Give Me Your Hand
Rosemary Cox was the name of my grandmother on my mother's side, and Rosemary was my ideal for what it meant to be a person and a Christian.
Rosemary was a kind, redheaded do-gooder who would give a meal or a hug to anyone in need. She loved me deeply and I'll never forget the extravagant grace she poured out on me when my parents separated for a while when I was in 7th grade. When I was most confused about life, it was Rosemary whom I went to.
But Rosemary also hated conflict. She would go out of her way to keep the peace at every turn. She turned away from conversations about politics like my son Ian turns away from asparagus. She bent over backwards to keep from confrontation with her husband. She lived in honest to goodness fear of disagreement on just about anything with anybody on any issue.
So my model for being a Christian growing up was to avoid conflict at all costs. It is in my bones, part of my genetic heritage to dislike conflict. Nobody dislikes conflict more than I do. Nobody wants everybody to just be happy more than me. So nobody is more apprehensive to talk about controversial issues than me.
And yet, nobody is more pleased than me when the church rises up and courageously talks about one of those "hot-button issues" on which we are bound to disagree and does it without questioning one another's motives or calling each other names.
When we do this, I think it means that we in this church want to live in the real world, where real people struggle with really tough questions. The Bible calls this kind of living the "word made flesh," theologians call it "incarnational living" but what is clear is that we are willing to explore real life at the risk of coming to very different conclusions.
It also means that we trust each other enough to open our hearts and minds to each other's ideas. It means that we have not gravitated to little cliques of people who already think the way we do. The problem with little cliques is of course is you never learn anything new from such people, you only reinforce what you already agree on.
Finally, being able and willing to discuss difficult topics means that for Christians we know what unites us is not our political opinions, not our theological ideas, and not even our moral values. We simply do not all think or behave alike, nor are we required to be Christians.
What unites us is our shared loyalty to Jesus Christ and to his love, mission and ministry.
That's why I have a challenge to our NorthPark bloggers for the month. I want them to choose any "hot button issue" or controversial topic and write on it, but do it from a perspective of Jesus's love, mission, and ministry. And then I will do the same when my turn to blog rolls around again.
One of the founding principles of the Presbyterian Church, which is written into our Constitution says "there are truths with respect to which Christians of good character may differ. And in all these, it is the duty of Christians to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other."
But perhaps John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said it best. Speaking to those who opposed him in the church, Wesley said, "Give me your hand. I do not mean, ‘Be of my opinion.’ You need not: I do not expect it or desire it. Neither do I mean I will be of your opinion. I cannot. Keep your opinion; I mine; and that as steadily as ever. You need not endeavor to come over to me or bring me to you. Only give me your hand. We must act as each is fully persuaded in their own mind. Hold fast that which you believe is most acceptable to God, and I will do the same. Let all these smaller points stand aside. If your heart is as my heart, if you love God and all humankind, I ask no more. Simply, give me your hand."