Faith Matters: Gratitude, faithfulness and protest

  • Rev. Julie G. Olmsted of the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield lights candles. Paul Franz

  • Rev. Julie G. Olmsted of the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Trinitarian Congregational Church of Northfield UCC
Published: 11/25/2016 9:30:35 PM

(Editor's note: The following is a submission to The Recorder's weekly column, “Faith Matters.” Each Saturday, a different faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

In the progressive tradition of the United Church of Christ there is the strong element of social justice. There are, of course, many times when Jesus is seen objecting to the status quo. One might say that his entire life was a protest against the establishment. To focus exclusively on social justice overlooks the sweetness of salvation and the blessedness of a growing relationship with God. But the fact remains undeniable: Jesus could not be boxed into a rigid faith tradition that was based on rules and rituals. His was a movement that rejected legalism as well as social structures that excluded anyone.

At a time in our beloved country when gratitude is up front in our minds, with our families and on our tables, another American tradition is pushing its way into our lives: the tradition of protest. People have protested in our country since (at least) the Boston Tea Party, and although it has waxed and waned over time, it is a cherished inheritance from our ragtag ancestors, who sought freedom of thought, speech and religion and weren’t afraid to risk everything for it.

When others protest in ways we do not approve of, it can be hard to sanction that sacred custom of protest. We might call them “ungrateful,” “entitled” or even “Un-American.” But the right to protest is something we should all uphold and protect, this or any time of year.

There are many stories to be found in the New Testament where Jesus uses outsiders to illustrate a point. A number of examples involve the Samaritans. Samaritans were to be strictly avoided by the sect of Judaism to which Jesus belonged (many say the Essenes). But several times he used Samaritans to make a point: Don’t judge someone because they’re different. A person can believe very differently than you. That does not mean they’re wrong; they’re simply different.

Protesting and gratitude could be seen as holding the same tension between spirituality and social justice, both of which were embodied by Jesus in his ministry and leadership style.

If we don’t take time to be grateful, we will become hardened and way too self-sufficient. We will be guilty of eating the fruit of the tree of life, and not watering the tree. This is a foolish practice and puts our souls, as well as our connection with God in peril.

But if we don’t take time to make our voices heard, in our families, in our churches, in our communities, in our government, and in our world, we may lose many of the gifts for which we are now so very grateful.

I do believe that you and I can be grateful and faithful, and engage in protest. We can give thanks and make our objections heard in the public square, on behalf of we are committed to and what we believe in, as followers of Jesus. We can take a stand for the weak, the hungry, the marginalized and those we perceive as “different,” all of whom might be considered a type of Samaritan. This is the “inner and outer” of our religious life, the dance of being human. This is the walk of a disciple.

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