The Need for Compromise

1 Corinthians 12

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

The body of Christ, the Church, is described in organic terms. Paul wanted the early Church to know that there is diversity within the Body of Christ and that we need to understand this sense of difference if we are going to work together for God’s purposes.

When I was first ordained my sense of call and fidelity to vocation made me very impressed by persons who took stands, uncompromising stands. I can think back to people who then impressed me, they had told the Church they would not accommodate any demand apart from what they assumed was the Truth. I still admire them. Many stood for those whose voices were not heard then and I still take inspiration from those moral stands. But I now see many people confusing a moral stand for those who are not represented or heard with an uncompromising stand for one’s own way of doing things. We are seeing more and more persons who will not abide any other way than their way. In community we need to be flexible and accommodate the views of those who think differently than we do.

Now that I have been a Minister for 27 years I so value the church volunteer or leader who can find compromise so many with different opinions can all feel connected to the effort at hand. Compromise is NOT a dirty word. Yes when the matter at hand is one of moral choice, I do understand those who will not waver from their position. But more often than not it is not a moral issue but rather a way of carrying out an activity that causes persons to say, “My way or the doorway” presuming that “their way” is so superior that any other way must be resisted.

If we are a diverse community with many gift we need to find ways to talk to each other, work with each other, and assure all of those involved that their offering will be heard and made part of the whole.

Deep Conversations

What is a deep conversation? Lately I feel I have had more than a few of these. In particular I have sat at the bedside of two dying people, both of whom had a lot of time to reflect on their lives and share with me what they thought was important. Neither conversation felt forced, I don’t think I was pressing either to consider what they did not want to deal with. In both cases they wanted to talk to me and the topic was their funeral and the picture they wanted me to paint of their lives. It was not a false image, they were not looking to sugar coat or distort in some flowery way their lives, both wanted an accurate reflection but one that held out the positive aspects of their journey.

So this has me thinking about what makes for a “deep” conversation. I confess I think sometimes that we confuse “deep” with sentimental or overly emotional experiences. And for others “deep” has an overtly existential quality which would leave many others cold. I think a deep conversation is one that connects all parts of us; our emotional self, our analytical self, our self that needs adventure and our self that yearns for connections/relationships.

Here are some parts of that conversation that are almost always present when we feel the dialogue has been “deep”.

  1. Emotive: I think even more for most analytical among us there is a part of us that feels our emotional lives are in need of some connection to something that holds us in a particular way, a feeling we are who we need to be, with those we need to be with. Being held in that place is an inherently emotional place.

  2. Analytical: Even for the most sensitive and tender among us there is a part of us that needs to think deeply, that answers those questions that arise about “what is it all about” and/or “who am I” and/or “have I made a difference”. Deep conversations go to those places, they rub us up against the answers, they offer up some possible answers and some questions we might not have considered.

  3. Honest: Deep conversations are honest, they offer us who we are, not who we want to be or the self we are ashamed of. In our honesty we name our gem-like qualities and our rough-places. Often people don’t get to the deep place because they begin from a place of fantasy/narcissism or shame/guilt. When we begin with reality we open ourselves up to a reflection that is accurate and therefore primed with the possibility of potential insight.

  4. Humility. I think sharing with the other that you don’t have it all figured out, that certainty is a bridge too far, is a necessary piece of the puzzle that helps reveal the pathways to understanding. Admitting that we don’t know is usually the first step to what we can know.

  5. Vulnerable/Open: I think we need to be open to receive. It’s really that simple, you cannot fill yourself with something if what you hold already is overflowing with certainties. A truly deep conversation is one where both parties are vulnerable and open to what might emerge from the mutual sharing.

One of the great privileges of my life and vocation is the opportunity to engage in these conversations. It is one of the many, many reasons I love pastoral visitation.

Entitlement

Entitlement. What do you feel entitled to? There is an urban myth that millennials (those born between the early 1980’s and the mid 1990’s) are the entitled generation, but I would disagree. That’s a convenient scapegoat for our times, times characterized by “what does this have to do with me?” It all makes sense when you speak to people who grew up during the Second World War, the Great Depression and the many illnesses that spread throughout the world at that time. People then, from necessity, banded together, thought as a collective, and made sacrifices to obtain goals. There are many positives that arose from this mentality; after the war communities rebuilt and illnesses and other social challenges were dealt with a serious and organized collective effort.

But there were downsides to this all for one and one for all attitude. Those with power and privilege demanded of those without either more sacrifice than they were prepared to offer. Women gave up more, minorities were invisible and difference was seen as a weakness or danger, not a strength. People then confused uniformity with collective effort. People now look back at the 1950’s as an inherently dull, if not safe, period. Homogeneous cultures are boring communities.

