[photo by Feuillu]
This past week I had the privilege of visiting the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia as part of a meeting with the Committee of the Office of the General Assembly [See Byron’s complete Philly recap]. It really was quite the experience. One is pretty much given full permission to seriously Presby-geek-out as you walk through the stacks and sit in the midst of the stories of so many of the faithful that have come before us. Sure, we have not always fulfilled God’s intentions for humanity, but I have no doubt that even in our failures we have sought the movement of Spirit and the mind of Christ. One of most interesting things that we saw was one of the first items donated to the archives, a set of dueling pistols. And while it would have made a better story to say that was the way we USED to break a tie, they were never used during a meeting of general assembly, presbytery, session or personnel committee.
And while we are not using actually weapons to resolve our conflicts, today, we have masterfully exchanged the intimating visual of bullet-filled weaponry with the divisive use of vocabulary and verbal jousting.
These days, my new rhyme is this,
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can really put a damper on any meaningful communal discernment of the will of God and the mind of Christ.
Okay, that may not be all that poetic, but over the past few months, I think it is true. In the same way that gun waving might limit the possibility for fruitful interaction and discernment, some of the ways we begin conversations or describe conflicts have major bearing on where we even begin.
Here are just a few examples from good folks that have crossed my “desk” and what I think are the implications:
SHOT: “We are striving for Biblical faithfulness.”
READ: “Our reading and interpretation of the Bible is the right one and, not only is your interpretation wrong, you probably are not even faithful in your reading.“
SHOT: “We are loving, thoughtful and welcoming.”
READ: “You are only driven by hate and ignorance . . . and you probably REALLY like injustice.”
Gosh . . . when those those are the first shots fired why wouldn’t we just be one meadow full of unicorns and butterflies? When we try to define the other by creating some false sense of superiority, at our heart we are not interested in communally discerning the will of God. We have become more driven by our arrogant fist-hold on the truth than a yearning for open an honest journey to seek the mind of Christ. As I said in my opening statement at General Assembly, we become a people that are more concerned with being right than being faithful.
Now I am all for folks being passionate about their beliefs, but if we are going to discover what God has in store for us as a denomination, we need to move away from this kind of preemptively destructive discourse so we can begin to build trust and understanding. And even as I write this, I realize that all of this is predicated on at least two
assumptions: one, that we want to mutually and corporately discern the
will of God, mind of Christ and movement of the Spirit; and two,we trust that others have the spiritual capacity to engage in said discernment.
So . . . I guess that is where I am right now in talking with folks about our corporate future. I do not take our denomination for granted, nor do I find my salvation through any institution, so what I want is to be engaged in community that I believe moves, challenges and supports me in my journey of following Christ. If that is is what you want as well, we must encourage one another put it all out on the table, step out of old polemics and both ask and answer tough questions. Do we want to be together and are we willing to see faithfulness in the other? If yes, what does that mean to the ways we begin talk with one another? And if no, lets at least have the integrity to admit it and then respond accordingly.
No one said this would be easy, but God does promise to be with us always. Whew.