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The Reverend Annie Reilly is filling in for The Reverend Jes Kast-Keat for the month of May. Let us welcome her guest column today.
Right after college, I took a job as a substitute teacher. I was an elementary school librarian for a day and had a roomful of first graders lined up at my desk to check out their books. Amid the stacks of Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss, a boy looked up at me and asked, “Miss Reilly, are you a boy or a girl?” Now this happens to me fairly frequently with children. I keep my hair cut short and this generally very confusing for tiny humans who think short hair = boy. Usually, I answer this question, “what do you think?” However, in this particular instance, I didn’t have time to answer before another boy looked at his classmate and said, “Well she was a girl, but now she’s a woman.”
Comedian Louis C.K., in an interview with Conan O’Brien in 2013 talks about why he thinks cell phones, particularly in the hands of young people, are toxic. Louis says, “They [kids] don’t look at people when they talk, they don’t build the empathy. Kids are mean and it’s because they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and go, ‘you’re fat’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and go, ‘ew that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that’. So they gotta start with doing the mean thing. But when they write, ‘you’re fat’, they go, ‘mmm, that was fun’.” (Google “Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones” for the full clip)
It’s so easy to write things, and forget that there are real people behind those words. Particularly as Christians, we are called to recognize the humanity in each other and live into the truth that we are all God’s children. We don’t always have to like our siblings, but we are called to love them, with empathy and sincerity. We don’t always have to agree, but we do need to carry on our discourse with civility and gentleness. The Apostle Paul wrote to the much-divided Corinthian church, “Now let me show you a more excellent way…the greatest of these is love.”
My heart is heavy as we approach General Synod. I won’t be there, but I’ll likely be watching the live stream. I’m praying for the delegates everyday in my morning prayers. Our siblings in other denominations are engaging in similarly heavy general conferences this year. It feels like a fraught time for Christians in America.
My hope for General Synod is for people to be able to sit at table with each other and take the time to engage in thoughtful, Spirit-led conversation. My prayer is that we don’t dissolve into a roomful of strangers, divided into camps, speaking daggers at our siblings. Much will be said and much will be written. Much will be recorded and much will be Tweeted. Remember that people are more than their opinions. Remember that you might be wrong. Remember to be tender when you are right. Let yourself be in relationship with people from across the denomination and let those relationships surprise you.
We all have prejudices. But sometimes, if we let them, those can shatter and the Spirit can break through and do amazing things. Sometimes liberal Christians have an orthodox theology. Sometimes conservative Christians can be compassionate. Sometimes children grow up and realize that girls can have short hair too. It’s time for the RCA to grow up.