photo © 2006 Jeff M for Short | more info (via: Wylio)In some ways, I suppose there are fringe benefits to growing up in the Christian faith but not necessarily deep in the church. For us, it was simply the thing you did on Sundays: small, quiet, Baptist, with dress clothes, hard pews, old pianos and the dry, ancient smell of hymnals. Maybe things were calmer then, or maybe at such a young age I just didn’t know anything about church politics and theological drama. Christians were Christians. Easy enough.
In high school, I got my first true taste of another side when I visited a friend’s more charismatic church. For a mild-mannered Baptist girl, it was like stepping into another dimension, and at first, it was amazing. By then, I was hooked on CCM and questioning some of the stronger ideas I’d discovered, and besides, the church of my younger days seemed stuffy, boring, and smelled of potlucks and old lady perfume. I wanted life, and this church felt… well, they felt! Clapping, dancing, joyful singing!
Yes, I thought, this is what Christians are supposed to look like. Happy, dangit.
It wasn’t until they got to long, awkward silences and slightly frightening praying in tongues that I fully realized I was in foreign territory. Turns out this wasn’t for me after all, and I found myself just as disillusioned with their concept of worship. I’ve had a lot of fascinations since then — the Reformed passion for sound doctrine, the Emergent embrace of mystery, the rich history and ancient symbolism of the liturgy — and though I’ve now settled in a church that feels like home and developed a nostalgic soft spot for pews and hymnals, I’ve come to see a kind of beauty in them all.
What is it about the people of God that makes us such a fragmented, patchwork group where the austere and emotional, the intellectual and earthy, the thinkers and feelers can all be part of the same family? Perhaps the answer’s in the question.
We are a family.
A huge, sprawling, beautiful, dysfunctional family, under the head of Christ, scattered to the ends of the earth, but somehow — somehow — a complete body he uses to accomplish redemption.
We have our pockets of smaller families, mini-cultures, and when we cross at reunions, we may look at that crazy uncle or snobby cousin and wonder how we could possibly be related. But look closer. There are common quirks, similar features, a holy DNA that binds us with people we’d just as soon never meet, only gathering because of blood relation and Grandma’s chicken and dumplings. (Assuming we’re a weird Southern family. Insert your own reunion food of choice here.)
There’s a reason Jesus, weeping and sweating blood in Gethsemane, prayed for us to be one. For centuries, we’ve fragmented and fought over many things, the important and the trivial alike, as families often do. Not all Christians are like this; thankfully, there are many, many thoughtful, nuanced, wise and loving believers who recognize that we can be united and civil without agreeing on everything, and they strengthen each other with their perspectives.
But what do we do when things get heated, when we blow up Twitter with theology wars or get in long, frustrated arguments over everything from proper reactions to a terrorist’s demise to pop song lyrics? How do we scrounge together something resembling unity, so the world might see not just the two-faced broken humans we are, but the light that enters to make us something more, priests and royalty?
There’s a hint, I think, tucked in the back of a book by one of the minor Prophets, long before Jesus prayed for his people on a night the world would never forget:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Do — fight injustice, pursue truth and speak it in love, perhaps even give each other the benefit of the doubt and a fair listening ear before tossing a stone.
Love — value kindness, seek understanding, and (to borrow a line from two songs) “love mercy more than being right.”
Walk — in the quiet knowledge that none of us are all right, in the truth that none of us have it all together, but by some miracle, grace doesn’t leave us as it found us.
All that’s required. Bigger than politics, theology, differences and debate.
This is what holds a family together.
And this is my humble contribution to the Rally to Restore Unity synchroblog hosted by Rachel Held Evans this week. If you resonate with this, I encourage you to check out some of the other posts at Rachel’s blog (so much great writing!), and perhaps contribute to the Rally’s Charity:Water campaign. Because we can all agree on clean water, right?