News from the Pews, Episode 2

Amelia brought a powerful word Sunday. She pointed out that progressives often act ugly toward anyone who dare tolerate a conservative. She spoke of the “woke Olympics” as a contest to see who can be the least tolerant toward those trying to understand justice from a different angle than that of the progressive tribe. She said that’s like the Pharisee praising God that he’s not a sinner. Right on, sister. Glad you said that–it’s helpful.

What she opened for us is a kind of tribalism. Tribalism is nasty, polarizing, and deadly. It’s “us versus them[ism]”. Tribalism causes war. Tribalism perpetuates injustice. Ironically, Jesus fought tribalism and overcame it, and reconciled humanity with God, which was his mission. The unity of humanity is a wonderful result of an idealized and universal Church that we have yet to see, though Acts 2 shows us what it would look like. It is tribalism to which the American political parties beckon their followers, by the way; politics is today a call to love us because we’re all right and hate them because they’re all wrong, and it’s really the antithesis of love. Politics ain’t loving, y’all.

I know. Wow, do I know. One look and you can tell I am an old, white man, and most people assume they know my beliefs. I am a recipient of all kinds of privilege–white, male, heterosexual–you name it, I got it. In a progressive culture, I get no points for paying taxes, staying married, or raising decent kids. No, I start three or four steps back–I start as “them” and so I was told not once but four times last week (musta been my week)!

What you would not know, unless I was feeling particularly scraped dry by those humiliating experiences–dry to the point of what the hell, might as well be vulnerable this week, is how much that hurts. You see, I have a terribly low self-esteem. Janet will tell you that I am a horribly unfair self-critic. Graceful with others, but a junkyard dog with myself. All my early life, and much of the middle, was about trying to perform well enough to be loved, and much of the time, it worked! I thought God loved me because I was good and did good deeds, and was ready to whip my butt if I misbehaved, which are lies from hell. Those of you bitten by the performance bug are nodding and those not infected do not know how lucky you are. My wrongheadedness worked so well that I came to a point where I was unable to express my own feelings because I was so busy trying to feel as I ought to feel to get the person in front of me to like me. Silly, I know, but I still fight it. Like Paul, I know what I ought to do but I don’t do it, and I do what I do not want to do. 

It was only the love of God–unconditional love, really–that broke through and helped me realize the pathetic state I’d wormed myself into. It’s only God’s unconditional love that has me on a road to some kind of recovery, not that I’ve arrived. That’s the power of God you hear me constantly asking about and preaching, the overwhelming love that would accept even one so miserable as…well, as me. The me I really know, the one on the end of so much not measuring up, so much rejection, so much of the crap nobody wants to hear–that one is loved unconditionally by GOD. God unites us all because God loves us all that much, and God included me too. That is the power of God, and it’s pretty dang cool.

We rob God of that power when we make it us versus them. We spread that power when we forgive. We spread that power when we realize that disagreeable people are often just terribly afraid of something, and listen to their fears humbly. An alcoholic friend of mine says she thinks humility is stark, raving honesty. 

Sunday, I was left thinking I might have to resign from the church council because I’m not good enough, (brown enough, female enough, poor enough, I don’t know but it’s not enough). The people just ain’t buyin’ what I’m sellin’, which is a biblically informed brand of specific and accountable spiritual maturity. Most folks prefer the old system where spiritual maturity is vague and apathetic.

I’d love to tell you that I am above the pain of rejection, buuut…the stark, raving honest truth is that rejection is very painful for me. It kind of paralyzes me for awhile like a sting from a jellyfish. It comes out of the dark depths, wraps around, and zaps my soul.

So, I’m down today and yesterday. I’m trying to distance myself from us versus them tribalism. I’m trying to unite people around the vision we claim to have for UBC, and I’m trying to lean on the love of God as the power of God. That’s what it’ll take, you know, the power of God.

I cannot help but think that if we, as a church, could back away from posturing, start claiming the miraculous nature of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit as our own, and could just get hold of how deeply God loves each of us, we might have something that the city would like to join. Shoot, all of us might even start wanting to study the bible together and going to church together, and becoming spiritually mature together.

Your friend,
Jack Allen
Dir. of Spiritual Formation

Comments are closed.