I always suspected that I was pretty average, but now the UCC's media buyers have confirmed it for me.
Those of us living in the six test markets for the UCC's new television advertising campaign were told that the "average viewer" would see the commercial at least four times during its six-week Lenten run.
Bingo. I ended up catching the 30-second spot four times: Once at a packed restaurant on a big screen television, once during a morning talk show while home sick in bed, once during the evening news and once while on a YMCA treadmill where my headphones were tuned to a television set in front of me.
And each time, I had the same, sudden urge. My first, knee-jerk reaction was to want to grab somebody, turn their head toward the screen, and say, "That's my church!" (Thankfully, at least during my last ad sighting, I resisted—lest I had broken my leg.)
But my gut response, I think, was indicative of something that so many of us want in the UCC. We want people to know who we are, and we yearn for a time when more and more "average" people will discover what is uniquely loveable and utterly faithful about our way of being church.
The Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, Southwest Conference Minister, summed it up when she reported that, over and over again, UCC members say that all they want is to be able to exclaim, "I am UCC" and receive in return at least a hint of recognition from their friends, neighbors and co-workers—a little validation for the things we love and believe.
I am a practicing ecumenist, but I'm also a "soft sectarian," as one church leader has dubbed me. I don't see a thing wrong with believing that the UCC's articulation of the gospel is not only on target, but also sorely needed. Right now, given the mounting mess in Iraq, the ongoing economic uncertainties at home and the ever-increasing political and religious scapegoating of already-marginalized communities, the UCC's "Still Speaking Initiative" is, quite literally, one of the few things in my life that seems to be providing some hope.
Just last week, in shock and amazement, I read a news story about a Pentecostal bishop who had been offi cially branded a "heretic" by his denomination for allegedly promoting the so-called "doctrine of inclusion." It seems the good bishop believes that Jesus died for all people, and the ever-prevailing, better-than-you religious mainstream doesn't like or agree with the concept. It's dangerous, they say.
Sometimes, in our day, heresy smells a lot like righteousness. That's why, I believe, the still-speaking God is asking us to offer the sweet word of inclusive love, something altogether different from the alienating religious messages so often heard from our television sets. It's not easy to introduce a less dogmatic faith into a culture increasingly filled with strident, religious know-it-alls, but it's very necessary. Millions of average people will judge the relevance of the church and the worth of the gospel by what they see and hear.
"To be to another human being what is needed at the time that the need is most urgent and most acutely felt," wrote the late Howard Thurman, "this is to participate in the precise act of redemption."
So let the word go forth to millions of average folk: "No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here." It's radical. It's "heresy." It's the liberating love of Jesus.