Fifty-one years. Almost to the day. That I last saw Nancy Jo Kemper. At our Yale University Divinity School. I graduated in 1966, she in 1967. Since then we’ve taken our own roads, sometimes less traveled by others, but not always.
Why this start? Because I have just read an article by Nancy Jo, ordained and serving in the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ.
She announced to her congregation in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that she would run for Congress as a Democrat to “represent the 6th Congressional District in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
She lost that election, but by a margin less than other Democratic candidates in Kentucky.
That’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because I appreciate she’s not settling for the green fields of retirement. Rather, she is writing and leading and making sure her thoughts are not buried in the dust of our times.
She wrote with such power in the Reflections, Spring, 2018, about the two essentials in life and guide for living. To consider who God is in your life and who you are in your life. I maintain, and Nancy Jo makes it much clearer, the most essential part of walking the human landscape is to define God…who is God. For the answer to that guides and empowers the way we live.
Think of it. If you believe God is a referee with a white/black striped shirt and a whistle to blow, you will never put down your personal whistle. Okay, judgment has become the verity in our culture.
But Nancy Jo will have none of that. From her:
RELIGION IS MORE ESSENTIAL NOW IN OUR PUBLIC LIFE THAN EVER BEFORE—RELIGION FOCUSED ON BUILDING COMMUNITIES OF CARE AND COMPASSION, WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE. [p. 29]
In her campaign she lacked ambiguity: “We articulated policies that were not couched in religious rhetoric, but instead used aspirational social justice language that reflected compassion for the poor, the immigrant, and those who were denied their civil liberties.” [p. 29]
“The campaign demonstrated to me that among many, Christianity has become a cult selling false certitude as a balm for modern anxieties, rather than a faith movement following the way of Jesus. Many constituents are deeply frightened that the future holds only diminishing possibilities for them and their children. Too many Americans, urban and rural, educated and uneducated, are being left behind as the nation turns into a plutocracy.
“Can progressive Christianity address this polarization? At least for now, that would be a difficult task in broad swaths of our nation, where many would be horrified by an emphasis on faith as trust and not certitude, by arguments that the Bible’s truths are more than strictly literal, and by the notion that salvation might relate to how you treat your neighbors, not just having your sins washed away.”
Finally, this, from the wisdom and courage of Nancy Jo Kemper:
“Until American Christianity faces how egregiously its faith has been distorted, and learns how to communicate a new presentation of the gospel, our situation as church and nations will remain dire! We have turned churches into entertainment centers to help people feel good week to week. Churches should be places of alternative learning that stimulate intellectual curiosity and artistic creativity for adults and children, with a moral focus that goes beyond the personal to public well-being. Religion is more essential now in our public life than ever before—religion focused on building communities of care and compassion, wisdom and knowledge.”
Go, Nancy Jo!!!