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Incoming!

“Incoming!”

That is what I always feel like shouting at the church staff on this particular Monday in Advent every year. It is what soldiers shout when missiles are headed their way, and it is what I feel is about to happen starting this week.

Every congregation I’ve served during the past 30 years in Jacksonville, Dallas, and Atlanta has claimed “radical inclusion” as one of their core values. My mistake was to believe them. Actually, they all meant it, but applying our values with integrity and consistency is never easy for anyone. It is especially difficult when our stated core values conflict with our sentimental values.

The perfect illustration of this will present itself this week in churches across the country when we start singing Christmas carols. By now, many churches have used up the familiar Advent hymns and must move on to carols. “We are close enough to Christmas,” they reason. “It is, after all, Joy/Gaudete Sunday, so we have to sing ‘Joy to the World’.” The trouble is most of our carols were written in another age, and they are riddled with sexist language, and militaristic and patriarchal/masculine images of God/Christ.

We usually can get away with changing hymns to make them more consistent with our “radical inclusion” … until it comes to the carols. People actually know the words and love them just the way they are. Being inclusive and welcoming of everyone is fine until we have to change the way we’ve been and the things we love.

That is why I want to shout “Incoming!” this week, because we change them anyway. Yes, people complain. Just yesterday I noticed someone gave our church a “one star” rating because we use inclusive language. To them we are being politically correct. To me, and fortunately to most of my congregation, we are refusing to be misogynistic, racist, homophobic, excluding, anti-Semitic, militaristic, bigoted, and all the things the church can be when we choose sentimental values over our higher values. Integrity has its price. Judas might have said, “Incoming,” but he just walked up and kissed Jesus instead.

Blessings,

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Rev. Michael Piazza

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