Listen To Article
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.”
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.