Monday, July 21, 2008


God's loveliest church, the outdoors. Anderson Park. Sun, blue sky, a lovely backdrop of the train depot museum and fairground buildings. Dr. Martin Marty, Pastor Christian Meier, Pastor Nora Mendyk, and Father Gerry Gonderinger sitting on a bench near the pitcher's mound, backs to the sun like swallows on a telephone wire. A slight breeze blowing the humidity away. An ecumenical community service of thanksgiving, celebrating West Point's sesquicentennial. The grandstand was full, with choir at the far right end of it where the seats turn and face the congregation.

People of various faiths sitting together, standing together, praying together. Singing together.

When it came time for the sermon, Gwen Lindberg stepped up and introduced Dr. Marty to the crowd in the stands. Dr. Marty spent his first eleven years in West Point and readily admits he was shaped by it. He still considers himself a son of the plains. Memory of West Point? He remembered the girl who was faster than he was on bicycle, and who was picked for make-up baseball games before he was.

But the business at hand was delivering a sermon. "Preachers like three-part texts," Dr. Marty said, "but today I've got four."

First, he said, quoting, I think, Paul, build houses.

Second, plant gardens and eat what they produce. "We can feed the world's hungry from places like West Point," he added.

Third, take a spouse and have children. "The generations pass," Dr. Marty said, "but hope does not."

Fourth, seek the welfare of the place where you are. "In its welfare," he said, "you will find your welfare."

"Do not try to ignore death," he added. "There is a lot of it going around."

I think that the "patriotic" service on the fourth of July seemed more rigid ideologically and doctrinally than the ecumenical church on Sunday. Why? Perhaps the difference was this: at the tribute to the veterans, somehow we were being preached at and sung to; we were expected to accept what was said as the truth. During the church service we were lifting our voices together in song, as one, the swell of what we shared rising as a single harmonious voice. We were asked to find our own truths and to honor them.

To be continued....

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