Taking sides and deep breaths

I was getting ready to board my flight home from Raleigh this weekend when an older man walked up to the pre-adolescent boy sitting across from me and started grilling him. He asked the boy where he was from, what school he attended, and what sports teams were his favorite. Turns out the boy was from Kalamazoo and liked both Michigan and Michigan State teams. After hearing this the older man laughed and warned “one day you’re going to have to pick a team. You can’t stay in between forever!” If I wasn’t preoccupied with trying to wrestle our boarding pass out of Zoey’s mouth I’m sure I would have sat there for a while, thinking on how we’ve made this more convenient truth louder than the truth that in our separate identities we are returned to each other.

While it may not be truth, it is true that the major emphasis of our culture parallels maturation and healthy development with creating a self that picks parties or sides. We are taught to be definite and to hold fast to our beliefs with a white knuckled grip. We come to fear the gray and glorify those who make an art of the black and white.

But we are all participating in a world of change. Though it’s been at work for a while now, the last five years have brought us to a head in this transformative process. We’ve seen our politicians go after each other’s throats and we’ve experienced the trickle down effect this is having in our neighborhoods and homes. More and more of us are turning to one another and asking “isn’t there another way to do this?”

The church too is ready to try things in a truer and more cooperative way. We’re not touting this as anything new, ground-breaking, or revolutionary. It’s simply closer to what we were originally called to do.

I was reminded of this again during my weekend in Raleigh where I was with family to celebrate my dad’s installation to the position of Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of New Hope. Beforehand, as my parents told me more and more about the different acts of this service (the brass ensemble, the dancers, the harmonica player, etc…) I jokingly referred to it as Cirque de Sol Ted, but when we worshipped on Sunday afternoon , it was clear that this was not a performance piece. This was a gathering of the talents and treasures of the Presbytery. This was a recognition of the richness in difference. This was communion.

One of the greatest gifts of this service was the sermon by Reverend Elizabeth Michael.  In her message, Rev. Michael reminded the church before her that in the frightening hours after Jesus death, when the disciples hid out in the darkness of an upper room, Jesus appeared, not with a ten-point plan or a five-year development model, but with breath. A breath that would guide and sustain this young church through the challenges to come.  A breath that we still need to take in today.

Between the older man’s misguided words of wisdom, Zoey’s willful advances towards the boarding pass, and the stuffy, dry heat pouring into the one open wing at the airport, I needed some space.  I took off for the much cooler closed end of the terminal, sat Zoey down, and just took some breaths. This was probably one of the more difficult experiences of practicing “slow in rush”, something I’ve tried lately where (as the name suggests) I go against my urge to hurry and instead, slow down when I’m feeling cramped by time. Any airport anywhere is probably a level ten challenge for this kind of thing and in that way it’s a great petri dish for how we operate in the larger world; with little time and limited capacity, our definites and sides are perfectly set up to crash into each other.  Where else are we so focused on getting to where we need to be. Forget the  Smiths who we’ve paged twice for final boarding!! Cut ’em loose!! That 5 PM wedding in Tuscaloosa isn’t gonna wait!

But life is not an airport (and I’d argue that our way of being in airports could use a re-eval too!) and we do have to come together, take a breath, talk, and get to work. I think David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch have some really necessary thoughts and ideas when it comes to getting this work done together through meaningful conversations.

May we come to see the sides we take are all a part of the same body and may we not avoid each other and these necessary conversations but breathe into them with new life and spirit.

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