeks for people to serve it, to bend themselves to its immutable form, is irrelevant, at best, and harmful, at worst.

But that is not the only way that religion can be. Every human faith has a finer calling: to respond to human need; not to seek to be served, but to serve instead. To offer wisdom that guides life as it is lived here and now; not as it might have been in some far off or imagined place, once upon a time. To give comfort to the real pain of actual people. To confront the injustice in the world, and in each heart – not to look away or hide in platitudes, but to struggle alongside those who are struggling. Your religion, at its best, should challenge and reassure you just as fully when you are sitting on your daily commute as when you are sitting in a pew. It should

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help you to be your best self when you are overwhelmed by grief, or by bills, or by the challenge of being a parent, just as surely as when you were overwhelmed by awe and wonder. Your religion should guide your life when you are struggling to find hope, or to find a job, or to simply get along with the people you live with, just as well as the sound of the organ might guide you through the tune of a familiar hymn.

This is what religion ought to be – there are and have been countless communities, of many different faiths, seeking this same goal. One of these foolishly ambitious congregations is our own. We aspire not only to take church into the wild with us, but to forge church out of the wild, out of the unkempt, the ignoble, the modest and the every-day. To take the story of your life, the story of mine, the stories of each of us and of our neighbors and strangers besides and build out of them a path towards what is true and right. I know that many of you are off in the more literal wild this summer, when we meet less frequently and in smaller numbers. But remember friends: wherever you go, your church goes with you, for it is made out of you, and it exists to be of service to you, and to the world of which you are a part.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

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First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915

978-922-3968

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