Many moons ago, when I was active in Boy Scouts, my troop went camping just about every month. One month each fall, we went to a camporee, which was a larger gathering of many troops from around the council. We usually had some friendly competition amont the troops to see who was better at scouting (the skills associated with scouting, I guess) during the day on Saturday. Then, Saturday night, we would all go to a campfire together.
It was my favorite campfire of the year. Most of the time at campfires we'd have skits or songs or announcements or even a motivational speech of some kind. Not this one. We walked in silence. As we neared the circle, our way was lit by primitive luminaria. We were ushered into what felt like some kind of inner circle. Seated. Silent.
A Native American chief stepped in front of the waiting logs and began the story of the four winds. "Many moons ago..." North, South, East, and West, they danced together before thrusting their torches into the ground and igniting an impressive blaze. And then, more stories. The club and shield. The buffalo hunt. And then, the moment I had been waiting for: the tap-out.
This was more than a show of stories put on for us. It was also--potentially--our induction into the stories. The boys in front of us were members of the Order of the Arrow, a service organization with its roots in scouting. The chief would call names, and those tapped would begin a journey of serving others. It was an honor.
It was a peculiar honor. I say that because so often when we achieve something we are brought up by those who have gone before us. The members of the elite recognize in us something of themselves and draw us into their circle. But members of the Order of the Arrow are not decided by existing members. They are selected instead by non-members--the peers of the scouts themselves. They choose who is worthy of inclusion in the Order. They weigh each other and choose who to elevate. They decide who among them best represents the ideals of scouting.
It's an interesting question. Who has the authority to grant membership to a particular organization? Years ago I was the Assistant Director of the Atlanta Sacred Chorale (now Atlanta Master Chorale). I sat on auditions along with the director and a few others. It was up to us to determine who would be invited to sing with the chorale. Years before that I auditioned for my college choir. In that case, the director and only the director determined who should sing.
Church choir is different somehow. We don't do auditions at Decatur First. The reason for that comes from my understanding of who has the authority to grant membership. It's not me. The gospels tell us that all are welcome without exception. And so, since the choirs are a microcosm of the church, all must be welcome. Without exception.
I've intereviewed for a few jobs across the years, and they always ask that question. What do you do with someone who wants to sing and just can't sing? My answer has never changed. God loves everyone, and every voice lifted to God is worthy. Who am I to deny that? Who am I to say this offering isn't worthy? (If that answer is unacceptable, I didn't want the job anyway).
...which is why I'm amused when I invite people to sing in choir, and their response is that they can't sing. First, they probably can and just haven't been trained. Second and more importantly, who cares? Sing. All are welcome. No exceptions!
This is not intended to be a long and not-too-clever ploy to recruit for choir (but if it's working for you, then feel free to read it that way). I've been wrestling with membership in the Christian church. Not membership of a congregation (that's another conversation for another time).
Who has the authority to grant membership to the Christian faith? I suppose that would have to be God...and again my understanding is that all of us are welcome in God's eyes.
What does it mean to be a member? Well, I think it's some of what Dalton talked about last Sunday in his sermon. It sounds a little ridiculous to say, but being a member of the body of Christ means, well, being Christ's body in the world. It's noticing need and taking action to address it. It's living our faith.
And what if we don't? Are we then excluded? And what about people who claim membership but very clearly aren't? You know, the ones who disagree with me about the stuff of faith. Can we claim they aren't members or never really were? I guess that's not for us to say...because God alone posesses the authority to grant membership or revoke it (though God has been fairly clear about our inability to escape membership).
BUT GOD!!! THAT'S NOT FAIR!!! And it doesn't make sense. I've seen people claim a Christian faith who, in my eyes, actively work against it. How can those people claim the same status I have? It's a mystery. It doesn't have to make sense. After all, it's a pretty small God who can only exist within the bounds of our ability to make sense of it all.
So membership isn't about inclusion or exclusion. We're all included. Accepting that membership is about embracing what membership means in daily life--embracing who we are supposed to be if we are really children of God.
It's like if, on some Saturday evening in fall, we all entered the circle, and they called all of our names. And together we began a journey of serving others. All deemed worthy. All capable of representing the best of our faith.