I spent Monday at the National Workshop on Christian Unity, which this year was in Minneapolis. This was after a weekend of reading news reports set off by the Judicial Council ruling relating to the consecration of a gay, married bishop. My own beloved denomination can’t seem to figure out how we can live together in the midst of some pretty deep differences, and I was in a room learning about all our efforts to be in dialogue with other faith traditions. The irony did not escape me!
The gift of the day was message of Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, at the opening worship service. Did he preach! He was speaking to the divides that have been all over our nation. He talked about the increase of hate crimes as he has traveled the country in the months since the election, and how we are segregated into communities of folks just like us (see the red and blue county map), and our tendency to listen to the news and read the Facebook feeds of people who think like us. He said that when we start treating people as an “it,” we can marginalize and demonize them without a second thought. His conviction: You cannot build a democratic society where people don’t know each other, and ecumenism is not about doctrine—it is about relationship! If we get love right, we will figure out the doctrine.
He called us out, saying that we need a revitalization of relationships and a revolution of values. He said we spend so much time debating what we don’t agree on and what separates us. We need to claim the space of the truth that we share rather than arguing about that which we don’t, he exhorted. And he very pointedly said: If we have the same parent, which is God, then we are brothers and sisters in Christ—we are family.
Here is what I know about family. I am bound to mine, whether I agree with them on everything and whether I like their actions or attitudes in any given moment. Our identity as a family is more than whether we think alike or vote alike…which, believe me, we do not! Our identity comes from a history we share, from a lineage of which we are a part, and from a fundamental commitment to what family means and does. My mother has instilled deeply in each of us that we have a responsibility to one another. Family shows up for each other. They love one another in spite of whatever has happened, not because we have earned it. They help each other out. Yes, healthy families have healthy boundaries and hold one another accountable for behavior, but they do not write each other off. It gets complicated and messy at times, but at the end of the day, we are family. We sit at the table, we share a meal, we tell stories, we believe the best about each other, and we are there for one another. It is our love and commitment that holds us together, not our agreement on everything we think and believe.
In all the news stories and commentary on the Judicial Council, the most profound for me was the picture of Bishop Oliveto greeting the woman who had filed the complaint. When asked about that moment, Bishop Oliveto said she had never met Dixie Brewster, yet because she believes that our fundamental value as Christians is that God calls us to love, she was compelled to reach out to this person who sees the world so differently. That is what a revitalization of relationships looks like.
At our training on dialogue, we watched a portion of a TED Talk by Elizabeth Lesser: “Take the “Other” to Lunch.” In our divided world, let’s make a commitment, she says, to take someone who thinks completely differently than we do to lunch. Isn’t there something about eating a meal together that builds relationship? She offers some guidelines for the conversation: Don’t persuade, defend, or interrupt. Be curious and engage in genuine conversation. Start by sharing a life experience. Ask each other, “What issue are you deeply concerned about and why?” And then discuss the question “What did you always want to ask someone from the other side?” See where the conversation leads you. This, too, is a revitalization of relationships.
Finally, the most powerful lesson of the day, comes from a Heineken commercial. Seriously, Heineken teaching the world how to build relationships! Shouldn’t that be the role and work of the church? But nonetheless, it was profound. When we work together, and build relationships, we discover what we have in common and begin to see others as people, beloved children of God, and that is how we find our way forward. It keeps us at the table, and we build a strong community and world.
The disciples are fishing to no avail. Jesus tells them to try the other side of the boat, and when they do, there are so many fish they can hardly haul the net in. And before doing anything else, he says to them, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21).
Well, church, maybe it is time to try to the other side of the boat. What we need is a revitalization of relationships and a revolution of values. So, who are you taking to lunch?
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church