Jesus, help us live in peace

Jesus, help us live in peace.
From our blindness set us free.
Fill us with your healing love.
Help us live in unity.

Many times we don’t agree
on what’s right or wrong to do.
It’s so hard to really see
from the other’s point of view.

Jesus, help us live in peace.

I stumbled through singing this simple song in the Common Prayer book this morning.  I suspect the stumbling helped me to connect with the words in a more visceral way.   I had an opportunity to speak in the worship gathering of our church family yesterday, and one of the elements of my talk was to emphasize that when we, from different walks of life and economic circumstances and family backgrounds and emotional types and personality types get smushed together in communities of relative intimacy, we quickly find that we don’t have the tools to be in healthy relationship.

There are cultural reasons for that.
Our impatience and aversion to deeper relationships that make us beholden to others, for one.
There are human reasons for that.
It’s scary to risk deeper relationship.
It’s an act of vulnerable trust that so many of us have been burned by.

Whatever our reasons, Christian communities, upon realizing in desperation that deeper relationship brings terrible complexity and can bring out the worst in us, probably have the best tools at our disposal to navigate relational intimacy.  I think I connect to the simple words of the song the most because those tools, while deeply helpful, don’t make the process less messy.  In some very real ways, when I commit to deeper, more vulnerable relationship with my church family, I must crack open my shell to allow God and others to examine my motives, my desires.  I cannot simply sit back and let others do the work of vulnerability and present to them my projection of myself that keeps me coolly detached.

Whatever the reflections might be, which can be endless, we’re in the midst of a discernment process in our congregation, with some weighty decisions to make.  Some of those are more obvious and clear (We must address this crumbling building), and other aren’t so obvious (How do we best relate to our neighborhood, our place? What practices does God desire us to mold that give us a sense of purposeful identity?).   In a very real sense, the answers that emerge from the latter, not so obvious, decisions determine the more obvious ones.

It is for that very reason above that I am so deeply thankful for how Tom and Karen Wuest have set up our discernment process, and so deeply pained that many people haven’t been present in the early stages.  Our discernment is following the church calendar; in Lent we devote ourselves to the practices of lament and confession, in the season of Easter we devote ourselves to the practice of speaking hope and redemption, in the Pentecost kick-off of ordinary time we root ourselves that story of how God took terrible complexity and brought the miracle of understanding, and in ordinary time we devote ourselves to meaningful conversation involving open conflict, soft ears, and working toward consensus.

The Wuests understood something vitally important; in order to do the work of conflict and conversation well, people must cultivate an openness to God and one another.  An extended period of time devoted to that openness delivers us from practical atheism and the tyranny of personal opinion that so often wins the day in Christian communities.  I was slow to come around as they laid out the vision (one could quibble about the length of time to prepare our hearts for conversation), but I have benefitted in such an important way from the spaces of silence, of listening, of confession, of hearing brothers and sisters beginning to crack open their hearts and reveal their longings, their pain, their hope.

If we had blasted straight into hard conversations, I do believe we would have inflicted some significant collateral damage on one another.  We have slowly been transitioning from a commitment to open listening to God and halting small confessions to more direct expressions of lament, more sharp confessions.  This evolution enables a more natural process to take place, a sort of “slow boil” that forces us to face God, ourselves, and others.

Whoever is not participating in this process for various reasons (this is namby-pamby gushy stuff, or it’s not important enough until the later stuff, or this community is vastly secondary to my “more important” other priorities) is missing out on a very essential process.  As a result, we’re going to need to have some harder conversations with others who plow into the mix of what they think is “really important” (post-Pentecost conversations) without having traveled with their brothers and sisters through the earlier process.  Some painful collateral damage will result from their abstaining.  Shoot, some painful collateral damage is bound to happen no matter what when conflict-averse people have to engage in conflict; but God is doing important softening work right now.  I, for example, am not the Nathan I was five weeks ago.  In particular, Janet McNeel’s reading of a meaningful Scripture lanced through every wall I have erected to “keep it together.” Janet, in allowing herself to be undone, participated in my undoing.

My practical atheism and opinions have taken a back seat……slowly……..painfully……..their cry is not as raucous and all-consuming as before.

Through all of this, the simple words of this song anchor me;

Jesus, help us live in peace.
From our blindness set us free.
Fill us with your healing love.
Help us live in unity.

Many times we don’t agree
on what’s right or wrong to do.
It’s so hard to really see
from the other’s point of view.

Jesus, help us live in peace.

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