Recently retired clergy, Rev. Buzz Stevens, was just up at our annual conference session, sharing about the role of the church in the world; particularly drawing from his own reluctance during his ministry to take a stand or share his opinion on controversial issues. He’s written about such on his personal blog before, and today expounded on his own experiences in different situations, seeking to know/understand – and perhaps respond to – the fear that people on either/both sides of any particular controversial issue might experiencing. Buzz suggests that like him we likely agonize over whether to “go public” over controversial issues, but that as Methodists, we must respond to injustice or oppression.
Buzz went on to share about how, within The United Methodist Church, we have a “two party” system, identifying it with the general terms used in culture/politics at large: “conservative” and “liberal.” He reminds us that both Hilary Clinton and George W. Bush are active United Methodists, as well as closer examples of local clergy. We live “in the same house,” he says.
Which leads me to my own thoughts about what I know of “in the same house.” I know a three year old (“I’m not 3! I’m 3 1/2!” Will tells me regularly) and an 11 month old (Kate, who last I saw her was actively waving at everyone we walked beside in the hallway) in the same house.
Will is currently in a stage of the “older brother.” To some degree, like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable, he expresses some jealousy about his younger sibling. He is acting out, pretending to be her (“I’m Kate”) and doing things he knows are wrong (e.g. ripping Lynn’s glasses off her face, like Kate does while nursing); he’s also acting in self-avowed “mean” ways to her (pushing, tacking, and knocking her down, just as she’s learning to walk).
Kate, meanwhile, is currently in a stage where she knows no fear. We’ve watched her launch herself, head first, off the bed (which is taller than her!); she climbs anything she can (onto counters, tables, etc); she reaches out to anyone and everyone. And she continues to stand and take steps, even though her big brother regularly tackles her mid-section like a professional linebacker!
It is, to me, an interesting counterpoint to watch the two right now. I think Will’s misbehavior could, very likely, be attributed to fear. He’s afraid about losing love (he’s no longer the only child, and his mom and dad keep sharing themselves not only with him but also with his little sister). In his fear, he’s doing the things we would hope he wouldn’t do: misbehaving, acting immaturely in order to get the attention he desires/needs to alleviate his fear, even acting violently.
Kate, meanwhile, is taking great risks because she currently knows (or at least seems to know) no fear. She’s doing the things we ultimately want ad need her to do – learning about walking, learning about how to jump and fall and land, learning about how different surfaces feel when she lands on them. She is exploring the world around her, exploring the possibilities of her own body, exploring and living life. We can remember and tell stories of how Will was once the same way, a stranger to fear…
The Apostle John teaches that “perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18). In Christ, we are seeking to grow and live toward perfect love; but the reality of the Church, as well as our own individual lives, is that we “live in the same house.” Many of us, and our communities, know the truth of our incompleteness; that we are not yet perfected in love. We live in communities that know conflict – and we know inner turmoil – precisely because fear can so drive our behavior and attitudes.
I know that both Will and Kate will grow out of their current phases. Some day, perhaps in the near future, Will will come to know the assurance that we love him, and that Kate doesn’t threaten that love. Perhaps, when that comes, the fear that he currently knows will lessen, and he will grow in love. Meanwhile, as she grows, Kate will, unfortunately, learn and experience fear… it seems to be the nature of life.
As their father, though, I hope and pray that both Kate and Will will find/experience a life wherein fear is not the foundation of their behaviors or perceptions. As imperfect as I may be in knowing God’s perfect love, I hope and pray that the two of them will grow and know the perfect love of God, in Jesus Christ, that can drive out all fear. I hope and pray that the two of them will be the kinds of people that Buzz is encouraging and challenging us all to be; those who know God’s love, those who are willing to follow Jesus’ example, those who are willing to take a public stand for what is right and against that which is wrong. I pray they grow into Christians who know no fear, and can follow Jesus wherever He might be walking.
I suspect God has the same hope for all of us. That we can grow through our fears, and into those who are willing/able to love boldly… In the meantime, we all live “in the same house,” which suggests our need to listen to and understand one another’s fears, to pray over them, to help one another to live into and out of God’s love rather than based in our fear…