Prosperity led culture out of homogeneity and into diversity. There was no more compelling reason to sacrifice and conform when affluence was abundant and plain for all to see. “How you gonna keep them down on the farm once they have seen Pairis”, the old expression goes. Many people concluded their time had come, they weren’t going to take it anymore and particularly groups that were held down for what was supposedly the common good demanded their share. Justice was flourishing.

The 1960’s and 1970’s were heady times and many people experienced a kind of rebirth and new hope. Of course those with power and privilege were worried and felt defensive about what they were and what they stood for. There was a backlash. The 1960’s and 1970’s were cultural, generations argued with each other about identity, freedom and sacrifice.

What we wear, how we speak and what we call ourselves may be arguments that continue but one debate is now settled. We are all entitled and we will do everything in our power to demand and receive what we are entitled to. This call to arms is no longer restricted to groups previously looked down on, groups ignored or groups denied. Now everyone feels entitled, everyone believers s/he is entitled to what it is s/he feels s/he deserves.

I hear seniors who feel entitled because of all they have done for society, men feel entitled because they somehow (really!?) now feel unappreciated, and the rich feel entitled because they pay most of the taxes. Whereas the concept of fighting for one’s rights was previously imagined as a means for persons who had received the short end of the stick to finally be respected now everyone feels entitled to whatever it is they feel is due to them.

It’s a brand new world. How we navigate these challenges will say everything about our priorities, who should be listened to and why. I am pleased that more and different voices are finally be heard. I am concerned that we no longer seem to prioritizing these demands based on need but rather dealing with whoever yells the loudest.

Making Space for Others

How do we make space for others? Those who fall into the middle-class demographic, those with jobs, families and good social supports, are usually dealt with in a “treat others as you would like to be treated” manner. There is an inherent reciprocity with we middle-class people, we expect others to treat us with the respect we treat them and likewise we are determined to treat others as they have treated us. And it usually works out, the patterns of behavior are clear and it is relatively obvious how others see us. I remember my dear mother reflecting on who to invite to what occasion based largely on who had invited her and determining how much to spend on various gifts based on what others had purchased for us.

I work a lot with people on the margins. Folks who have limited resources, limited social supports, and limited self-esteem are bound to feel the sting of exclusion and judgment in a way we middle-class people cannot imagine. There is required, in the work with people on the margins, a suspension of the “rules of reciprocity”, we simply cannot expect others with limits supports to give us what we give them. That is the most common reason that marginalized peoples get left behind, they don’t conform to our norms, they can’t invite us to their parties and they lack the resources to buy us expensive gifts.

In my efforts to make others feel welcome I do not expect anything from others. Jesus’ model of care was pretty clear.

Luke 14:12-14

Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

But having made space for others I feel the need for these same others to know that my care is spread to still others who need my care. In other words those on the margins should never be expected to participate in our tit for tat middle-class reciprocity but I do think everyone needs to be aware that no matter how great my need may be there are still others with needs as well. I do not think it asking too much for any of us, no matter our demographic, to ask of others that they be aware of others’ needs as we are aware of their needs. I think empathy, compassion, being aware of others’ needs are not reciprocity. They are basic human qualities we all need to be in community.

I know when I was very down at one point in my life I thought there was no one worse off or more in need of care than me. And I needed care more than others. I do not it was wrong to ask for more care, to receive more care, to admit I was vulnerable and in pain and in need. But at several critical points in that struggle I needed people to remind me I was not alone in my need and it did not hurt me to offer care, even in my sorrow and sadness, to others.

John 5

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. n these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Encouragement

One of my favorite lectionary bloggers is Karoline Lewis. She is the Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In her reflection on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the Epistle lesson for this Sunday, she writes…

It is not the case that the Thessalonians are in need of new information regarding their faith. Rather, Paul reminds them of what they already know. In doing so, Paul provides further encouragement and consolation in the fact that the Thessalonians can rely on their knowledge in the faith. This is a central theme of the letter. Not only is knowledge that which ensures a secure faith, it is also that which unites Paul and his co-workers with the Thessalonian community. The image in this pericope builds on the coming of the Lord. While the day of the Lord is not known, the Thessalonians do know that it will come when least expected and vigilance is required.

Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to encourage one another (parakaleite allēlous) just as he did in 4:18. The verb parakaleō is used eight times in the letter (2:12; 3:2, 7; 4:1, 10, 18, 5:11, 14) as the encouragement that Paul and Timothy offer to the Thessalonians and therefore and that the Thessalonians can give to one another. While hope was identified in 4:13-18 as the union of those who have died with those who remain, here hope is spelled out in the assurance of being children of the light, hope is lived out in behavior that exemplifies belief, and hope is worked out in the promise of salvation and ongoing life with Christ, whether we are awake or asleep (5:10).

Like 4:13-18, the images Paul uses in 5:1-10 are apocalyptic, which begs that our task for interpreting them is not to decode their meaning but to reflect on how the visions affect, change, and influence the present situation. These are not future revelations but divine revelation that our future is secure because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The visions make the claim that the future coming of the Lord has impinged on our present and that we should live as if the eschaton has shattered time and space so Christ's presence might be fully known now. The in-breaking of God's future for us in the present, because of Jesus' death and resurrection, means that the life we live is not toward an anticipated reward but in response to an unanticipated gift. At the very least, this passage suggests that Christian ethics are not simply moral obligations, behavioral modifications, or a set of established values. Rather, the Christian lives as if Christ will be here any minute, not in fear, but in peace, security, and promise.

As Paul nears the end of the letter he returns to the triad with which he started -- faith, love, and hope. The triad recast in the imagery of armor suggests that possessing faith, love, and hope is not without its challenges. Indeed, this is how they are introduced at the beginning of the letter -- work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope. Faith, love, and hope need to be lifted up and built up as marks of the community. As such, Paul's exhortation to mutual encouragement, comfort, and consolation is not a command to new action. Remarkably, Paul encourages the encouragement they are already offering each other, "as indeed you are doing" (5:11). In other words, Paul not only recognizes that encouraging one another actually needs encouragement but also shows the Thessalonians what this looks like.

We are called to many worthy and worthwhile endeavors in our lives of faith for the sake of living out God's love for us and for our neighbor. However, it is not often that we issue a call for encouragement and building each other up. Paul's letter to the Thessalonians suggests that as much as faith, love, and hope are observable characteristics of a Christian community, so is encouragement. The verb oikodomeō can also be translated "strengthen," "edify," "benefit," "restore." In what sense is the work of faith the strengthening of the faith of one another? In what sense is the labor of love to benefit those whom we love?  In what sense is steadfastness of hope realized in restoration and edification?

The Divine Shepherd

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+23&version=NRSV

A colleague of mine took his sabbatical year to reflect and write about the challenges of telling the sacred stories of the Bible, written when most people lived in agrarian contexts, to what today is a very urban culture. His work focused on telling these stories of Good News in a way that connected them to how persons today make their way through life, death and everything in between. Not long after hearing about my colleague’s work I came across a children’s book, illustrated by an African-American Christian named Tim Ladwig. The text is Psalm 23 but the images capture a crossing guard navigating children through an urban context complete with real joys, celebrations, challenges and dangers.

Using the crossing guard as a metaphor for the Good Shepherd and including imagery of deep connection, Divine presence and ever-present danger was a stroke of genius and offered up a fresh and helpful way to think on Psalm 23. Ladwig’s choice of the crossing guard makes much sense, the crossing guard knows each of the children as individuals and which ones to look for and look after with more attention. She knows which children need more affirmation and encouragement, which ones need more gentle direction and which ones are most vulnerable to present dangers. Like a shepherd that knows his flock the crossing guard knows her children and offers her navigation and care with firm resolve and a gentle touch.

I recently had the privilege to sit with a dying man and reflect with him on his life. This man was an accomplished journalist, highly regarded, much loved by his partner and friends. But at this critical period of his life he pointed to his time as an orphan as the most formative of his experiences. His family then, kin not related by blood or common surnames, welcomed him, treated him as an individual, cared for him, set an example and inspired him to move forward. His chosen vocation, journalist, would be an excellent fit as his awareness of what it means to be loved when one is an orphan would draw him to stories of loss and new life.

In John 14 many focus on the King James text that names heaven as “many mansions” and the suggestion that “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” The North American conclusion here we have all heard at various funerals, heaven is a reward for “working hard and playing by the rules” and that only those who “know” Jesus go to heaven. This version of heaven that sounds more like an outcome of Max Weber’s “Protestant Work Ethic” than the early church that worshipped in member homes and included all the persons rejected by the established religious traditions of that time.

