Parable

One Church Model as Yeast

The Nicene and Apostle's creed both have a line that affirms belief in the holy catholic church and if we read it too quickly then we overlook the mystery of that phrase. 

I was reminded not long ago in a meeting with church leaders the meanings of these words. 

  • holy - set apart 
  • catholic - throughout the whole
  • church - the body that comes together in order to be sent out

If the point of the church is to be sent out, then why would it come together to begin with? Some might even call this a paradox others might see this is really inefficient. If the point is to be sent out, then are we not going against the point when we come together? Many of us see the benefits of coming together in order to be sent out and are not hung up by this paradox. However, fewer of us are able to reconcile the paradox of something that is both set apart and throughout the whole. 

We like to think that we are able to hold two ideas in our heads at the same time and give them equal weight. We like to think that we do not privilege one side over the other. We like to think that we are able to hold the paradox, but more often than not we will place one position over the other. Despite our inability to hold paradoxes, we continue to try because we know that life is never one or the other, but full of contradictions and paradoxes. 

For instance, are you a parent or a child? What color is the dress? What do you hear? Maybe the most basic paradox - "this sentence is false."

The divisions in the church these days might be understood as our unwillingness to attempt to hold these tensions together. Some elevate the role of the church as holy (set apart and different) while others elevate the role of the church as catholic (though out the whole or sometimes understood as universal).

Photo by  Drew Coffman  on  Unsplash

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

You may recall that Jesus attempted to address this paradox of being set apart and through out the whole by speaking of yeast. Yeast is different form the whole and yet in order for yeast to function it has to be through out the whole batch. 

The UMC faces a number of decisions in February 2019 around how to include LGBTQIA+ people in the church. It seems to me that the option that is most like the church as yeast is what is called the "One Church Model." This model gives the decision about ordination and marriage to the most local body able to make the decision. Conferences decide who they are going to ordain as it is now, pastors decide who they are going to marry as it is now, and churches decide what types of ceremonies are allowed on church property now.

If we allow the the decision of how to include LGBTQIA+ persons to be spread through out the whole of the church then, paradoxically and mysteriously, the yeast retains its holiness. It seems clear to me that if the status quo remains or if there is a dramatic change in the current stance, then we move closer to being holy OR catholic. 

This is one more reason why I believe the "One Church model" not only is in line with the creeds, but is in line with our historical and Wesleyan tradition of affirming the holy, catholic church.

The "B and A Eaters"

Two times a year I visit this healthy restaurant in my neighborhood. It is a nice place, serving people in the community for several decades and it really does serve good food. I intend to go there more often, but they are only open one day a week, only for breakfast, and by the time I remember this is the day it is open, I am very tired and have other obligations/options for breakfast. In fact, I have gotten to the point that I really enjoy eating at home with my family and friends, so unless they are going to go with me to the restaurant, I do not go. Except twice a year, my birthday and anniversary.

Photo by  Rachel Park  on  Unsplash

Photo by Rachel Park on Unsplash

The restaurant regulars know me as one of the many "birth-aversary eaters" or, for short: "B and A eaters." 

The people there are nice, to be sure and I know they are trying to welcome me to the restaurant they love so much. They tell me how long it has been since they saw me last and even talk about how great the food is or how I should meet the new chef who is doing so good cooking these days. All of it is okay, but a bit overwhelming. I sort of feel guilty when I am there because I am reminded that I generally do not eat healthy for breakfast all the time. I also feel a bit bad because I live so close to the restaurant, and feel like I should support local business and yet cannot seem to make it there more often. 

It really is a fine restaurant, and I support their work. I believe in eating local and supporting the community. I left a tip that was a bit more than I normally would leave as a way of saying thank you. And I am sure I will be back on the next anniversary, but I hope they would stop calling me a "B and A eater." I hope the chef does not point me out and say, "it has been so long since I saw you last, you should come more often!" I hope the guilt I naturally feel is not compounded by the regulars who do not see that I notice their disappointment when I am sitting in their usual spot. 

All I really want is to not feel guilty for going to breakfast. Maybe something is off in me? Or maybe something is off in the culture that does not know what to do with the occasional breakfast eater. 

Can You Solve This Jewish Riddle?

This is an old Jewish joke/parable that you can find all around but in case you have not read/heard it, here is a parable of men going down a chimney. Can you solve it? 

A young man knocks on the door of the Rabbi. The man says, “I would like to study the Talmud.”

“Do you know Aramaic and Hebrew and have you studied the Torah?” the rabbi asks.

“No, Rabbi. But don’t worry. I graduated summa cum laude in philosophy, and just finished my doctoral dissertation on Socratic logic. I believe that I am ready to study the Talmud.”

The rabbi says, “If you wish I am willing to examine you in logic, and if you pass that test I will teach you Talmud.”

The young man agrees.

simon-schoepf-223117-unsplash.jpg

The Rabbi holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

The one with the dirty face washes his face,“ he answers wearily.

“Wrong. The one with the clean face washes his face. Examine the logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face.”

 “I cannot believe I did not think of that!” the young man says. “Give me another test.”

The rabbi again holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

 "The one with the clean face washes his face, you just said.”

 “Wrong. Each one washes his face. Examine the logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face. When the one with the dirty face sees the one with the clean face wash his face, he also washes his face. Therefor they each wash their face.”

“I didn’t think of that, but now I understand. Test me again.” says the young man.

The rabbi holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

 “Each one washes his face."  

“Wrong. Neither one washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. But when the one with the clean face sees the one with the dirty face doesn’t wash his face, he also doesn’t wash his face. So neither one washes his face.”

The young man presses on. “I am qualified to study Talmud. Please give me one more test.”

The rabbi groans as he lifts two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

 “Neither one washes his face.”

 “Wrong. Do you now see why Socratic logic is an insufficient basis for studying Talmud? Tell me, how is it possible for two men to come down the same chimney, and for one to come out with a clean face and the other with a dirty face? Don’t you see? The whole question is  foolishness! If you spend your whole life trying to answer foolish questions, all your answers will be foolish, too.”

"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."