Thursday, 26 February 2015

Crosswalk V -- moving forward in Making Peace

In a Christian Community everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable part in the puzzle. Only when even the smallest piece is securely interlocked the puzzle is complete. Awareness of the other is a good first step. Reflection, the second step. Acceptance, the third step. Confession (surely!) follows as the next step. Seeking and extending forgiveness -- right here is the sequence that can genuinely change the one another, the church, the world and us. But all that requires love, love of the other. 

 "by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (Jh 13:35)

http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/ae/ef/f5/aeeff511271b6cf0a1e77126323f5d77.jpgI can't help it but to conclude from this verse, but also others, that the present wold has a right, certainly the ability, to judge whether our Christian faith is authentic, and therefore relevant. Because love, unlike everything else will have relevance even in eternity. Although we will judge the present world in the future, presently we are being judged by the world. Christians have not always presented an inviting or loving your neighbour as yourself picture to the world. Too often we have failed to show the beauty of authentic Christian love. Just like society around us, we are pervaded by the inclination to obstinate self-determination, the tendency to present what is one's own as the only thing that counts -- one's own person, one's own nation, one's own culture, tradition, church, one's own family or community -- or at least, one's own way of thinking. That does not mean that we have no convictions, but too often this has lead to self-isolation and an unawareness of the struggle of others.
One of the purposes for the church is to be a kind of rendezvous point between God and the world, where God through us declares concretely His love for all the people. Through us, God meets a struggling world, congregation and individual. But his happens only when we read the Scriptures together and pray together and being church together and break bread and share wine together. It is in those moments that God affirms to us that things between Him and us are made very good. And when we live in the stage of "very good" we become attractive. Moreover, when we are being church together we are no longer under the natural delusion that keeping rules makes us more lovable to God. If we fail to be church in this spirit, we will turn even the law --good things!-- into self-salvation projects. In fact we have turned many into self-salvation projects anyway, and therefore the world of today has disregarded our message of sacrificial love as unconnected to what they witness. God does not need our good works or sacrifices, but we do and so do our neighbours. God looks for obedience, or perhaps better stated acts of love. Unless our love to one another and others is qualitatively different to what of the world, we cannot expect the world either to listen or to seek us out when in need. In our era of global violence and sectarian religious intolerance, the church needs to respond compassionately to a needy and understandably confused world. In this sense, our mutual and unconditional love to one another has an apologetic purpose authenticating that we have been sent, but even more that Jesus had been sent by the Father. 

Displaying intro.jpg
The only way we as community to live a life of "producing much fruit" is when we maintain a taste of God's radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners, including the brother who has sinned against us. But this is not without struggle in which the world is an independent witness. What is the world observing when it looks at us?

Furthermore, observable love includes words like; I am sorry and than together to move on. This indeed a very difficult move. I may involve the arduous move to reestablish contact with people or groups we have hurt, or offended and seeking reconciliation. But the same is true when we have been hurt, or offended. Following the example of the incarnation, we the offended party has to seek reconciliation as well. This is the more difficult in that doctrine is not the only thing or the actual thing involved, relationships are not falling apart over technicalities. They are falling apart because of what gives us meaning. There is a scene in Arthur Miller's play Incident at Vichy in which an upper-middle-class man appears before an official of the Nazi-authority showing his credentials; a degree form a university, letters of references, and so on. The official asks him; "Is this everything you have?" The man affirms this only to witness that everything is being thrown into the wastebasket by the official; "Good, now you have nothing." The man is emotionally destroyed, because like so many of us his self-esteem depended on the respect of others. His achievement mattered, his opinions mattered and therefore he mattered because they gave him identity and meaning. Unfortunately, too often Christians find meaning and fulfillment in a temporal identity, rather than in the eternal belonging to God as Father. If the congregation no longer provides this eternal belonging but  substitutes it through activities or tradition, "you have to conform first or again," this affects genuine community and therefore our witness. Belonging involves reconciliation, forgiveness, repentance, trust and love. Belonging is not technical in nature but is deeply personal and effect us emotionally. If Christians no longer belong deeply we will find meaning elsewhere, be it work (doing something significant), in charity (caring for others), in tradition (bigger than oneself), in pleasure (as Freud suggest and the entertainment industry certainly seams to validate his perspective on the meaning of life), or in power (climbing the cooperate ladder, cf. Alfred Adler). But than our difference to that of the world is of little value to them.

There is no better observable difference than observable love, by "saying we are sorry." By continually sharing a belonging within a eternal family we are different. This at times arduous relationship is particularly important within leadership and congregation because failing to do so reduces trust and connectivity between both. Consequently the observable difference, a difference that truly matters would be fainting. But, it is a very difficult move. Pride, fear, incomprehension that something was done wrong and more could stop the necessary move toward reconciliation and therefore the restoration of belonging and witness. But there is one thing more difficult than saying; I am sorry, please forgive me, and that is to forgive. Forgiveness is a very deep matter. True forgiveness, just like love, is observable. It changes the way we interact in times of disagreements. It is an attitude the world is looking for in us. The world is looking on, and thus can make the judgement whether or not we exhibit unconditional love and therefor belonging. Church is more than sharing in common issues, which may change over time, or tradition, because each new person brings with it a new past, or even theology, because we are all in different stages in our journey. Church is about belonging. 

