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There’s a moment toward the end of Mackenzie Crook’s brilliant tender comedy-drama Detectorists when the character Lance explains the attraction of metal detecting by saying, “We’re time travelers.” (This isn’t a post about Detectorists, but if you haven’t found it on Acorn or Amazon Prime, do so. It is superb.)

“Metal detecting is the closest thing you’ll get to time travel,” Lance says. “We unearth scattered memories. We mine for stories.”

Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook as detectorists Lance and Andy

As much as I connect with the idea of mining for stories, Lance, and his friend Andy, and their “detectorist” buddies, are lovable misfits who barely get through modern life. If they actually did travel through time they would not fare well in the world of the Vikings or Saxons or Romans, whose artifacts they search for.

But I get the attraction. Every time I look at a 1965 Chico Cardenas baseball card I feel the same pull. I was seven years old and the ice cream man came down our street and while the neighborhood kids were scrambling around I noticed a box of baseball cards in the window of the ice cream truck. Forgoing something frozen, I ponied up my nickel and pulled Chico Cardenas out of the pack I bought. We lived in Southern Ohio, and getting a Cincinnati Reds’ star player was such a thrill I vividly remember it 56 years later. The card I opened is long gone, but I bought a pristine one a few years ago to satisfy my longings. Every time I look at it I feel like I am seven years old again.

Those were the days. Baseball was better then. Life was better then. Simpler. Easier. Purer.

Or was it?

Here’s another of my beloved Reds, Vada Pinson, the great centerfielder and, to this day, a big hero of mine. It shocks me to know that this picture was taken during my lifetime. I need to see this photo as much as I need to see my 1965 Chico Cardenas card. It proves that regardless of the romanticized Field of Dreams nostalgia bouncing around my head, the ideal past wasn’t ideal. Imagine being a superstar baseball player, perhaps the best at your position in the National League, and not being allowed to get a drink of water from the same fountain as your white teammates.

All of which is a prelude to a story I heard the other day from a friend. During a conversation with an RCA pastor who is considering leaving the denomination, the pastor said, “I just want my RCA from 30 years ago back.” Not that there’s anything magical about 1991. He is longing for a mythical RCA. It’s not hard to imagine what that mythical church might be like: all the power would be held by white males, while women have their circles and guilds and their Triennial, but also know their place. People of color would be the objects of mission, not partners. Those inside the church who experience same-sex attraction would so deeply closeted everyone else could pretend they didn’t exist. Those were the days that Archie and Edith Bunker sing about, when “Girls were girls and men were men.” The powers-that-be decide who’s in and who’s out, decide how far God’s grace could reach, and no one would question those decisions. (If we could magically go back 60 years or so, we’d find life wasn’t nearly that simple.)

The RCA’s presenting problem as schism approaches is, depending on who you talk to, biblical interpretation, gay marriage, or women’s ordination. I don’t buy any of those explanations.  The schism that’s coming is about the lure of time travel, to a mythical past, as pure and untainted as the Garden of Eden. (And please, you CRC folks reading this, don’t breathe easy. You know every issue the RCA gets stuck on comes your way within a decade.)

I understand the lure of the mythical past. That 1965 Chico Cardenas baseball card moves me in ways I feel deeply but struggle to articulate. But keep in mind the picture of Vada Pinson. Even if we could go back, we shouldn’t. A world that isn’t fair and equitable for everyone isn’t fair and equitable for anyone. A gospel that isn’t good news for everyone isn’t really the gospel. I hear, “We aren’t leaving the RCA, the RCA left us.” That’s simply a variation on time travel. It’s an argument that the Spirit of God froze into place sometime in the past. The reality is that world has changed and it’s better when people live into their true selves. Women have, in fact, always led the church, and have as much to contribute as men. White people have much to learn from people of color. People with same-sex attraction will not deny their true identities. Gender is far more complex than we assumed, and our understanding of it continues to evolve. Refusing to acknowledge these realities doesn’t make them go away. It just dooms us to irrelevance.

Everyone loses when the church splits. But who will lose the most in the upcoming schism? Those clutching power hoping to hold onto a mythical past. It’s a fantasy that isn’t worth clinging to. 

Jeff Munroe

Jeff Munroe is the editor of the Reformed Journal. 


