Uncomfortable

Back in my seminary days I participated in a church planting workshop.  The one lesson that I can still recall from that class is the “homogenous unit principle.”  In short this principle states that starting a new church works best if you gather people together who look the same, believe the same, and live at the same economic level.  When you put different types of people together it creates the possibility of being uncomfortable.  Apparently churches don’t grow if folks are uncomfortable. In the last couple of days I have been involved in two different conversations about this issue.

The first conversation was with the pastoral staff of my home church.  We were talking about what it means to become multi-cultural.  Our church has made significant strides in achieving this goal, but in the end we concluded that it is much easier to talk about being multi-cultural than to actually be multi-cultural.

The second conversation took place at my semi-regular Thursday breakfast meeting.  We were having an animated discussion about the state of the Mennonite church when one person made the following comment: “I do not think that Mennonites will ever get used to having Non-Mennonites in the church.”

This year I have participated in an urban listening tour for Mennonite Church USA.  One of the consistent topics of discussion has centered on diversity.  No one has ever suggested that the church become less diverse.  But tension quickly emerges when we start talking about our differences, especially when the differences appear to cross a theological line.

How different can we be from each other and still worship together or claim the same faith?  Is the church, regardless of denomination, big enough to hold the diversity?  Does difference demand that we separate from each other?  Is the homogeneous unit principle the only way forward?

It is my hope and prayer that we can find ways to come together.  I do not want the homogeneous unit principle to win.

Just let it go

I was back at Gunther Toody’s again this week.  Every Thursday there is a group of mostly older men who meet over breakfast.  About 1/3 of them are retired ministry people.  The conversations can and do go in almost any direction.  This week one of the men was sharing about a recent family reunion.  It seems that past gatherings had been filled with contentious discussions about faith and theology.  But in recent years the divisiveness has been fading.  When I asked why, he simply said, “As you get older you just learn to let things go.”

That simple statement just might be the key to living better.

Holding on to grudges, hurts and past wrong doings causes stress – lots of stress.  Getting caught up in office, family or church politics can turn your hair grey quickly.  Having to be right or prove that you are right in every situation can lead to heartburn.

I am not suggesting that letting everything go is healthy or right.  It isn’t, there are times when we need to stand up for what is right.  What I am suggesting is that you stop and think before you move into a high stress situation. 

Ask yourself, “Is this worth getting all worked up over?”

Needing to prove that you are right and the other is wrong is quite simply not enough of a reason to get all worked up.  Maybe you just need to let it go.

When Jesus stood before the Chief Priest shortly before his crucifixion, being accused of all sorts of things, he chose to remain silent.  He seemed to know when to let it go.

Wise people have learned when to engage and when to let it go.

Chaos

I was at Gunther Toody’s, a famous Denver breakfast spot, the other week for breakfast. Every Thursday, a group of retired pastors and church leaders get together to talk about what was, what is, and what should be. For me, it is fun to be part of a group where I am the youngest person by 30 years.

Every once in awhile, they ask my opinion on a matter they are discussing, but for the most part I enjoy listening to their bantering back and forth. Every once in a while someone shares a real zinger.

During my last visit, one gentleman who had been quiet for most of the first hour jumps into the conversation, and with a funny grin on his face, makes the following statement, “Religion provides solace for the chaos it creates.”

At first I thought I was hearing the cynicism of a grumpy old man. Then I started to think.

A lot of crazy stuff has happened in the name of religion. I remember as a young person going to book and record burnings because someone had told us that Satan was in the books and records. Most wars are fought in the name of God or we ask God to bless our war.

Our world is divided as much by religion as it is by politics.

Is it possible for religion to be less chaotic and more unifying? Do we always have to use religion as a reason to divide, separate and fight? Is it possible to start every discussion by finding out what we have in common?

Maybe labels like liberal, conservative, pro-life, pro-choice, Republican, Democrat, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Methodist or Mennonite have no business being part of the church.

I had a friend who used to tell me that this world needs a little less religion (read chaos) and a whole lot more Jesus (read inclusion).