Herding that Hurts!
I apologize for the poignant photo above, it seemed unavoidable to my conscience as I searched media files to best capture this post!
This past week has been quite interesting, in that I have consistently felt the need each morning to continue unpacking my 43 years of church hindsights. My main objective, as noted in my first post, A Manger Moment, has been an emphasis on being real with each other, while maintaining a personal intimacy with God. That is no easy road!
I had hoped to cultivate an awareness of how easily reconstructed is the now symbolic “veil of separation” modeled in the Old Testament Holy Place. That veil symbolized our sin and separation from a Holy God. It was intentionally “rent in twain” by God at the very moment of crucifixion! That must have made such a powerful statement to the reigning High Priest the first time he noticed that top to bottom tear! Perhaps evoking a similar reaction as recorded from one of the guards responsible for the crucifixion: “Surely, this was the Son of God!” as the rocks split and darkness fell!
Like the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum, it now seems, that all I needed to avoid I may have learned in the more dysfunctional moments of my years of service in the institutional church. I know that is harsh, but being real in the Body of Christ is often difficult, given the politics of many of our little “c” churches. Interesting to the “world” I am sure, given that one of our major tenants is unity and repentance!
Any time a group of people circle their wagons around certain opinions, especially those “Biblically framed” there comes a resistance to any voice not of the same opinion. Just ask Jan Hus c. 1372 – 6 July 1415, burned at the stake for insisting that both elements of communion be shared with his Czech believers. I should now be more forgiving of myself and those with whom I have served. I am sure at the time we were all well-meaning and mostly naïve; but, even subtle agreement to less than full transparency always leads more toward darkness than light! I trust the reader will allow that of me as we move forward?
Maybe this series is about my own repentance. Ironically, in my annual read through scriptures, I find myself this week in The Revelation, with John’s stinging record of the Lord’s Word to the seven angels of the then seven churches.
Has this practice of holding dear to our opinions regarding major tenants of the Church been error for all these years? I doubt it, for many sins are cited by John the Revelator as requiring firm stands! The thought here might be as simple as reexamining the model, especially the hierarchical structure which we continue to hold fast; a leadership style that now seems to be failing us, even in the market place. In a nation once majority Christian, many of our community leaders, at least among those boomers still anchoring our society, must have learned much of their leadership practices in church; fortunately for the church, those skills are now being honed by academia and the workplace and questioned by Millennials!
Allow me to reference Fulghum’s aforementioned reflections on Kindergarten;his first seven being:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.1
Why do we struggle so hard in the face of long proffered concepts like the priesthood of believers? I certainly believe in leadership and the diversity of administrative gifts (my own training), but not when used to herd people toward personal agendas, often undisclosed, while many good men and women “fall by the wayside.” In such a system, churches splinter, new plants proliferate and precious resources are scattered, both human and financial.
Religion apart from a personal intimacy that demands full disclosure and openness to the thoughts of others is flat out dangerous. Too often I have gritted by teeth in hopes that the heart of those I have served would prove true in the end, while many, who’s hearts I equally trusted were threatened for their disruption of “unity”; more often from an agenda laden leadership, than an honest attempt at nurturing spiritual health.
I must wonder how a country that encourages religious freedom and worship as a unifying factor can produce the numbers of churches that dot our landscape. Should not those called to cherish such principles in the name of God, stay at the table until love has had her full work in our hearts? Would not such devotion to each other allow congregations, as well as individuals, to grow in character by way of the sufferings and the joys of true transparency?
I am convinced that we have missed something strategic about the Thursday night gathering before Christ’s crucifixion. There at the table, prepared earlier for the Passover feast, a religious custom kept my most since early childhood, Jesus begins to “read their mail.” Frankly, as he so often does still today in our prayers! He lovingly unpacked the personal challenges many would face going forward, prophecies of a future to which they were clueless.
The Gospels record a moment where He brings the disciples and perhaps a few others into a crescendo of transparency. While they are experiencing the deep and painful community, so critical to birthing the Early (suffering) Church, Jesus seizes the moment, in a setting deeply ingrained in them by religion. Paul also records the moment as Jesus reaches for the cup, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 2
This was not something new he was asking them to do, though certainly adding an additional meaning to this sacred practice. I think at least in part, his “do this…in remembrance of me” may have been accompanied by an additional action. I can see him, cup in hand, widening his arms, as he emphasizes this intense moment of deep community, true communion, strategically facilitated on the night before his betrayal.
To the contemporary church, his message might be twofold: first of course, the cup and the now convenient wafer, a sacrifice that absolves of us sin. However, let me suggest a second, that the “do this” was a reiteration of focus for both priest and parishioner upon true community, transparency, even confession of sins one to another.
We move too rapidly through our schedule communion, an error now reflected in the fragmentation of our churches, divisions across our greater community; and yes, even a thickening curtain of blindness among congregational leadership, as reflected recently in our national politics. Please keep reading!
Why would I pursue such a conversation, one that risks airing dirty laundry? Sin, our falling short of the glory of God, has consequences. I humbly believe we are seeing that in our nation as we speak. This most recent election has brought such division across America, a divide that continues to cut across the Body of Christ. So many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, Protestant, and Catholic, black and white, rich and poor are now troubled by that divide. I certainly wish our President Elect, his cabinet and congress well, though that is not my point in this series of blogs. Rather a challenge to the Body of Christ to look again at what happens when we accommodate comfort, isolation in some cases and even blind unity, at the risk of being real with our brokeness! Does this behavior not serve to reconstruct the religious veil of separation that Calvary “rent in twain from the top to the bottom”?
Love must be vulnerable and Body Life is always at risk, when we allow thin threads of personal preference and doctrinal opinion to separate us. Herding together under the pretense of unity, is often no more than a thinly veiled power play or naïve avoidance of a most necessary hurting together for the sake of the truth. Left unresolved, this religious fabric thickens, soon qualifying more as a curtain of separation than some thinly veiled opinion. Left unaddressed, we no longer will have church splits only, but civil unrest, underserved communities, and an opportunity gap that eventually costs more than our national debt can bear! According to Robert Putnam and others, we are there once more! 3
To be continued…
2 I Cor. 11:25b, KJV