Tag Archives: unity

petty

mosquito sucking bloodA couple of years ago my wife and I got to spend a day with one of our professors from college. I say “our” even though I never took him for a class,  because of how instrumental he was in shaping both of our paths. My wife often says that she would have spent her entire student debt on his one class that she took because of what it meant to her faith walk. And in our lives together he’s the person that we have often turned to during difficult times in ministry and he usually has some small nugget of truth that resonates with us for months and even years to come. This day was no exception as we found ourselves talking about ministry and the church again. At some point in the conversation he says to us, “You know what the two great sins of the church are? Being boring or being petty.” At the time I kind of shrugged it off, as I am apt to do…but time reveals so much, doesn’t it?

I’ve come to realize how much truth there was to that statement. The first piece is pretty self-explanatory. The last thing the church should ever be boring with is the life-transforming message of the Gospel. The second piece is something we have all lived with and seen in our own contexts. We love to major on the minors. We will go to war in the church over the color of carpet, style of worship, wall decor, etc. And the grudges we hold if we don’t get our way. Paul says this to the people of Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:12-13 Clothe, dress, adorn, put-on love, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience! In other words, don’t be petty. Don’t major on the minors. Keep the first things first.

And if you don’t think pettiness is a big problem consider this adage from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”. Granted, he may have meant this in a positive light, but I have trouble seeing anything positive associated with mosquitoes. If we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, it can destroy relationships, families and even churches over stuff that at the end of the day doesn’t even matter. I have seen friendships ruined over stuff that people shouldn’t even be getting up in arms about, but because they have taken a stand, they can’t back down. And at the end of the day, when we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, we have allowed sin to control our lives…because truly is about me and not about we. I always find myself coming back to the quote by Meldenius, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Perhaps it is time for some of us to learn not to be petty in non-essentials and to clothe ourselves in charity for the sake of our friendships, our churches and the world.

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a bit shaky

One of my favorite table top games to play is Jenga. However I do not recommend playing this game with a 6-yr-old as their frustration with a loss can be a bit intense. For those of you not familiar with Jenga, it is a game with a tower involving multiple layers of 3 small wooden planks. In order to play one must remove a wood plank from the lower sections of the tower and stack that plank on top; forming a new layer. The game gets progressively unsteady as the tower is reshaped and eventually topples over to reveal the person who loses (Now you can see how a 6-yr-old might get upset…but it’s hilarious when daddy loses). I reference Jenga today because sometimes I think we often think of our faith walks in terms of a Jenga tower…but one in which we can’t ever remove any planks for fear of losing the whole construct. And then there are other people who seem to want to remove planks all the time and we wonder how their tower even remains upright. In her book Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s narrative voice the Rev. John Ames speaks to this a bit when he says, “It seems to me some people go around looking to get their faith unsettled”

I think the issue in this discussion lies with how we think about our faith. For many of us faith is something that must be iron-clad, unwavering and rationalistic proof of what we believe. And so even the slightest chink/change in the construct of what we believe could bring the whole thing tumbling down. For others of us our faith is a bit more fluid and we allow change to enter into the ebb and flow of what we believe. One might even find comfort in the words of Anne Lamott, “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty.” But wherever you find yourself on this continuum, the one thing that we must all admit to ourselves is that what we espouse as far as belief is faith. It is hope in the thing we cannot prove upon which we stake our entire lives, will one day come to fruition. And that is difficult to comprehend sometimes.

The writer of the epistle of 1 Peter in the new testament encourages us with the following, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15 Sometimes we think about this “answer” as needing to be proof of our faith…some way to rationalize our belief to those we come into contact with. But truly the answer is evidence for our reason to hope.  And how is this lived out? By staking our lives on that which we believe. We believe in God the Father almighty. And in Jesus Christ his only Son who made a way for our redemption. We believe in the Holy Spirit that sustains us and gives birth to the Church that is the hope for the world. And we frame our lives around these core beliefs. Perhaps other planks may come and go with our faith walk, but we have staked our life on these essentials with aren’t shaken and create in us hope for tomorrow. Rupertus Meldenius’ quote holds more truth to us today than ever before when it comes to our faith in an ever shifting cultural landscape, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Faith rests upon the essentials. This is where our hope is realized. And we give our hope to the world with gentleness and respect (love) and we begin see the world transformed.


trunity 

There seems to me to be a lot of concern these days for unity. Whether it is unity in our families, in our communities, in our churches or even in our nation, there is apparently a lot of room for improvement. However, it also seems that when most of us are speaking about unity we ultimately are referring to the other person coming around to seeing things the way we see them. It reminds me of the old Beatles song, We Can Work it Out, “Try to see it my way, Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?” But therein lies the issue. We always want others to see it our way before we put forth the effort to see it their way. In Harper Lee’s classic ‘everyone must read this book in high school’ masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is talking to young Scout when he says this, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I guess the best way to define this action is empathy. And empathy is the only way we can ever find our way forward into true unity (or trunity). 

The example of course for empathy is an incarnational example. The apostle Paul is speaking to the church in Philippi when he has this to say, “…not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:4-7 The example for us in empathy is set by a God who set aside all the power of the universe and unlimited ability to become like you and I. And so Paul asks us to behave in our relationships with the same mindset. Unity is only accomplished when we learn to look at life, conflict, relationships, stances, principles, etc. from the other’s point of view before feeling the need to defend our own. And in order to do this…well, we kind of have to get to know the other person. 

This is where it gets kind of tricky. Online exchanges do not count as getting to know another person…even the makers of eHarmony know this. Text messages do not enable you to see the world through another person’s eyes…no matter how many emojis you use. The only way we truly can begin to empathize with another person and their way of seeing the world is through life lived together. Perhaps it begins with coffee. Then maybe it’s a meal.Then perhaps you actually begin to be friends and you start to see that maybe their way of looking at things isn’t so backward after all. The ancient church fathers used to say ,”To know all is to forgive all”. And maybe that is what this life is about after all. We are learning to live together here so that eternity is just a continuation of the unity that we have begun while together on earth. May God grant us the ability to see one another as He sees us and move us forward in becoming one. 


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