“Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.” ~~ 1 Cor 11:19
Red State, Blue State. Latest polling numbers. Romney chooses Ryan—Breaking news! Pick Bump, Attack Dog, Spin Doctors, and Campaign Ads.
I’m already warming up my remote and I long ago quit watching cable news of any type or stripe. If there are factions in the American public concerning our politics, why are we surprised when we discover that divisions prevail inside the hallowed walls of our places of worship?
First, we have a misguided idea that the church is a warehouse for saints. This metaphor is the farthest from reality, for the church is more like a factory that takes raw materials (sinners) and re-processes them over a period of time into a more useful product, “the saints.” Even though we are “saved by our faith in Christ,” our old sin habits remain, and that is the long term work of the factory as the imperfect saints who carry the image of the holy God within them yearn and work to be conformed to the truth of God’s holiness in the entirety of their lives: heart, soul, mind and body. In as sense, we remain in the finishing room of this factory/church until we die. Then God takes us for our final “touch up” into his heaven and we are put into his eternal service there.
The earthly factory that is the church is an odd enterprise, for it’s the body of Christ. It serves the body that lives within the walls of its meeting place, but it also serves the body that hungers, thirsts, is naked, imprisoned, lonely, and oppressed outside of its walls. These saints in process sometimes fall out into factions over the best way to do these things, who should lead them, or what teaching to follow. Sometimes they don’t want to do the work at all. This bloc is the most difficult, for they want to let others work, cast blame on why it isn’t being done better, or done as it was in their day (when things were glorious in the factory and everyone prospered). Of course, they aren’t going to come off Mount Critical to advise or mentor a new generation because that would take time and energy out of their well-earned retirements.
I think of this last crowd as the “surplus saints” who are last year’s model. It’s best if we just ignore their carping, pet them on the head and tell them how wonderful they are and send them off on yet another trip to the local gardens or the museum. Keep them active and busy, but keep them off the working floor if possible, unless they share the vision that God means for us to work for good in his world as long as we live just as he is working for good in all things (Rom 8:28, Eph 2:10).
Paul says that factions show up in a church so that the “genuine will be sorted out.” The ancient farmer separated wheat from the chaff by throwing all of it up into the air. The wind blew away the lighter chaff and the heavier seeds fell to the ground. So also the storms of life come to us as individuals and as a church. If we think of these times of sifting wheat from chaff, separating the true from the false, then we will endure with equanimity the struggle before us. The factions without and within our sacred walls won’t disturb our inner peace.
I have a friend who is stressed over the Muslims attacking the Christians in Africa. She believes that will happen in America and attaches this belief to our current president’s work in opening a dialogue with Muslim countries. I think she is projecting outward her stress that she deals with at home with her bipolar adult son and his wife who are awaiting a long delayed Social Security disability claim. This is her way of diffusing the stress she has to deal with by worrying about something that she can’t do anything about. If she were to step back from her situation, she would realize that she can’t cure his illness, she can’t make the claim come quicker, and if it does come through with a lump sum back payment, her son will not be able to manage the money and will be just as homeless in a year as he was when she and her husband brought them home to live here in Arkansas. He is forty something years old and needs professional help. They can’t see it yet, and so she blames Obama for her lack of inner peace. I don’t think he is the “great Satan” she thinks he is, nor is he the savior of the universe or even a lesser angel. Man or woman alone will not solve the unsolvable problems of this world, whether they be political, religious or social.
In theses storms, we seek a quiet place. Every four years, I have a mute button that works very well. My general rule is the first campaign that throws the first mudball is the one I vote against. It’s already happened, so when the early voting opens, I can get my ballot down and counted. There is a spiritual quiet place that is better than any mute button: it is the place of “being” and “resting in God.” We are such active people; we have goals, to do lists, five-year plans, bucket lists, and planners to organize our lives. We often forget to plan “rest” and “downtime” as if it were a negative quality in our lives. Sometimes we even come to work sick because we are saving our sick days for our kids or because corporate frowns on “illness as weakness.”
If we were to take our calendars and day timers and post regular times for “quiet time with God,” then when someone wanted to schedule that time with us, we could say, “I have a prior commitment. Would the hour before or after be better for you?” The same would hold for exercise, or time with our spouse or loved one or child. What? You don’t keep a calendar? You don’t have a schedule, a routine to your life? No wonder you feel fragmented, “factioned” and fractioned! This is our spiritual practice this week, to set a disciplined schedule for waking and bedtime, for meals, for daily quiet time with God (20 minutes) and for exercise (30 minutes daily). Journal about your experience. Was it difficult to begin, or did you benefit by the end of the week?
As an art project, use the three primary colors, plus black and white. I chose scrapbook paper because I had it handy. I used a large ruler to cut the rectangles and squares with a matt knife. Once I laid out my design, I used scrapbook sticky tape to attach the papers, but you could use glue. Keeping the design in rectangles and squares makes us focus and pay attention to the lines, colors, lights and darks. An hour or two will pass and you will not think of much else but the work in front of you. This is how resting in God feels. Your breathing will be steadier, your blood pressure will be lower as you will feel calmer. (Unless you are that Type A personality that just had to make this a race to the finish in RECORD TIME!! HIGH FIVE!!) The good news is that “God is at work in all of us, both to will and to work for his good purpose” (Romans 8:28).