June 25, 2019
by Susan Groseclose
For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made us into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us. (verse 14; NRSV)
In a world rift with divisions and hostility, I wonder what walls of hostility need to be knocked down in our own hearts? I wonder what responsibility we have to destroy social barriers that create discrimination. I prayerfully wonder how we as United Methodists will be able to live in unity around theological convictions, especially strong convictions about whether to fully include or not include persons who are LGBQTI+ into the life of our congregations.
Through Jesus Christ, we already have the gift of unity. Christ has already broken down the walls that divide us, that create hatred and hostility between us. Our challenge is not to argue our convictions but rather to deeply listen to one another’s viewpoint allowing God’s truth to transform us. We are to live into the mystery of our contradictions, thus, experiencing Christ’s peace and gift of unity.
In the time that Paul was writing this letter to the church of Ephesus, there was an ongoing theological disagreement as to whether Jews and Gentiles were both claimed by God and members of the church – the body of Christ. In fact, Paul’s earliest experiences as a follower of Christ were persecuting the Gentiles. However, his experience on the road to Damascus led to transformation where he moved from a point of persecution of the Gentiles to being able to live with grace and compassion, not just logic, that Jews and Gentiles are part of God’s kingdom. Paul states in his letter that God through Jesus Christ's death has reconciled previously hostile peoples, specifically Jews and Gentiles, to God and to one another. Through the reconciling work of Christ, the barriers have been broken down creating one unified people. Paul assures the Gentiles that they are now part of God’s extended family and joined together as the Church.
It is so easy to get caught up in our contradictions where two statements cannot be true at the same time rather than living in the mystery of the paradox with infinite love and mercy. We often times in our dualistic convictions create a "them versus us" culture. In a "them versus us" culture, we categorize and label groups identifying which groups are them and which groups are us. We determine who is "right" and who is "wrong". We even go as far as hardening our hearts against "them" and strategize ways to alleviate "them" or at least create discrimination and hostility against "them". We quickly see how a "them versus us" culture is chaos not peace!
Richard Rohr’s unpublished writings, Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox and A New Way of Seeing-A New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul have been companions in my prayers these past several years. Rohr’s insights have drawn me further into the mystery of God, into the unknown, striving to let go of my dualistic, logical mind. It is to discover ways to hold both sides of the debate in creative tension and not to find quick closure or judgement. To live in the darkness, holding questions and contradictions patiently, silently welcoming what is. Attempting to uncover a reconciling “third force” [tertium quid] where we recognize what is true in both positions and not dismissing either till a new wisdom emerges.
I do believe that across the United Methodist Church, we are striving to allow the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit to blow across and through our denomination and to ignite us and the Church into a new creation.
Pray the Welcoming Prayer: Sit in silence allowing yourself to feel and sink into the emotions, feelings, thoughts, and body’s sensations that create in your mind dualistic games of good/bad guy, win/lose, either/or. Welcome the hurt, the anger, and any thoughts - holding all of it in creative tension. Don’t ground it by thinking about it, critiquing it, or analyzing it. As you welcome your own pain, you will in some way feel the pain of the whole world. You can hold this immense pain because you are being held by the One who went through this on the Cross. Hand over all your pain – yours and the world – over to God. Let it go. Ask for the grace of forgiveness and for the reality of suffering – letting go of your desire to change the situation or your desire for security, control, or affection.