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I hate filing. I really do. Most likely this is because I feel I have no mastery over it.

I really do not know whether to file the bill I’m holding in my hand under “utilities,” “time in the USA,” “heating,” “paid bills,” or “flipping useless papers.” It certainly doesn’t spark joy, so I should probably follow Marie Kondo’s advice and throw it out (after thanking it). Or should I? I mean, if I’m honest I have to admit that part of the problem is a secret belief I harbor that any paper I throw out will one day be discovered to be life-changingly necessary or useful. Or at the very least poignant.

Recently I decided to bite the bullet and downsize my office. It was when I was sorting through papers from the time I spent in parish ministry in Michigan, that I came across a copy of the liturgy for the sacrament of baptism. It was nestled in between a file about congregational care ministry structures, and yes, a random utility bill.

Immediately I found myself moved to the point of tears.

In my time of pastoral ministry, it was often the baptisms, communion services, and funerals that moved me the most. It seemed that these were some of our most liminal spaces. Moments when we stood together on the threshold between tangible and intangible, life and death, individual and community, flesh and spirit, human and divine. When we forgot our difficulties and differences, and we were caught up together into something larger, eternal, powerful, beautiful and true.

I remember the feeling of holding a baby in my arms, looking down at her in all her vibrancy and vulnerability, seeing the unknown stories in her eyes, and saying “It was for you that Jesus Christ came into the world; for you he died and for you he conquered death; yes, for you, little one, you who know nothing of it as yet. We love because God first loved us.”

Elsewhere in the liturgy the congregation stood to pledge their care for her and for her family, saying “We promise to support, love and pray for you and you and your children. We will be a church family to them and will surround them with God’s kind love. We will tell them the good news of God’s grace, we will teach them Christ’s way, and we will pray for them that they may become faithful followers of Jesus.”

I think baptism is one of the ways that the church models the love of God: as God has loved and embraced each one of us into this family, so do we love and embrace you. Welcome, beloved.

*****

I think part of what brought tears to my eyes when I re-read that liturgy, was knowing that this family is divided. In our anxiety about the future, what we express to one another is not always love.

I need to be honest with you. As a member of the Vision 2020 Team, I have experienced first-hand (as I know many of the other members have, too) the universal truth that anxious people sometimes look for a target. And what they unload on that target is sometimes the opposite of love. I do not mean to be overly dramatic. But I do want to be honest. The Reformed Church’s anxiety about the future is sometimes causing us to harm one another. There is gossip and slander, there is theological bludgeoning, there is fear-mongering, there is verbal abuse, there is inappropriate pressuring, there is emotional cut-off.

That said, the opposite is also true. And this also brings tears to my eyes. Maybe even more greatly. Although the family is divided and we are all anxious about the future, there are also those who are choosing to rise above, who are overcoming fears and differences, who are reaching out with concern, who are working hard to bridge gaps, who are summoning superhuman love – godly love – to care for one another through this difficult time. Truly, they are taking seriously their promise to surround each person with God’s kind love, no matter how hard it gets.

As I finish writing this blog, I notice that it is Valentine’s Day. And although I am sometimes tempted to pooh-pooh the holiday as a Hallmark cash-grab, I am grateful today for the reminder that love is both a gift and a choice.

In the Reformed tradition, we promise to love one another, even when it is hard. To be sure, our house is divided and we don’t know what the future holds. At the very least we know that the future will be very different than what we are experiencing now. Maybe we’ll stay together, and maybe won’t. Maybe we’ll get what we hoped for, and maybe we won’t. Maybe it’ll align with our theology, and maybe it won’t. Either way, it’ll be messy. And that’s scary.

But whatever choice we make, and whatever choice the “other side” makes (and whoever that other side is for you), I think it’ll be ok in the end if we can keep showing each other God’s kind love. I don’t mean being “nice” to each other or glossing things over when they need to be addressed. I mean caring for each other well. Even, and especially when it is hard.

Marijke Strong

Marijke Strong is the executive secretary for the Regional Synod of Canada (Reformed Church in America), a pastor, a spiritual director, a creative writer, a reader of books, an amateur gardener, and an avid kayaker. She is also a coach and consultant with The Leader’s Journey: Coaching Toward Wholehearted Leadership (www.theleadersjourney.us). The Leader’s Journey offers leadership coaching and organizational consulting for personal emotional intelligence and organizational health.  

10 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Amen. I’ve often thought that the first job of a classis is to love its congregations, and the first job of a regional synod is to love its classes, and the first job of a general synod is to love its regional synods, and the first job of the staff is to support (like a “staff”) all that love.

  • Helen P says:

    Amen.
    As was clear in our discussions at Central, if we can “graciously separate,” then surely we can graciously and lovingly remain together.
    Thank you for this.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Amen.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    I too, thank you Marijke.
    I remember meeting you at Fellowship, Holland, just before you embarked on your Canadian adventures.
    And there you are. And here you are, in the US with Vision 2020.
    The body is to grow up into full maturity, each part complementing the other parts (Paul in the Ephesian and Corinthian correspondence).
    So hard for the RCA now, with gossip and rumors flying. How well do we tolerate (celebrate?) differences in convictions and ways forward?
    Congregations threaten “divorce” from the body. More “love” from the Source will keep us together. Less “love” drives us apart.
    Looking into the eyes of the still-forming baby. And the potential for growth and development. Bless you. Bless us, good Lord. . . .We bless you!

  • Thank you. Everywhere I go, there seems to be divisions. In families, in congregations, in denominations, in our country, in the world. We need to experience the love that transcends.

  • Marilyn Paarlberg says:

    Thank you, Marijke. I’m grateful to you and all the others on the 2020 team who are navigating this fraught journey.

  • Thomas Goodhart says:

    Thank you.

  • Stephanie says:

    Amen! Many thanks to those of you on the team and many others who deal with these difficult days with such grace!

  • Marcia Meoli says:

    The increasing intolerance in our world is going to destroy the work of many, over many years, to foster understanding and collaboration. When that goes, I fear that we will repeat the horrors of the last century. What a waste. So hard it watch it. I feel helpless often, like there is no way to stop it.

  • Kim Van Es says:

    Thank you for this post and for your difficult work on the Vision 2020 team.

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