It is hard not to choose sides… whatever the argument, or cause, or creed, or need. It’s our biology as much as anything really. And yet we try to transcend our evolution. Hopefully.
I was in Albuquerque two weeks ago speaking to a Presbyterian Church on creative worship services and how church communities might reach people who’ve felt disenfranchised by the church or who simply don’t resonate with the idea of church or religion in the 21st century (the “Nones” and “Dones”). On the flight over, a woman next to me asked me why I was traveling and the conversation inevitably landed on where the United Methodist Church is headed this weekend at the called General Conference in St. Louis. She used to attend a Methodist church in Chicago, but now was at a Bible Church. I was surprised, even in talking with a stranger, how quickly the discussion became awkward, how easily it went from “what lies ahead for the Methodist Church” to “but don’t you agree that the Bible says…?”
I suppose being seated next to one another on a plane, 37,000’ in the air, leaves two people in obvious disagreement with only a few of options: agree, disagree, agree to disagree and “wait it out” for an hour an a half. I think I said something like, “God is a lot bigger than me to think I have the right answer or even the right understanding of the Bible other than it seems like we’re just called to love one another in all our circumstances.” She seemed to smile uncomfortably and said something like, “Well, I’m pretty sure the bible says it’s wrong.” Then, having the last word on the matter, she picked up her magazine and turned to the window a moment and then continued reading.
And that’s when it hit me. This is where most of our discussions on such matters end. A strong difference of opinion. A hard stance on one side of the issue or the other. A kind of, “well then, we clearly have nothing further to talk about.” It felt awkward. But it also felt dishonest. Like maybe we were both taking the easy way out with this brief encounter 7 miles above ground.
Because honestly, we have so much more to talk about beyond issues of agreement or disagreement. I’d like to say that I changed the direction of the conversation and we talked about the everyday joys of life — interesting sites and experiences in Albuquerque, our children, the miracles of flying and technology, where we’ve experienced love and hope and renewal in our lives. Why didn’t I bring up my fear of flying?
The truth is, I have friends and family on all sides of most matters of divisiveness — sexual, theological, political, social. What is it that holds us back from being in love with one another, in spite of our differences? What is it that Jesus is calling upon within us when he says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who hate you, persecute you, judge you”?
Love can be a difficult force to embrace — it is out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing. It’s out beyond ideas of what’s important to me and what’s important to you, or how you have hurt me or how I have hurt you. It is so far out beyond tribal, political, even theological/apologetic lines of identity. It embraces all, forgives all, includes all, empowers all of us to be more than ourselves.
It is this seemingly impossible work of “getting along” in love, of abiding in compassionate community and holding one another accountable not to right or wrong, but to love. Period.
To tell the truth, come on, it’s so much easier to hold one another accountable to belief systems, creeds, rights, and wrongs. It’s so much easier to find others who want to take the easy way out and leave. End of discussion. It’s so hard to love what is uncomfortable to us, scares us, threatens our way of life, angers us…
And yet, Jesus invites us into this place of fear and discomfort precisely BECAUSE of the power of love “to cast out all fear” (I John 4).
This weekend, 800 plus delegates from around the world will meet in St. Louis to decide what the United Methodist Church will look like next. I am praying for our Senior Pastor, Dr. Tim Bruster and our Central Texas Conference delegation. I’m praying for our Bishop, Rev. Dr. Mike Lowry. I’m praying for a Church who never forgets that its deepest and greatest power and purpose is God’s grace and its most profound and impacting force of expression is not division, or schism, but love.
It would be easy for me to say, “I stand for the rights of ALL people in the Church to feel the full expression of God’s love and interpersonal love, and the right to live out that love in ordained ministry and service to others if they feel called to that service by God.” But that’s not entirely true.
I stand for love. The ground upon which I stand is Grace. I am not its owner, but its host, wherever I find myself and with whomever. Enemy. Friend. Stranger. Family. Ours is not a caravan of despair, but of love.
Okay, so, this Sunday and the next in eleven:eleven, I’m going to talk about our “superpowers” — in particular, what it is each of us possesses that empowers us to be more than ourselves. Whenever I’m driving my 6-year-old granddaughter, Molly, around, we stop at the lights at intersections and she always says, “Daddo, do you know my superpower is to change lights from red to green?” I laugh as she explains how it works and in the time it takes for her to explain, almost to the second, the light eventually turns green. And she exclaims, “See?”
Someone gave me a coffee mug recently that reads, “I play Ukulele. What’s your Super Power?”
What is your “superpower”? What is the gift and ground of your being that empowers you to move, not just through your day (which is clearly sometimes the best we can ask for), but which moves others to see life more hopefully and completely?
Let’s think about this together… I hope to see you this Sunday.
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven