Peace

Peace

Friday, 4 September 2020

Do We Have a Problem?

Long ago the great Anglican priest and poet John Donne reminded us that, “no man is an island, entire unto himself.” For centuries we have considered a person living totally alone to be a hermit. More and more we are discovering that even in densely populated cities loneliness is a chronic, debilitating, and common condition. The current pandemic has raised the issue of how we deal with isolation and community connection other than physically.    

Solitary experience is contrary to human nature because we are social animals. For all human history life has been lived in the context of communities of one sort or another. This, of course, is simply sociology or anthropology. It is a neutral observation, because communities can be good and bad. The bad is easy to recognise, because the history of humankind is as much as anything a history of war and conflict. We read in the record of the past and see in the news of our day that humans have great difficulty getting along with one another—whether it be in the neighborhood, village, city, state, nation, or world.

As Christians we understand the negative side of community life, and we confess it. Yet we do not give in to the dark side; we make no peace with the powers that divide community and isolate individuals. Further, our faith and commitment press us to develop the best side of our lives as social creatures.

The primary prayer of Christian faith begins—OUR—not “my,” but “our.” It is a shared prayer for a shared faith. We understand ourselves as part of a family in which we all brothers and sisters. We recognize that our lives in the context of community must be mutually supportive.

The primary prayer of Christian faith begins—OUR—not “my,” but “our.” It is a shared prayer for a shared faith. We understand ourselves as part of a family in which we all brothers and sisters. We recognize that our lives in the context of community must be mutually supportive.

In the dynamic process of communicating our experiences of God we tell stories. These stories explain why things are the way they are: stories of our founders—how they coped with crises, triumphed or failed—stories justifying our present traditions. Stories are our common vernacular.

The Hebrews told stories about their formation as a nation and culture. They told of a dialogue between God and Moses. Did this communication happen as recorded? Did God really want all that blood and mutton? . . . (Writer, we have a problem). Storytelling continued for centuries. People close to the significant events relayed and recorded what happened. As the stories passed down, they picked up layers. These accretions were attempts to justify present actions by claiming they originated by instruction of the founders.

The Gospel records Jesus giving instructions on church discipline at a time when there was no church. In the narrative he damns unrepentant members to be treated like “Gentiles and tax-collectors,” the very people he ministers to. Furthermore, he suggests that coalitions of church leaders can act unilaterally as long as they have a quorum. Did Jesus really say that? . . . (Writer, we have a problem). 

As the story of God in human experience continues to unfold, we will continue to tell one another the stories of God. There are times when we will baulk at the blood and the Jesus Seminar will blackball the text we are telling. Does that mean we should quit? The Apollo 13 astronauts didn’t. They applied their minds, and duct tape! They put square boxes into round holes and survived. Perhaps we “Wordonauts” can do the same?

And on another tack, you know it’s easy to rush to the good stuff in Matthew’s Gospel passage from the lectionary set for this week. Take the passage whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever we agree upon God will do (18:18-19). But trust me, that’s not the most important part of this passage. The most important part is the difficult but essential truth that community—real community in Christ—is hard.

Real community demands that we confront one another in love, that we speak the truth to one another in love, that we be willing to accompany one another through difficulty and disagreement . . . all in love.

I think that Jesus was not simply laying out a formula by which to resolve conflict. It’s rarely that easy. Different conflicts—and different contexts—will invite different methods of resolution. What’s clear, however, is the need to regard one another in love so as to keep the well-being of all in the forefront.

Why is that so difficult? The obvious answer is because of our sinfulness. But it’s also more than that, as we need to recognise that we have little practice in demonstrating love during times of disagreement. We live in a culture that is far quicker to rush to judgment, preferring polarised positions and the rhetoric of blame and accusation than speaking truth in love. For this reason, we will need to practice patience, practice forbearance, and practice love. But if we do . . . what, then, can we not accomplish in the life and love of our God?



No comments:

Post a comment