Truth as Unity

Recently Rev. Tom Lambrecht wrote a wonderful article laying out as he sees the larger conversation in the UMC and LGBTQ inclusion. His thesis is that one side places Unity over Truth (the progressive position) while the other side places Truth over Unity (the conservative position). This is a wonderful article because it highlights the very false choice that is often presented to our denomination. While he is writing from a conservative side, the same false choice is presented from the progressive side. It looks different but it sounds the same - we either have Unity or Truth (in the progressive position Truth permits full LGBTQ inclusion). 

I submit this is a false choice. The reality is in the story of Jesus: it is not Unity or Truth, but Truth as Unity. Just as the Truth of Jesus is both human and divine or just as the Good News is both for Jew and Gentile - Truth is whole and unified. It endures. Unity has always been at the very foundation of Truth and to split it is to follow the adulterous woman (Proverbs 7) rather than woman wisdom (Proverbs 8).

Truth has a way of incorporating seemingly paradoxical positions all the time. Look to the natural sciences, a tree can be dying and putting on new life at the same time or that a platypus is a mammal but lays eggs. Consider the mystifying paradoxes in physics. Look to the teachings of Jesus (first will be last, last will be first; loose your life to gain it; etc.) And who can overlook the fact that human beings are walking talking paradoxes (Christianity says humans are both sinner and saint to speak of the paradox of human beings). 

The more we put out the false ideas that the denomination upholds either Unity or Truth the more we entrench ourselves in our own egos and messiah complexes. The more we think that our side has Truth or values it more than the other side the farther away we push the very Truth we claim to have command of.

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Behind all the rhetoric of our denominational leaders and thinkers about the nature of our situation is a genuine lack of love. That is it. We just do not love one another. Since we do not love one another we do not trust one another. Since we do not trust one another we impose our own sense of justice to a situation that barely (at best) connects to us. We just cannot stand the idea that there is someone who bears the same name I bear (United Methodist) and is doing something that I cannot abide with. So even if we are miles away from the matter and it has nothing to do with us at all, we impose our opinion. We use all sorts of justifications to merit our opinion, but the reality is it is all a mask. We use our language to mask the fact that we have frail egos and we cannot imagine being associated with "those people". (See liberals who oppose Trump or conservatives who oppose Obama at every mention of their name as an example of two groups of people who cannot stand being associated with one who bears the same name: American.)

I am embarrassed by many in my own denomination. I am embarrassed in my own actions. But just as I cannot split myself from myself, so too the Truth cannot be split into neat little categories. Truth as Unity is the way Truth has always been. But, hey if we want to divide up Truth so we can each feel better about our own little kingdoms, egos and pride then we will never make a single Disciple of Jesus Christ - only disciples of our own selves. 

"Community is a consequence."

Plough is a quarterly magazine that my wife has subscribed to now for about six months and it the type of publication that makes you proud of the print medium. Within the Winter 2018 edition, there is an essay from Philip Britts entitled The Gods of Progress. Britts wrote this essay after World War II and so it makes one wonder why it is up for the 2018 conversation, but it is among the more timely essays of our time. I hope you would take the time to read the essay and would encourage you even more to subscribe to Plough.

Here is pull quote worth considering:

"Community is not a system for solving the economic-social problem. Community is a consequence. Many such communities have been organized and have failed to stay the course. Community is the consequence of people being kindled with the glow of love.
Photo by Joris Voeten on Unsplash

Photo by Joris Voeten on Unsplash

I submit that when thinking about community, it may be helpful to think of a fire. The smoke is the by-product of the fire, but smoke allows the fire to be discovered by others. It is the flames of love that build the smoke of community. And just as fire is lit by flint and steel, so too love is lit by the flint and steel of humility and curiosity.

Community is a consequence of love which comes from humility and curiosity. 

The Way of Descent in the Age of Dissent

When asked for a sign, Jesus said that there would be no sign given except the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39, Matthew 16:4 and Luke 11:29). This sign is one of the way of descent. That is Jesus offers a way of life that is not the way of assent - going up - but the way of descent - going down. Just as Jonah went down into the belly of the ship and even the belly of the whale, Jesus came down from heaven, went down to the cross and down to death. The way of descent is not a very popular way of living, but according to Jesus, it is the way of eternal life. 

The way of descent has different requirements to life than those of the way of assent. One of the different requirements is the way of descent listens to the dissenting voice when the one on the path of assent does not take time to do so. Those busy going up, do not have time to listen to those "little ones" already surpassed on the ladder. But it is the way of descent that listens to dissent and gives value and merit to the voice. 

The temptation is to use dissent as a weapon in order to destroy others. When we use dissent as a weapon for destruction, then we are no longer on the way of descent. Rather we are on the way of assent, and we are enslaving the voice of the "little ones" for our own assent. 

Tread lightly on the way of descent in this age of dissent so not to fall prey to the way of assent.

"The Egg is Your Problem" - a Parable of Either/Or Choices

A student sought a teacher who was known to provide direction to those facing a tough decision. The teacher was found sitting in a room full of broken egg shells. The student approached the teacher and asked, "What am I to do with this problem I have?" The teacher handed the student an egg and said, "Break this egg without spilling the yoke." 

Photo by Oliver Zenglein on Unsplash

Confused the student held the egg loosely and after some time the student's hand grew tired, dropped the egg and yoke spilled on the student's shoe. The teacher placed another egg in the student's hand. Resolute to not drop this second egg, the student held it tightly only to crush the egg spilling the yoke once more. 

The teacher kept placing an egg in the student's hands and each time the student would hold the egg too loosely or too tightly. At last the student said, "it is not possible to break an egg and not spill the yolk."

"This is why you do not know what to do with your problem." The teacher said. "Hold the egg too loosely and they will spill out, hold them too tightly and it will make a mess. However, if you hold the egg properly with patience it will hatch and the yolk will not spill. The egg is your problem, hold it properly."


Update: The Henri Nouwen Society's daily reflection for January 5th, 2017 came into my inbox this morning. I share it in full as it is a helpful parallel to the parable above. 

"Patience is a hard discipline. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict. Patience is not a waiting passivity until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let's be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand."