Monday, November 28, 2005

A Lover's Quarrel

When I was growing up, there would be times I'd get in trouble.

I'm sure that's hard to believe.

The thing about me that differentiated my "career as an child and adolescent" from my siblings was not that I didn't do the many things they did.

Oh, I did.

The difference was, I knew how not to get caught.

They, on the other hand, didn't give a damn who knew and usually bragged about it.

The times I got in trouble, especially as a kid, it was usually my mother who took me to task. Many were the times of hearing her say to me, as discipline was being meted out -

"Son, believe me, this hurts me more than it hurts you."

My retort was usually of the sort in which I questioned whether my mother loved me at all.

I've never forgotten her response (and, in a "circle of life" kinda way, I've used it myself more than once) - "If I didn't love you, I wouldn't care what you did."

And then she'd tell me that she knows who I am and what I could be, and that I have to reminded of that when I do something boneheaded. I've learned that character of "love" is real, and often, the most profound way of expressing it.Somewhere along the way, I think we've forgotten that love does not equal compliance or blind assent. Love doesn't even equal "like," necessarily.

Love equals the willingness to wrestle and not let go.

Seems like there's a story in the Hebrew Bible about that somewhere..hmm.

Anyway, the recent affairs of the world, of politics, of the church have given rise for a re-visitation of what love is.

One of the joys of my current appointment was the opportunity to visit with William Sloane Coffin. The story of Bill's life reads like a novel, and there's much already in print for any who would want to know about him. In my encounter with him, there was one thing that stood out as a lesson I'm striving not to learn, but to master -

Dissent does not mean disloyal. In fact, it could well be the most effective expression of love as the situation demands.

Way back in another time and place, Bill's voice was one of the first and loudest crying out about the policies perpetuating a war in Vietnam. He later stood as an architect building a network of faith and political leaders to fight the poliferation of nuclear weapons. He has been vocal on matters of social conscience for many years.

When he speaks of his disdain for policies that further divide a nation, or of plans that ran up to a war in Iraq - he could easily be labeled as one of those "bleeding hearts," who had no backbone.

But to the contrary, he loves his country. In fact, he says that he's having "a lover's quarrel" with it.

Bill Coffin loves his country. He is a patriot. But more than that, he's a prophet.He's one who, like Nathan, will stand before King, and with the righteous anger of the Lord, and not his own, proclaim, "You are the man."
Somehow my mom's words come back - "If I didn't love you, I wouldn't care what you did."

It takes a might more courage to stand up to one you love and challenge some of the assumptions your lover has about life, your relationship, the world, the faith.

It's far too easy to go alone to get along and to think that silence is golden.

From a therapeutic perspective, it's co-dependency and enabling dis-eased behavior, and it sure ain't love.

Many more voices once silent about Iraq are starting to find theirs. That's usually how things go. God knows how all this is going to come out over there.

But that we are having now the debate we should have had then about this conflict, after 2,000+ of our men and women have been killed, 15,000 wounded, and untold Iraqi citizens killed and wounded, it shows one thing more than anything else -

We love our political power more than we love each other.

And that goes for both major political parties.

Democrats, don't show up two years into the game and question why we're there. Except for Howard Dean, everybody was on board.

It's cheap.

It's tacky.

And it's too damned late.

Republicans, don't you dare act like the White House didn't have a bloodlust for war even before 9/11.

Was the intelligence faulty? You think?

Was it "spun" take make a case for war?

And does the power machine of the White House seek to discredit anyone who disagrees? You think?

In the polarization of the seat of power - the question of what you love more applies.

It also applies to the church.

My Church.

I'm United Methodist.

I believe, by God's grace, that's what I'm called to be, and it is the conduit through which I'm called to serve.

I love my church.

And I'm quarreling with it. We are too much a part of our consumerist society, and it is one of our gravest sins.

We have shown, more times than once, that we will cave into culture rather than stand beside it as an example of what community could be.

Historically, we equivocated on the issue of slavery. The blight of that sin stains the church I love still.

We, like our political counterparts, love our power positions more than we love each other. We love our theological platforms more than we love Jesus of Nazareth.

And there is no better proof of this point than the issues the currently preoccupy the Church - the war in Iraq and homosexuality.

Does God love those who are gay any differently than God loves those who are straight? Our bishops have called homosexuality "no barrier" to church membership.

Does the Church have a right to exclude anyone? Sure. It has a right to do just about anything it wants. It has a right, if not, obligation, to insure that those who represent it have met criteria of examination to suggest that they are fit to fill whatever role the church is asking such people.

But choices of who to include and who to exclude, and on what basis, bespeaks the church as a system, and do not necessarily give witness to the One in whose name it is audacious enough to claim as it's reason for being.

Our Church has said many things on a host of issues.

But so what?

How, then, do we get to a place of consensus? Do we love one another, and the Christ in us, more than we love our position?

I'm not afraid to wrestle. I used to be. Being a middle child, I just wanted us all to get along.

But I've grown out of that.

There's too much go along to get along in the world as it is.

And one of the reasons the UMC has such turmoil right now, is that the issues that preoccupy it are not those living in the abstract. They are not the issues that reside within the halls of a denominational bureaucracy.

The Council of Bishops are being criticized for bringing these conversations to the fore. I'm not among them. I applaud them, and I believe they are taking the role of leader and teacher seriously.

But that's not the real reason they're being criticized. It has a whole lot more to do with the reality that these questions must be dealt with inside the protected little micro-kingdoms we call our local churches, where most of these things seem to get shielded from the common lay man or woman.

And who ususally does the "shielding?"

The clergy.


Because we don't want to deal with it.

But these issues cannot be avoided any longer.

They live right where we are.

We all know someone who is gay.

We might even love them.

We might even call them friend.

They may even be members of our family.

We might be called to serve as their pastor.

Could it be that someone who is gay has been my pastor?

On the war - We all know someone who has been deployed to Iraq.

And too many of us know someone who didn't come home, or, if they did, they left a whole lot of themselves there.

The Church cannot ignore the reality of these issues anymore.

As is usually the case, we come at it way too late.

But the time of ferment is now.

It is here, and here we are.

What shall we do?

Are we willing to quarrel with each other as lovers trusting that if we didn't love each other, we wouldn't care, and because we love...we wrestle, and by God, we're not letting go?

I hope so.

I pray so.

But sometimes I wonder if we'll go the way we usually do rather than wrestle.

We split as lovers who will not work it out.

But that's a conscious choice.

What we can do and what we will do are not the same.

We wrestle because we love...and because we know what we can still be.

Let it be, O God.

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