It’s been a full week. Last Saturday, the Church welcomed new family members at the regional Confirmation service in Lansing; on Wednesday evening, the Whitaker Institute celebrated with all the graduates of this year’s formation programs – Exploring Your Spiritual Journey, the Worship Leader and Preaching Licensure classes, the Academy for Vocational Leadership and the Saturday Series – and on Saturday, June 10th, we witnessed the ordination of our newest priest and deacons. It’s graduation time for many of our young adults, too. None of these wonderful events are ends in themselves but rather they serve as beginnings for new opportunities. In the Church, they open doors for new ministries as the next steps in a spiritual journey are discerned.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard a few commencement addresses on the public radio station I listen to regularly. In the midst of a rather stressful political climate and numerous acts of hatred toward any group that differs from one’s own, one recurring theme in these graduation addresses has been the importance of listening to one another’s stories so that we replace ideologies with individuals. We’ve all heard people remark “it isn’t personal” but we know that generally it is personal for someone. Truly listening and trying to imagine the other person’s life will take us far in building bridges of understanding.
As I was driving home from Saturday’s ordinations, I listened to The Moth storytelling hour’s 20th year anniversary program. Sarah Haberman, Executive Director of The Moth, commented: “Our purpose is to do whatever we can to encourage people from all backgrounds to share and listen to one another’s stories. After 20 years and 25,000 stories told on our stages, we know from first-hand experience how personal stories have the power to connect people and change lives. They also teach us to listen and remind us that we are more alike than we are different. Given that, I’d say stories are very important right now.”
Isn’t this the same message we’re hearing in our diocese as we grapple with diversity and inclusion?
I was thinking back to a conversation I had more than thirty years ago. I had invited the mother of one of my son’s friends over for lunch. In my mind, she was a very confident, successful individual who came across as a bit arrogant and, I’m afraid, I had felt a bit intimidated by her. I was quite surprised when she spent a lot of our time together asking questions about me and my life. She wanted to hear my story. After she went home, I reflected on the day’s events and how good it felt for someone to want to get to know me. Isn’t that really what we all want? This was the beginning of a very special friendship that has enriched my life (and hopefully hers, as well) for the last thirty years. And it taught me more about how to grow relationships than I had known.
In Sunday’s Gospel, we heard Jesus’ parting words from Matthew: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If we are to follow Jesus’ command to make disciples, we aren’t going to do it by preaching at our neighbors or writing checks to even the best causes; it will only happen when we go out and listen to the stories of others that we might build relationships and not walls. I don’t generally quote voices from social media but I read a blog by John Pavlovitz that struck a nerve
“And one day soon, these same religious folks will look around, lamenting the empty buildings and the irrelevance of the Church and a world that has no use for it, and they’ll wonder how this happened. They’ll blame a corrupt culture, or the liberal media, or a rejection of Biblical values, or the devil himself—but it will be none of those things.
No, the reason the Church soon will be teetering on the verge of extinction and irrelevance, will be because those entrusted to perpetuate the love of Jesus in the world, lost the plot so horribly, and gave the world no other option but to look elsewhere for goodness and purpose and truth.
Soon these Christians will ask why humanity has rejected Jesus and we will remind them of these days, and assure them that they have not rejected Jesus at all—they just found no evidence of him in the Church” (Source).
OK. “Where’s the resolution this week?” you might be asking. The truth is that all of the resolutions we have shared over the years have, at their root, the need to reach out to others. What might read as tedious legalese, the individuals, committees and agencies that created them did so that the lives of others might be improved in some way. All the resolutions are meant for us, the people of the Jesus Movement, to take and implement in some way that gets us involved in the lives of others that we might hear and know their stories. All of the work we have been doing in our Inclusion and Diversity workshops comes down to hearing the stories of our neighbors that we might truly love them in relationship.
It’s that time of year when our diocesan committees and councils will be writing resolutions to present to us at our Diocesan Convention in October. Next week, we will address how one might write resolutions that build relationships and show our love for others.
In the meantime,Perhaps you can select a resolution from the Nuts and Bolts archives at edomi.org that you can live into to begin to build new relationships.
Let us pray –
Almighty and All-Loving God, in your Holy Trinity you model for us the importance of relationship. Made in your image, we are created for relationships with one another. Grant us your grace to listen to the stories of all our neighbors that we might see the similarities and put aside the differences between us so we may learn to love as you love. We ask this in the name of Jesus, your Son and through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.