We have now moved into our new offices at First Place in downtown Grand Rapids.  Most of the boxes are empty and the office furniture is in place.  Like most moves however there are a few glitches yet to be addressed.  Like the fact that we don’t have Conference phones yet!  They are telling us it may be yet another few weeks so if you need to get a hold of me please use my cell phone which is 616.430.9964.  I’m trusting that it will all be in place as soon as possible.

As I was thinking about this office move across town, I got to thinking about all the times I have moved, not just an office but with my family from place to place in my life.  I counted them up and while some were across town to a new house and neighborhood and others were across the country to a new town or city, I counted 21 times.  Many of my moves were early in my life.  In fact I often joke with folks that itinerancy  has been very stabilizing for me!  I went, for example, to five different elementary schools in four different states.  It was an interesting experience, but as I suppose, all the experiences we have in life it is what I know because it’s what I lived.

No one who has lived in the same place all their lives can relate to or perhaps even imagine what my life has been like and in turn I struggle to comprehend what it would be like to live in the same place for 60 years.  The personality traits and perspectives that come from these experiences shape how we interact with others and how we engage the world.

And of course this reality runs in all kinds of directions.  The experiences that shape everyone’s life come from millions of factors that make them the unique individual they are.  And I am very grateful for the wide variety of personalities and diverse perspective this creates in both my circle of acquaintances and in the world as a whole.

The problem of course is that even though we know that everyone has these various perspectives given all that has shaped their lives, all we can see and all we can know is our perspective from what has shaped us.  So, just as one example, that’s why I who have moved 21 times in my life, often don’t understand other people’s connection to “place” to location or building.  Those kinds of things are held very lightly for me.  What this causes often though, on the part of people who have deep roots to place and location because of their life experience, is a feeling that I am insensitive and lacking in appropriate appreciation for the past.

Again we could point to a million examples of how this all works.  And I doubt that it is a particularly stunning new revelation for anyone.  We have seen this lived out every day of our lives with our spouse, our co-workers, and certainly in the national discourse.

What I believe we of the Church have to offer in the midst of this reality is a fresh invitation to engage in conversation with one another.  I have seen this call on Social Media, I have read it in op-eds but we of the Church are in a unique position to offer something deeply significant in the face of this challenge.  What we have to offer is a deep value for every person.  We believe that every person is created in the image of God.  We believe that every individual we will encounter today and throughout our lives has the spark of the Creator in the essence of who they are.  And since we believe that we are not able to just blow people off.  We are not allowed to just treat people as insignificant because they have formed a different perspective (sometimes a very different perspective!) on life from ours given their life experience.  As followers of Christ we simply don’t not have the option to expect the world to live out of our mindset.  We are called to listen, to build relationships, to give respect and offer Christ’s love to all those made in God’s image.  It’s not easy and to be honest with you I often fail miserably at living it out.  But it can’t ever be OK.  It can’t just become the standard operating procedure because (did I mention?), every person, EVERY person is created in the image of God.


Perspective and Opinion

“Finally, brothers (and sisters), whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)

I have a lot of “favorite” passages of Scripture.  In fact, when I was preaching every week I had to resist the temptation to identify texts with this label because the nature of the term “favorite” would lose its value with the number of times I might have used it to describe that week’s verses. But friends the text above is one of my FAVORITES!! It is a text that longs to be preached and shared in the midst of our culture today.  Especially in this season of campaigning where the sound bite of the day ─ especially if it is a real zinger ─  wins you the news cycle!  It is a text that I need before me when I begin to sink into cynicism over the reality I just named, or over the reality I see in too many churches where things get, well, pretty nasty at times.  It’s so easy to go toward the negative, to take the shot at what we don’t like and to focus again on that which represents the lowest common denominator.  And this tendency exacerbates the divisions among us.  It widens the gaps and puts us constantly on one “team” or the other, with winners and losers always in the mix.

I love this text.  I love it because it calls us as followers of Jesus to a whole different course.  It calls us to look for, not just run across, not just land on, not just maybe trip over, but truly look for, diligently seek after those things that are true and honorable, just and pure, lovely and commendable.  It calls us to strive for the things that are excellent and (I really love this next part!) engage the situation or the person to such a degree that if there is ANYTHING worthy of praise, we will find it and celebrate it.  This is the way Paul invites us to enter the world and view the people around us.

What would happen if we actually did this?  What would happen if we took seriously this calling as Christ followers?  Could you image the difference in our conversations?  Instead of making sure we got together with our like-minded compatriots to disparage the “others” wherever we found them, all-the-while lifting ourselves and our wisdom and perspectives up over theirs.  What if we looked for ways to build them up and to celebrate what could be celebrated?  Now, I’m not suggesting that we don’t have legitimate differences of perspective and opinion.  I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to think alike.  How boring that would be!  What I am suggesting, and more than that, what I think Paul is suggesting is that as we deal with one another in our agreements and our strong disagreements, we do so in love.  We do so looking for that which we can agree on and celebrate together.  We do so with love and an appreciation for the fact that we, (perish the thought!) might be wrong or at least don’t have a monopoly on the truth.  We do so valuing everything we can in the persons and situation involved.

This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture.  I hope it’s one of yours.