Tonight while playing Ultimate Frisbee there was a moment that reminded me a lot of what I've seen going on through social media with my the PCUSA. In this blog I want to present a series of quotes (as I best remember them) that I heard there and how I've seen them at play in my denomination recently.
First some background: I've played with the same basic group of people for the last 5 years. Some members have come and we've added some new ones but there has always been a core group that had come together just to have fun and play. We've had a few come in with different views of what "fun" was but they tended to come and go fairly quickly. Recently the always open invite has brought a large group of diverse points of views, and tonight the core group was certainly a minority. A number of college and club players were there as well as others who "want" to fit into that world.
So that is where we start. And it doesn't take long for tensions to increase and interactions such as the following to begin. (all expletives are adjusted out)
"You can take it out and bring it back in"
"Sorry, that's not how we play here"
"Cut IN, Why won't you cut?"
"Because that's a normal throw to make."
"Not if you're REALLY playing"
"Well that's how we play"
These types of interactions I find common in the PCUSA. It's like we're speaking two different languages and the longer we don't feel like others are getting what we're trying to say, the more agitated we get.
Finally after some comment that I did not hear one of the core group (we'll call him Kurt) started picking up the cones (his) and running off. The rest of the core group also slowly faded to the sidelines. As Kurt ran away from the field he yelled "Who do they think they are, they came to play in OUR game!" One of the other players yelled back "We're just trying to play the right way." At that point the rest of the core group outside of me left as well (mostly just uncomfortable with what happened).
I again see this time and again in PCUSA. Take our toys and go home? Sure. Tell people that they need to get with the "right" way to do things or to think? Sure. Yell it back and forth because both sides have decided to hold their ground at all costs? For Sure!
As they left, a series of questions and comments came my way as we made use of waterbottles and hats as cones.
"You've played with them the longest, what was that about?"
"Let them go, let's just play"
"Seriously, are they always like that?"
"I've never seen them that way, what's going on?"
"That was uncalled for"
I wasn't sure what to say. No one really wanted the answer it didn't seem ("You've taken what they saw as fun and made it something they don't recognize without really including them in the changes." "Why they are here doesn't mix with this well without first feeling like you respect who they see themselves as")
Yet, so often I feel like that's what I'm called to try to explain within my church and denomination. Why does one side not see the world the way another side does on an issue or as we tend to camp together with like thoughts as a general worldview.
Both sides didn't want to dialogue, they didn't want to work together, they wanted what they wanted and wanted it now because they both felt like they had the "right" answer and the "right" to dictate how things should be. They wanted to poke holes in what the other side wanted and prove to them why they should change. They didn't want to hear a different viewpoint and then find a way to move forward and find what would be what things "should" be for the good of all. Yes, the good of all may have ended the same way, but really there was no desire to do so.
So often this is exactly what I hear. I work with a conservative Head of Staff who really wants to dialogue but gets defensive because he's been attacked so often. I tweet regularly with people who consider themselves progressive and liberal who likewise take up defensive stances from the attacks they've suffered. I can't blame either side for being defensive honestly from a cultural point of view, but I feel we're called to be counter cultural as the church. So how do we begin to actually dialogue, discern, and live faithfully together into whatever the future will bring? We're far from it, our current GA thus far seems to be pointing to a culture much like our Frisbee game. Some are tired of fighting, some are very much standing their ground, some are stuck and unwilling or more likely unable to help anyone move forward. Regardless of what you want for the church, we need to move against the culture of "us" vs "them" and show another way to struggle with things that are divisive and with worldviews that just do not match up.
In Acts 10, Peter sees a vision of a sheet and it is filled with things that he correctly labels as unclean, yet God gives him a new way to interpret what he sees. It is not a simple revelation, it is one we see many struggle with over time: "Do Not Call Common (Unclean) What God Has Purified." I believe we all have sheets, some of them include people we disagree with, some include actions we find unforgivable, some include things we don't understand in others lives, but we all have a sheet. We need to realize that God has created all of us in God's image and God is always working towards unknown ends. That will always leave us with a certain uncertainty, and it is that uncertainty that we need to focus on. We don't have the answers, we're just asked to struggle together towards that distant, hazy goal that is beyond all the stuff that we have to get through to get there. Let us focus on struggling together, realizing we don't KNOW anything about what is going to happen or how it is going to happen and live at peace with the uncertainty of "What's Next" or even "What Now." If we are able to do that we may have a chance to do discernment together and be something more than people fighting over how to play a game.