Several practical aspects derive from the motive of love leading to belonging.
  • Each sibling should be of help to the others, regardless of nationality, race, language, culture, and so on. 
  • Each should be of material help to one another, not so much as individual but as part of the whole. Hospitality, and by that sharing of a significant amount of time with one another, material goods, money -- all these are there to be shared with one another because of love.
  • Fellowship, companionship and friendship should be share within the family of God.
  • Love is observable and includes ongoing seeking each others best. 
  • Seeking and extending forgiveness and working toward reconciliation
  • Purpose of existence
All people are being made in the image of God, and being loved by God, therefore we need to love them us our neighbours. And it is natural, at least in the past, that we want to get to know them as best as possible. Yet, there is a special kind of love and understanding between Christians that unites us. In Life together, Bonhoeffer reminds us, "Only he who lives by the forgiveness of his sin in Jesus Christ will rightly think little of himself. He will know that his own wisdom reached the end of its tether when Jesus forgave him." Unfortunately, forgiveness is underrated and under-practiced. After all, we do not always get it right. And when we get it wrong, we tend to safe face or to justify our action. We revert to the mechanism of our old nature of fight or flight. We have extraordinary practice in both and often we do not even realize that we practice them. It either takes great humility, or an extraordinary friend to help us to recognize a wrong or a fault, to be repentant, to seek forgiveness, to make restitution, and to long for reconciliation. It takes time, sensibility and effort. It is much easier to be content with the time saving but worldly wisdom of "irreconcilable."    
Christ's grace makes true community, makes belonging possible and Christ's forgiveness sustains life together. Off course, we can think glowingly of the church community, as if it is some utopian commune, like we see in Star Trek or alike. 
The utopian view is painted something like this. The church is made up of Christian, who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, have a new life in Christ, a new heart of flesh, and have been given grace upon grace. Consequently, naturally everybody loves everybody to the fullest extend possible. This is a gift and not of works. 
But an ever increasing number of us realize and are honest with themselves that this is not the case, they are too clearly at the outside of the fellowship. In many churches people cope with their disillusionment, with a strategy of low expectation. Some are simply confused, others resent the reality of the human nature of the church and leave.

Church is not a dream world,at least not if we give full weight to the witness of scripture. The sooner we allow scripture to inform us about reality, the sooner we come face-to-face with a healthy level of disillusionment of others and a realistic disillusionment with ourselves, the better off the church as a whole is. Coming to grips with all of our own limitations and weaknesses and besetting sins that so easily entangle us goes a long way in developing and sustaining true and genuine community. Unfortunately we cover up, but children grow up and will ask, "Why is that blanket there?" And if we don't tell them the truth, they will uncover it themselves. We have to be truthful so that we can pass on truth to our children. If we continue to play things down, tell lies, avoid the issue, let the past rest we will pass on a false picture of us who are the church. And our children will pass them on to our grandchildren. However, some believe that what they were doing was right, but this only shows the depth of our denial. It has gone deep into our consciences and our minds, and for that reason Paul calls for a renewal of our mind. Awareness of our complicitous nature to avoid responsibility and suffering the arduous work of reconciliation is important for moving forward. Yet denial has become an accepted way of living, and the more we cover up our guilt, the pain we caused, the more damaging it is. If they are not deal with, these repressed truth will burst forth eventually and healing will be more difficult. Accepting responsibility is a form of suffering as it calls for the removal of an unhealthy self-image and fear. It is better for us to suffer a little more now, so that we can heal the broken relationships within our body. Yet often we substitute true belonging through shared interests or ministry activities in the church or simply denial and avoidance. 

When we have also come to grips with the same struggle of shortcomings including that of denial and avoidance in others -- including our leaders and heroes like David the murder, Abraham the liar, or Peter the backslider we live in a real and not idolized community. All three needed an outside voice to fully understand their sins, and so do we. It is in this real community friends who are also brothers and sisters that real belonging happens. Church is not a honeymoon but family life. That does not mean that we settle for a mediocrity, but that we give full weight to our humanness and the witness of scripture for our constant need of a highpriest.
Peacemaking is not an evolutionary process happening through the passing of time or by looking in from the sideline. Peace is being created and recreated.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. (John 14:27)

Of course then there’s the classic statement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount which is perhaps one of the lesser understood and hence practiced one among Christians:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt 5:9)
The questions remains, how are we being peacemakers without simply succumbing to what we consider wrong?

Schaeffer outlines five principles that I believe are indeed very helpful in us moving toward making peace.
  • When we have significant differences we should never come to them without tears and regret. If we have tears there can be beauty in the midst of differences.
  • We must measure the seriousness of the differences and act accordingly with a concern for the holiness of God, refusing to back down, but seeking a way that shows the greatest love. We always need feel close to people, even if we do not like them (liking people is anyhow more of a self-serving emotion).
  • Real, concrete love will require at times great sacrifice, we must be able to suffer loss for the sake of keeping the relationship viable.
  • There should be a deep desire to solve the problem rather than a desire to win or the desire to avoid the arduous work.
  • Our call is to uphold both the holiness of God and the requirements of unconditional love. 
It is equally wrong to compromise about what is right and our oneness in Christ, especially when what is right is more about me. Without this tension held in balance the world will not know that the Father has sent his Son.

No comments:

Post a Comment