I’m helping a family relative (Dale Suderman) record life memories. During a recent visit with him he reminded me that he became a member at Rainbow Mennonite Church when he was a young adult. He didn’t live in Kansas City all that long but he found refuge at Rainbow and more than that, he said he became a Christian at Rainbow. Yes, he had been to other churches and yes, he had been baptized at his home church near Hillsboro, KS. Still, it was only later that he would become a Christian, and at Rainbow no less.
Dale is a man of ironies and contradictions. He was raised in the Mennonite Brethren community, he is a Vietnam War Veteran, gay, and a recovering alcoholic (his AA sponsor was the film critic Roger Ebert). He spent part of his career working as a Salvation Army therapist helping many alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals seek recovery. Oh and he was a bookstore owner and good friend of the well-known Christian writer, Philip Yancey. Many of Yancey’s articles were written about and inspired by Dale. Dale is now an Episcopalian because in his words, “clearly such a faith community must have room for an ironic child like me.” Dale currently lives at Parkside Home in Hillsboro where he is recovering yet again, this time from a stroke.
Dale is a cynic in the best sense of the word. And I think the reason he found refuge at Rainbow is that he found other Christian cynics. So read on all you cynics. In an articled titled “Cynicism as Therapy: Seeing the Log in Our Own Eye,” Dale portrays the ancient cynics as people who thoughtfully examined and reexamined idealism. They were not bitter and cold, words people might associate with cynics today. Rather, the ancient cynics were often the ones who “mocked the pretenses” and unexamined idealism of others. Cynicism, writes Dale, “is not nihilism, it is not bitterness, and it is not despair.” He goes on to say this:
Our problem may not be cynicism so much as unfettered and unexamined idealisms, often the idealism of a naive worldview. The world will be saved by neither the idealism of peacemaking nor the idealisms of the craft of war. As an interim ethic or at least a viable strategy, the options of pragmatism, social realism, and even compromise may be needed in areas of conflict. These do not necessarily contradict the deeper hopes that Christians have.
In this same article (let me know if you want a copy) Dale writes this moving testimony of a Christian cynic:
Tomorrow morning I will go to church and we will get on our knees and ask for forgiveness and admit that we have sinned in thought or deed because we are people who admit that sin exists both in us and around us. And we will affirm our hope as we do every Sunday: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Though for the most part we are agnostic as to whether that is a pre-, post-, or amillennial event, this Christ-centered understanding of history is our hope. Our idealisms, ideologies, and social constructs are myopic: we see through a glass made darkly ironic and paradoxical by our inability to see our own eyeballs. We are certain that the church is eternal, but we are equally confident that it is made up of broken persons…
In a subtle way we will affirm the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Father of our Lord…
The communion rail is ironic and moving in most services. From generals to peace activists, gay men to homophobes, the economic elite of the city to the dispossessed of the city, we will all leave our pews and genuflect and walk down the aisle to accept bread and wine at a common table. In doing this, we recognize that we are participating in a larger cosmic drama going beyond our personal lives and beyond historical events.
And then the benediction will be recited by a deacon, with one portion of the stole going across the deacon’s front then tied at the side to symbolize moving freely on the streets as a servant of Christ. “Send us now into the world in peace,” we will say, “and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord. Notice that this does not say “to save the world.” We are just to move through it as servants, deacons, and emissaries.
I am moved by this. And I’m glad Dale is part of our Rainbow. As I told Dale recently, I hope that Rainbow makes a Christian out of me, too, because of course, we are all in process as followers of Jesus. I don’t know where I am or will end up on the idealism/cynicism scale but I think or I hope that at Rainbow there is enough room for us all.
That leads me to remind everyone that I’m looking forward to having a conversation in the near future with those who would like to consider becoming a member at Rainbow. Stay tuned!