  • Mark Hiskes says:

    “The reality is that world has changed and it’s better when people live into their true selves,” is right on, brother. And that change is because of human sin as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in humans to respond to that sin. Yes, we need both pictures in order to know the truth about the past and the present. Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

  • Sue Poll says:

    Bravo, Jeff! Well said. You succinctly and accurately describe what is happening in the RCA.

  • Tom says:

    I suppose much of the ‘lure of a mythical past’ is foolish nostalgia, a longing for a past time when the truth seemed simpler. Granted, many things once assumed true have proven not to be, and that is for the good. The danger of our current times (of any time, I suppose, but it seems especially so right now) is that we often think so long and hard about some basic truths that we eventually convince ourselves they are no longer true.

    Makes me wonder which of our current ‘truths’ we will simultaneously miss & ridicule in 2051.

  • mstair says:

    At least two thoughts in reaction to these … (rather random)

    “I just want my RCA from 30 years ago back.”

    Similar to an oft quoted statement in my county of residence in 2016 (before Prez. Trump :
    “I just want MY country back…”
    (That didn’t last long)

    “Everyone loses when the church splits.”
    As the Body of Christ, our first split may have been Acts 15, and that opened an entire new mission field…
    We cannot disregard Our Lord’s design of His Church: it moves; it does not stay stationary … and the gates of hell … (we know how that ends…)

  • Wow! Thank you for this realistic view of our romanticizing of history. It is a lesson that many of us need to hear.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Oh the fantasy of our past, somehow tied to a frozen interpretation of God’s word and the working of the Spirit. As the 1st female Council President, I have been disquieted, to say the least, by the feeling from some that “it ain’t fittin, it just ain’t fittin”. This is not a position I ran for or sought in any way, it happened because I was the person on the Council who was willing to accept the role and had a skill set that fit the description. You’re so right, Jeff, this clutching at a mythical past that never really existed is what will rend us asunder. Thank you for having the courage to put in right in front of us.

  • Robert Schoone-Jongen says:

    A few years after that 1965 baseball card was issued, “Chico” became “Leo”. The Topps company restored Cardenas’ given name. Another hint that our past Edens were not so edenic.

    • Jeff Munroe says:

      Exactly! Especially considering that “Chico” means boy in Spanish. In a similar way, Topps did the same thing when they changed Roberto Clemente’s name on his cards to “Bob,” a name he never went by.

  • Duane Kelderman says:

    You are exactly right, Jeff. Current unrest and talk of schism is not about one or two complex ethical issues. Lots of nostalgia and grief and pining wrapped into one for a church that is no more. And you’re also right that the CRC is not far behind.

  • James Brumm says:

    Thank you, Jeff, for this thoughtful piece. I hesitate to point out that the world for which Archie Bunker longed in his song is now more like ninety years behind us–the movie “Stripes” is now forty years old–but there is a truth. Thirty-one years ago, I was at my first General Synod as a delegate, and we were arguing about human sexuality then; we also argued about whether we should tell people greed was bad, as we might offend the greedy folks. Martin Luther said something about people who kept looking for a perfect church really wanting no church at all. Yes, God uses schisms, as God uses all things, to make something good, but that suggests to me that God would use our grace and openness to maybe make something better.

  • Leanne Van Dyk says:

    This is terrific; on a Monday morning, it is a gift!

  • Henry Baron says:

    The unexamined life, or faith, is more tension-free;, may the longing of many be for that?

  • William Harris says:

    We all, in all our positions, make our way through time by way of the rear-view mirror. Which members of Garden Grove or Plano would not long for 1991? Or enter into the elegant churches of the East and wonder if it were possible to live in that period? Time imposes its costs: the emptied buildings, the lost youth, the possibilities we now see we had but didn’t then. Such is common to all. All memory, all our memories are mythic, stories that we tell ourselves. Well, does the Psalmist write, “teach me to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”

  • Jeff Japinga says:

    Thirty years ago, 1991, ironically was the year Dr. Beth Marcus was elected vice-president of the RCA General Synod, and the following year as General Synod president, the first female to hold that role. Would this be, some of us wondered back then, finally a sea change for the RCA? Maybe not so much. Thank you for your remarkable way of reminding us who we are, and who we are called to be.

  • Jack Ridl says:

    “Baseball”—James Earl Jones

    As someone who believes in morality but not in sin, verrry interesting.

    Maybe read the Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and think about what the Christians did to the Original People.

    I don’t understand you all, so all I can say is terrific column, Jeff! And your editorship has been nothing short of extremely valuable.

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