Another way to look at John 14, one more consistent with the early church ethos, is that living in Jesus’ Way (the early church were called people of the way) one found sacred space in many “dwelling places” or many “rooms” in God’s divine house. If one understands how the early church celebrated the presence of the risen Christ the house is a perfect metaphor. The fact so many of the members of the early church, who called one another sisters and brothers in Christ, had to bury each other and reflect on what came next it is no wonder their religious imagination would reveal an expansive home with room for all. And the way into the house would be Jesus’ way, a way I can see in expressions of faith that may not be explicitly called Christ but may be implicitly understood as reflective of the kind of love, a love of an orphan by new kin, that we all recognize as Jesus’ way.

Decent and in Good Order

God hates walls and divisions and intends to save the world by breaking them down. If we want to stay close to God, we need to participate in this barrier breaking project, not frustrate it. Churches, for all their awful mistakes, have a unique power to do that. The community of God has no barriers to membership, not even sin. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. He didn’t wait until we got over it… When the church lives up to its charter, nothing divides its members… People who wouldn’t come together for any other reason, who don’t share nationality, race, opinions, who don’t even like each other, can draw close to each other here, because God chose all of them.

Barbara G. Wheeler Who Needs the Church

I am attending the Canadian Council of Churches in Mississauga at the Queen of the Apostles Renewal Centre.

At each of these biannual meetings different denominations are given the opportunity to share with other member denominations their story, their traditions, their manner of worship, their challenges and their recent joys. Since joining this body I have had opportunity to hear from many sister churches, some are very familiar to me, some are not. There are common themes and some very unique stories and challenges and joys.

This morning we heard from the Presbyterian Church of Canada; we worshipped together in the Presbyterian tradition, we heard of their governance, their theology, and their recent challenges and joys. The recurring words in the presentation were that Presbyterians try in all of their work to do things “decently and in order.” This has certainly been my experience meeting and worshipping with Presbyterians, that there is a laser-like focus on being “decent and in order”. In a world that can seem fragmented and chaotic having persons in the room who bring an appreciation of being “decent and orderly” can only be an asset.

The presenter offered the above quote from Barbara Wheeler, that being a rational for ecumenical relationships between our member churches. Presbyterians are eager to connect with Christians from different branches of the Tree of Faith and the metaphor of breaking down walls is a helpful one.

I particularly like these words from Barbara Wheeler “People who wouldn’t come together for any other reason, who don’t share nationality, race, opinions, who don’t even like each other, can draw close to each other here, because God chose all of them.”

If God has chosen us to be parts of the Body of Christ who are we to create walls? Surely this diversity is part of the design of the Creator who gave us all such unique voices, experiences and points of view. Breaking down the walls that divide God’s people seems to me part of our mission as believers.

the golden calf

Yesterday I took the taxi from the Pearson airport in Toronto to the Queen of the Apostles retreat centre in Mississauga. I met a fellow delegate at the airport and together Doug and I met our driver, a new Canadian from India, and headed for the suburbs. Along the way we discussed the state of politics and how our driver felt about a new national political leader, Jagmeet Singh, being discussed so often because he wears a turban. The three of us were thoroughly enjoying our conversation when our driver turned down a road en route to the site of our meeting of the Canadian Council of Churches. I could not believe my eyes. The mansions that lined the road were so big and so gaudy I did not know what to say or how to feel.

Perhaps it is a matter of snobbery but I could not wrap my head around this display of wealth, how uninteresting, ugly and showy it all appeared. I wondered if it is was all a matter of taste, that if the houses were architecturally interesting, with a landscape that suited the context, I would I feel otherwise. I wonder. It’s odd because I have confronted obscene wealth before, in Halifax, in California, in New York, and it did not have this effect on me. I am not usually so strident in my experiences of wealth, generally my concern with those who have too little and not as much about those who have too much. I am not a person who thinks everyone has to have the same amount of wealth for a society to function well.

As a Christian I think Jesus’ concern was with everyone having what they needed to have a good and decent life, free from the burden of poverty and homelessness. Jesus’ words are more about the poor needing more and the rich sharing what they have, less about an outright equalizing of resources. At least that is my own middle class bias from reading the texts.

But yesterday I was completely taken aback from what I saw and how I felt. I was emotionally stirred about this excess in ways I have rarely felt. I was sad, angry and bewildered by the thought that someone with access to this amount of resources would use their money in this way. Why? What pleasure is experienced by having this much space at your disposal? How many luxury cars does one need?

Exodus 32

When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?” So Aaron told them, “Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.” They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool. The people responded with enthusiasm: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!” Aaron, taking in the situation, built an altar before the calf. Aaron then announced, “Tomorrow is a feast day to God!” Early the next morning, the people got up and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings and brought Peace-Offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!

Truth

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