Finding a way to live together in the tension

I spent some time on Facebook following the announcement of the Judicial Council decision regarding the election of Karen Oliveto as a Bishop.  I read articles from UMC news agencies and the pastoral letter of our Bishop David Bard.  I read the letter from the Council of Bishops and a piece from the New York Times.  I especially appreciated the letter of our Bishop and the gracious nature of his words.

In the midst of the Facebook comments about it all there were − of course − a variety of reactions.  For some, there was anger at what was viewed as another legalistic response by the church to an individual gifted and loved by God.  There were in other comments a sense of hopelessness towards the future.  There were others passionately presenting their feelings that the Council had upheld an appropriate standard.  There were lots of comments expressing a variety of opinions on these two basic themes.

One comment though stood out for me.  It was in a long string of reactions representing all that I shared above and it said this, “Wow, I can’t believe that I belong to the same church as some of these people.”

On one level I understood this completely.  When we see people who claim the name we claim and they are acting in ways, holding beliefs that seem to be far from our own, far from our understanding of the “essential” components of our faith, we wonder how we can stay in fellowship and connection with them given their position or perspective.  I understand that completely.  It is exactly what has gotten us to the 28,000 or so different Christian denominations in the world.

But on another level I don’t get it at all. It’s absolutely counter intuitive to what we know about the Church.  There is a reason that Jesus makes such a point of calling us to “love one another.”  There’s a reason why Jesus suggests that we might need to forgive one another from time to time!  Because the Church is not designed to be a homogenized group of folks who all think alike.  In fact the church is full of people who would never get together anywhere else.  So on any number of issues around any number of strongly held perspectives, we will differ.  That is just a reality, a reality that Jesus understood and anticipated.

But for me, this reality provides for us a great opportunity to be a witness to the world around us.  It is an opportunity, especially in these days when our culture is experiencing an incredibly high level of polarization, to provide an example of how we can disagree in very significant ways and still love one another, still focus on the core mission of the Church and find ways to live together in the tension.  The Church is not designed to be a place where it’s easy to be community.  If it were easy for us to love one another Jesus and the Epistle writers wouldn’t have had to mention it so many times!  But since we are called to be that kind of a community, to be that kind of witness, I pray that through “The Commission on a Way Forward,” through conversations and prayer, through the power of God’s Spirit at work in me and you, we will find the grace and power to be the Church − even as we struggle with one another.  I invite you to pray to that end.

Peace,
Bill

Jesus Taught us a Third Way of Thinking

A third way. It’s a concept that I like. Third way thinking says simply that very often there aren’t just two ways to go. There isn’t just a right or wrong, forward or backward, this way or that way option, but rather there is very often a third way we might follow as we deal with a given situation. The interesting thing about third way thinking is that most of the time it requires us to work a lot harder.

Two sided thinking is easy. It is clear. I’m right, you’re wrong. This is the way to go or that is the way to go and those are the only options. Two sided thinking by definition creates opposing, conflicting, perspectives. It is either this or that. Third way thinking requires us to go beyond the easy course of two sided conflict to discover a new alternative. It requires creativity and often humility. It demands that we push beyond what is easy to embrace that which may stretch us and cause us to find a way we never considered before.

Jesus taught third ways all the time. His culture demanded that one was either Jew or Gentile with all kinds of rules around what that meant and how one lived out that reality. Jesus found ways to embrace the humanity in everyone and widened the circle beyond the two sided cultural construct. The culture says there are enemies and friends and everyone is treated appropriately according to those categories. Friends you treat well and enemies you seek to hurt or kill. Jesus invited a third way that called us to love enemies as well as friends and end the circle of violence both real and emotional, that always seems to accompany the way enemies are treated. Jesus third way invites us to see again the humanity even in the enemy and treat them accordingly, giving the best opportunity for a change in the relationship.

Two way thinking says that evil, anger, and violence can only be defeated by a stronger force ─ greater violence ─ that overcomes the violence first perpetrated upon us. My mother invoked this thinking when I told her that my friend had gotten angry and hit me. Her response was, “hit him back.” Jesus’ third way thinking invites us to resist evil and violence differently. He invites us to resist it to be sure, but to resist it without engaging in it, to resist it without falling into its cyclical spiral, to resist it in ways that actually defeat it by pointing out its futility and evil through creative non-violent means.

I suppose that the ultimate third way is seen in the reality of Easter. Until Easter, there was life and death. Jesus invites us to see a third way which is life through death. That reality really changes everything and opens up all the avenues of third way thinking.

May we be those as individuals, as congregations, as a Denomination, who choose not to settle for two sided thinking, but who instead seek to discover third ways, ways that often only come through humility, prayer, and the guidance and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Peace,
Bill

Easter Thinking: We have more in common that pulls us together than pulls us apart!

There is more that we have in common, more that pulls us together than pulls us apart.  This statement was made by a leader in our church in a recent conversation I had with several people regarding our upcoming General Conference.  It is certainly not a new sentiment to me.  I have heard it several times over the years as struggles over human sexuality, appointment issues, and any number of other concerns have faced our United Methodist Church.  But while I have always agreed with the statement, in the face of our ongoing struggles as we approach our global gathering in Portland in May as well as the polarized political state of our nation as a whole, I have too often allowed myself to be sucked into positions and “us and them” mentality.  I have allowed these perspectives to define the way I have interacted with people and engaged life in general.  I have too often forgotten the reality that was named the other day.

But it is true!  We do have more in common, more that pulls us together than pulls us apart.  It’s true in the church certainly.  In our denomination and across the Church as a whole. This week points that out to us in deep and significant ways.  We may disagree about all the theological nuance, but at the end of the day we all gather around the cross this Friday, and we come together to sing “Alleluia, Christ Arose!!” come Sunday.  There is more that we have in common than pulls us apart and this week we have a marvelous opportunity to celebrate the heart of that common message, mission and life once again.

Why do we so often focus in the other direction?  Why do we so often look for the difference first?  Why do we go for the place of dis-agreement rather than finding the similarities and the things we can hold together?  While we argue a lot about sin, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps Jesus weeps over this reality more than most.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our differences.  I’m not suggesting that they aren’t important.  I am suggesting that what my friend said the other day is an incredibly powerful truth, there IS more we have in common, more that pulls us together than pulls us apart.

I wonder what would happen in our lives, in our church, in our world if we spent most of our energies looking for those things and celebrating them together.  Let’s begin this Easter.  Let’s commit to going there first.  What do you say?  Let’s change the angle of the lens and celebrate that which brings us together.

Christ is Risen!!
Bill