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Yesterday here at The Twelve the Rev. Annie Reilly gave a thoughtful, pastoral, personal, and theologically honest and astute reflection of her time on the recent RCA Special Council. If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to. I too was at the Special Council and while I find Reilly’s response resonates with me, it is also deeply challenging. Even if you have no interests in the Special Council itself, the happenings of the RCA, or yet further discussion on human sexuality, the posting is about the tension of Christ followers living out faith and humility. And again I would repeat, it is thoughtful. Thank you, Rev. Reilly.
Relatively recently I had come across again the following quote:
Jesus says in his society there is a new way for [people] to live:
you show wisdom, by trusting people;
you handle leadership, by serving;
you handle offenders, by forgiving;
you handle money, by sharing;
you handle enemies, by loving;
and you handle violence, by suffering.
In fact you have a new attitude toward everything, toward everybody. Toward nature, toward the state in which you happen to live, toward women, toward slaves, toward all and every single thing. Because this is a Jesus society and you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking different.
First time I saw that quote was in seminary, used in the beginning of Douglas John Hall’s Thinking the Faith. But it comes from the Canadian author and University professor, Rudy Wiebe’s novel, The Blue Mountains of China. Wiebe grew up in the Mennonite communities of the Prairie provinces and writes from that background, which is the reason I had come across some of his writing again, doing some research in Mennonite history and working with some Mennonites colleagues in Canada and US.
“Because this is a Jesus society and you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking different.”
Reilly’s post yesterday grabbed me because it speaks out of that repentant reality, not by feeling bad but by thinking different, thinking differently about the other—whoever the other may be. But also, thinking differently about how you approach the subject, whatever the subject might be. I must confess that my mind functions and often conceives ideas in the binary: this or that, hot or cold, black or white. Perhaps you can relate? It is difficult then, once you’ve locked something into a particular category (or someone) to offer much grace. Or humility. Or patience, forgiveness, love… And this is not only about the other, this can be just of true of yourself. It is easy to wallow in guilt, to lead with shame, to be consumed by anger. But because this is a Jesus society and you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking different.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that thinking differently means you automatically change your mind. But it does mean you change your attitude. And that’s a huge difference. For instance, at the Special Council I heard many express an understanding of human sexuality that I find not only disagreeable, but actually dangerous, harmful even. Ultimately, I find particular responses and practices upheld by the church to be sinful. My mind wasn’t changed—although it has been in the past. But my attitude toward those whom I believe are wrong has changed. Or at least, I’m working on it changing. And I ask God to help me.
A changed attitude and a changed mind may seem like some as a slippery slope. Perhaps it is. But I believe God is big enough for that, that God is able. I’d like to think that slope is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to slide on into our midst to make us ever more aware of God’s presence in our lives and in the world. That it’s transformative, leading us to ever more conversion of our hearts to be like God’s heart.
One more “don’t get me wrong:” I’m not talking about some kind of watered down version of the faith or easiest common denominator form of discipleship. If a new attitude entails trusting, serving, forgiving, sharing, loving, and suffering, well then these are not easy practices. They suggest Christ followers who are adamant about their faith, actively living out the fruit of the Spirit. They suggest a community that engages one another and the world differently than our wider culture demonstrates.
A changed attitude shows that we are still becoming that which we will one day be, as disciples of the Lord Jesus we are still learning, still being formed. As the Apostle Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” The Roman Catholic priest, theologian, and cardinal said, “The disciple is by definition one who has not yet arrived, a learner trying to comprehend strange words an unravel puzzling experience.”
Sometimes, the strangest words and most puzzling experience can come from fellow disciples journeying alongside us. If we could all live into that repentant attitude, to think differently, perhaps it is there that we can learn the most from one another. Perhaps it is here that Jesus is trying to teach us.