Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Split, part 2

I like diversity of points of view. I think it’s healthy, I think it’s normal, I think it’s valuable because none of us has all the answers.

And I like that there are different religions, and that within Christianity, there are many different denominations. We need each other. We need the diversity of opinion.

So logically I have to affirm church splitting, because all of these different forms of Christianity emerged by splits. In evolution, species often split, otherwise we wouldn’t have the vast array of different forms of life. 

But at the same time I want to forge communion with those who see the world differently than I do. I need them, they need me. We need to struggle over our different conclusions, otherwise we’re no use to each other. The Church+ doesn’t just exist between people who agree with each other, but between people who disagree and struggle with that disagreement to bring something new into the world. 

So I think that we should sometimes split. Birds of a feather flock together. We have a consistent way of looking at things that leads us to strong conclusions, and we want to teach that to our children, and spend time learning and exploring the framework that we claim as our own. We want a community that speaks the same language. It’s not only more comfortable, it’s the only way to become really fluent in that language. 

But in splitting, we must forge a higher union, on another level. We must covenant ourselves to create a space for regular struggle together over our differences. Maybe it’s twice a year, pick your own interval, but we must acknowledge that we can’t be ourselves, in our particular separateness, without the other. We must confess our need for each other, that we are incomplete without the other. The confrontation of our differences is valuable, and is what will keep us from our hubris.

In particular, this means that we do not cut off communion with each other. Because (as I argue in The Healer Messiah) our communion is not based on our agreement on common beliefs. Our communion is based on our commitment to God’s spirit, who wants to make a covenant with God’s offenders. We have to live in dangerous vulnerability to each other. That is our calling.

A parting of the ways. A pragmatic separation. A lessening of the frequency of our interaction. But not a breaking of communion. We commit to a regular interaction without which we cease to exist.

For this is a spiritual discipline without which we are not the Church+. Hospitality counts, and is not always comfortable. Every time we celebrate our hospitality to each other within our congregation, we should also be hospitable to the marginalized, the outsider, even the enemy.

May I suggest that we change our rite of communion, and perhaps our rite of eating together in all its forms, to give us some regular means of facing up to the music of being accountable to our sisters and brothers who differ from us. In separating we would pledge to send delegates to each others communion services, to celebrate our deeper union, and to keep up the conversation in a disciplined, sustainable fashion. It’s a middle way, a way of muddling through, that suits our humble status.

Imagine that every communion service were followed by a “conversation time” for listening to each other as trespassers, as offenders. We make a simple announcement like: “Welcome to this communion. Please partake with us. If anyone is offended by us or by anything that we do, please bring it up in our conversation time following this simple meal. It is meant for that, you will do us a favor. We look forward to hearing from you.” The conversation does not precede the communion, for our reconciliation is not based on our arriving at a common opinion, but on our love across our offending opinions. Maybe we'd even wash each other's feet.

Note that this practice would stand the common understanding of communion on its head--what used to be an expression of exclusion, a boundary marker of a community based on uniformity of belief, would become a rite of hospitality deliberately reaching out across differences of belief. In this we would follow Jesus, who deliberately sought out offenders to eat with.

Let me speak to three possible negative reactions. The first is concern about the nag, the congregation gadfly, the poor soul who brings up his/her schtick, at length, at every opportunity. If someone is so burdened that they can’t participate well in a discussion, they need support, and they may need healing. Some might need a counsellor, someone who can help them brave the work of discovering where their trauma lies, and naming it and perhaps their aggressors, and sorting out their lives. There is no need to accept the destruction of our ability to engage each other seriously, rather, we should get burdened people the resources they need.

The second is the plaint “But we’ve listened and listened, and talked and debated and worn each other out with words. Both sides have other pressing needs to attend to. We are exhausted. We need closure.” We need to make such conflict sustainable. Let’s agree to go our separate ways and break the deadlock in which we find ourselves, so that we can sustain a slower, longer term engagement. We need a rhythm to our lives, we need to reach out and learn from each other, but we also need rest and focus on our identity. We are finite creatures, it takes a while for us to digest change. But we dare not walk away from each other. We must pledge to continue our struggle, in a sustainable form.

The third is the plaint "What if your brother or sister is damaging others? Would you still commune with slavers, or oppressors, or murderers?" To which my reply is, if they really believe they are not damaging others, and if they commit to not coercing us, then yes, I would carefully consider the risk of inviting them into our confrontational communion. The risk may be great. But our conflict within our commitment to respectful listening and teaching would be particularly valuable.

photo credit: six steps  via photopin cc