Last week I pulled a book off of my shelf, The Different Drum, authored by M. Scott Peck in 1986. It is about “community making and peace.” What an appropriate place to spend time musing in 2021. Our nation is divided – seemingly with no middle ground. A person is either MSNBC or FOXNEWS, right or left, progressive or conservative, good or bad – what a list we make. Even when we try to get past our labels and identification, we find out just how wide the gap is when we stumble into a conversation that turns ugly in a moment over a few misplaced words that reveal some view that is ‘unacceptable’ to another.
Peck invites us to replace our hard eyes with ‘soft eyes.’ Instead of seeing the surface of another person, soft eyes see the ‘suffering and courage and brokenness and deeper dignity underneath … because we choose to respect our humanity.’ When I read those words I stopped and thought about that and my own hardness.
Last week, on my way to the office, I stopped behind a school bus. One minute became two, two stretched on … a line of cars forming in both lanes. “Why can’t these parents get their act together and have their child ready for the bus?” I fumed. Then the front door opened and I saw a woman struggling to get a teenage girl with obvious challenges to that waiting bus. The girl would take a step and flop down. The woman would get her up and move a few feet only to have the same thing repeat. I felt true shame at my harsh judgment and prayed for that girl who had to go to a place she did not want to go and for that woman whose daily care for the girl’s special needs is unending and probably often very difficult. “God,” I prayed, “Help me to learn patience, to extend love more quickly.”
This ‘cancel culture’ in which we live sees the acts of broken people, some of which are terrible and sinful, and turns the person into a monster. “How could he do that? What is wrong with that organization?” Hard eyes judge, not just actions and behavior, but whole people as unworthy, garbage to be discarded. People do some awful things, make some terrible choices, even inflict pain on others. You may be ready to say, “Not me. I make some mistakes, but I’m really basically good.” No, you are not. Nor am I!
The stark truth is much less attractive because it demands we see our own sin first, that we acknowledge that “all have fallen short of the glory of God’ in life. Yes, all of us are prone to failure, make poor choices, and are sinners in need of redemption. “Soft eyes” give us the kind of spirit that create pathways to restoration through confession. “Soft eyes” make vulnerability possible. Who dares open their heart about some place of failure in life in our time? Who would risk being vulnerable? No one! Because to do those things brings instant condemnation, the end of relationships, and more pain. So, we dig in and defend, even when our position is indefensible.
The Church should be a community with ‘soft eyes,’ able to see the whole person and the context of their sin and failure. We must work at becoming a safe place to be open, to wrestle with life’s demons, and to admit “I hope for change while I admit that I am not yet all that I ought to be in Christ Jesus.” Reflecting on this thought I recall Paul’s words to the Ephesians, written while he was a prisoner, judged a failure by many. The truth was that he was a prisoner of the LORD, so radically committed to Christ, that he was willing to risk his very freedom. To Christians he writes this plea- “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV)
This appeal is not to fake community that pretends not to see failure, that ignores sin, that is incapable of dealing with evil. That is cheap relationship, superficial, and without the healing power that is possible through Christ. Real communities of Christians are honest, but not cruel, seek change in behavior while preserving dignity, because they are radically committed to twin values – love and truth.
Those kinds of churches are rare in our time! The average Christian congregation knows about as much about authentic community as I know about nuclear physics. In this ignorance, our high calling to be a place of reconciliation and restoration is lost and we become clubs of conformity, carefully noting who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ by our ‘community’ standards.
When we are committed to Christ first, not to our organization, not to our creed, but to HIM we become people who know how to love deeply and cling to truth in the same moment. Love holds onto the person. Truth holds onto principle. Both look to the power of the Spirit to produce authentic transformation. That change does not generally happen in a day or a week or even a month! It requires patience and a quality of love that “never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NLT)
The model of Alcoholics Anonymous is admirable in this regard. That person who is a slave to alcohol does not dress up, clean up, and try to look ‘all better’ before going to a meeting. He shows up and his first admission is “I’m an alcoholic.” The admission is not where he desires to remain, but it is basic to moving to the next steps of recovery. But, the group and the stories told in every meeting are a reminder that recovery is ongoing, that he is just one drink away from losing it all. AA does not ask you what your net worth is, where you went to school, or if you bring some great skill set to the group. It invites people to sit together to create a community of transformation. And, where the model is practiced well, it works! Anniversaries of sobriety are celebrated and arms of encouragement are offering to those who fell down – in the same meeting.
Christian, we must become a new community of Jesus’ people who refuse to throw others out, who will not withhold our love from those whose choices are ugly. People matter. He died for us ‘while we were still sinners.’ Will we ‘die’ to our own comfort and social acceptability to become a place where the bruised and broken can discover the ongoing transformation of the Spirit, a place of reconciliation of people to one another and to God? Lord God, give us ‘soft eyes’ that see ourselves and others as YOU do.
Here is a word from the Word.
“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr,
but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do,
I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. ” (1 Corinthians 13:3-10, The Message)
(Selah sings – let this beautiful song lead you to worship today.)
How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything
No gifts no pow’r no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom
Stuart Townend © 1995 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055