Nicole and I have been constantly plagued by the notion of ‘what’s next’ over the course of the last decade. As we were driving to Enid yesterday, she pointed out that we have moved eight times in the last ten years. Eight. Times. It’s unfathomably exhausting to move that much, both physically and emotionally. We have tried to take root in each of our locations but it’s difficult to make long-lasting bonds with folks when we’re always ‘on the move’. It has to be quick work, done with the might of a whirlwind, sweeping in and enveloping as many people as possible as quickly as possible so that we can do our best within the timeframe we’ve been given.
For the first time in years—years—we don’t have an expiration date. There’s very little thought these days to “what’s next” in terms of locale. Now, “what’s next” has taken on a whole new meaning. Every time that question is uttered, it has context to it concerning ECOTR. We’re constantly thinking of ways in which to nurture and be nurtured by the place we currently serve. And we’re developing stronger relationships with those around us than we’ve been able to do in years’ past. With that comes learning.
You see, relationships are easy at first. Most of the time, people don’t allow much to ruffle their feathers during the course of a budding friendship. It’s new. It’s exciting. And, as humans, we’re glad for new connections with others. But then, inevitably, something happens. A word is spoken with mistaken meaning; an action is done with unintended receipt. As I said Sunday, meaning is collaborative and it takes all involved to come to a sense of corporate understanding. With individual comprehension at play, this is sometimes impossible. With different perspectives on the world around us, it is often times difficult. With passionate opinions, this can be disastrous.
When you’re always moving, it’s easy to say things and do things (albeit sincerely) and simply move on to the next group. There’s very little at stake. This has never given me license to speak harshly to others or mistreat them, but it has offered the opportunity to get away with much more than I could if I were going to be around a little longer. Why? Because words and actions, when spoken or done with courage, can also require courage to accept the consequences of them. If relationships aren’t strong enough, then those moments can fracture people’s understandings of one another and unintentionally see a rift develop, thereby separating people from those they love.
As a preacher, this becomes very difficult. I’m deeply invested in this community, and Nicole and I have been intentional about cultivating relationships with anyone who is willing to allow us that grace. But sometimes the Gospel commands me to speak the truth in love, much like I did Sunday. And as I said above, meaning is collaborative. There will be times in the future where we will have to face our paradox of truths together and find a way in which to reconcile and move forward together. You won’t always agree with me, and I won’t always agree with you. But if we’ve learned anything about our communal life together, it’s this: Anything worth having is going to take work and dedication to obtain.
With a sense of permanence here, I hold each of you in high esteem. I mean that. ALL of you and your individual perspectives are important to me, I want to engage with you and learn together. But I can’t do that if I’m afraid to speak my truth, and to have the courage to hear yours. If we all separate from one another every time we get angry, every time we become offended, then the world will continue to split itself into microcosms of like-minded individuals living in boring and stagnant environments. Every time I say something from the pulpit that challenges you, know that I’m also challenging myself. In private conversations, if I offend you, I never mean to; I’m just as imperfect as the rest of the world (probably more-so to be honest). But we can’t always be thinking of “what’s next” when we encounter difficult moments. We have to talk to one another, speak and hear the truth in love simultaneously. If we’re willing to do that, we will forge an unbreakable bond that will allow us to accomplish whatever God has in store for us.
I don’t have anyone in particular in mind while writing this, nor do I have underlying intentions of whom I hope this message reaches. But it occurs to me that we’re entering a phase in this church life where words/actions can hurt a little more than they otherwise could have due to our growing relationship with one another. Now, more than ever over the last decade, my beloved and I are in a space that we can grow roots and stand firm with commitment to a particular setting. It feels wonderful. But it also comes with the possibility of being hurt deeply by departures or separations due to something I’ve said or the way I’ve said it. As the world continues to see horrible acts of human treatment, I will—when guided by the Gospel and the Holy Spirit—speak out against atrocities committed in the name of undignified anti-grace. And I will never do so with the intent of shaming any of you, or demeaning your understandings. But, as our deacon said, we must stand firm in the preaching of the gospel, unafraid of telling its truth. What I ask is this: Please, when you disagree or become hurt by something, just ask to talk it out. Again, and I can’t say it enough, meaning is collaborative and sometimes I may not have done a good enough job of delivering mine. I’m not a priest that refuses to be approached; I want us to speak truth in love to one another, and I’m willing to hear it just as much as I’m willing to speak it.
You are beloved to me. As our relationships continue to deepen, so will our different perspectives collide. Instead of allowing those moments to divide us, let us allow them to unite us in stronger understanding of one another; in these instances, we can live in tension with differing opinions, but grow stronger in mutual affection that over-writes our need to be ‘right’. I want to hear from you. I want you to want to hear from me. Let us continue to build up the kingdom of God, together, and do so with courage, with truth, and with an abundance of love. Thank you for hearing my truth, today. I look forward to hearing yours.