Is our tent big enough?

August 23, 2011

Following her husband’s death, a member of a congregation I once led was rummaging through some old files in preparation for moving to a new apartment. She ran across a clipping from the World War II era that she passed on to me. I dropped it in a file of my own and recently ran across it as I perused and purged papers as I settled into my new office at the Minnesota Church Center. It struck me that in our own era of division and strife its message still rings true.

In a time when Isaiah’s country was approaching the state of ruin, when the capital city had been destroyed, and the whole nation had become barren, the Prophet of God must have done considerable brooding over the sad plight of his people. But Isaiah was not to be defeated and his vision flashed out: “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; hold not back, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes” (Isaiah 54:2).

Isaiah’s challenge to the Jewish nation in a time of crisis and defeat was twofold: the first was to spread out their tents and not isolate themselves into weak ghettos; and the second was to stake their unity on a common faith in God.--Tony Chi

In a time of increasing polarization over religion, politics, economics, race, social justice and other issues, perhaps we can help to generate more light than heat by adhering to Isaiah’s call:

  • by expanding the size of our tent to include people and cultures different from ourselves.
  • by stretching the curtains that limit our perceptions and opinions and ideas.
  • by not holding back and by addressing differences with openness and respect.
  • by maintaining cords that bind us together while allowing distance for individual expression.
  • by anchoring ourselves more deeply in common love for our Creator and our brothers and sisters of the human family.

This summer I was among ten from the Minnesota Annual Conference who attended the School of Congregational Development in Dallas. During a plenary address we were reminded by my counterpart in the North Texas Conference, Jim Ozier, that unless people are new to a community and previously churched, most people don’t “church shop” anymore. They aren’t magnetically attracted to a faith community. If they start searching, they are driven to the church by a heartfelt need. Broken people have a hard time putting the pieces of their life back together amidst a fractured and segmented society.

If we are to reach new people in new ways in this new day, the church needs to be a place where people can experience and practice cohesive community. That doesn’t mean everyone looks and thinks the same (diversity of pieces is what makes a puzzle fun), but it does mean that in our differences we still interconnect. United Methodism is a big tent, yet in our common love and service of God we stand together under one roof. As I pondered that old devotional clipping, I discovered anew that a bit of housecleaning is as good for the soul as for the file cabinets!

From your fellow “tent dweller.”

Dan Johnson is now the Twin Cities District superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He used to be director of congregational development and Reach • Renew • Rejoice.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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