We’re Left with Y

Recently I’ve been going back through a series of articles I wrote early in my ministry here at Marshfield Christian Church. Some of those articles have needed some updating to address the progress we’ve made as a community of faith in the past six years since they were originally published. We’ve again reached the end of the series, and as I have read and reflected on these words, I find them to be as appropriate for us as they were years ago.

So, without further ado, I offer you the final in our series of articles about our church using the vowels as our inspiration. So far we have talked about the importance of having a vision for the church, knowing what we’re about; how important it is that we be focused on evangelism; the power of following through on our goals with intention; the essential nature of outreach into our community and the world; and the need to be identifiable to others.

With A, E, I, O, and U under our belts we’re left with Y, the “sometimes vowel.” Although “Y” may only be a vowel sometimes, it is possibly the most important letter for us to consider as we think about our life as a church. Y stands for you.

Each person in the life of this church is of special importance. Each one of us is the “most important” person to God, each and every moment of every day. That’s an amazing thing. To be at the top of God’s list is cool. But, before we get too excited about being number one, let’s remember that there is no number two. None of us is any more, or any less, important than anyone else. That can be a hard thing to wrap your mind around, especially having grown up in a culture where there are defined winners and losers, and where tying is considered only a slightly more palatable way of losing.

I grew up believing, and still believe, that I was a winner, with unique talents and gifts. Several years ago, I learned that being unique didn’t make me more important than anyone else. While working as an engineer at a radio station, I was the one they called when something went wrong in the wee hours of the morning. Over the years I had rewired and fixed so many pieces of equipment that I was the only one who really knew how everything was (or wasn’t) connected. Slowly, over time, I had come to believe that I was irreplaceable, that the station would be lost without me. I began to believe that my special knowledge of the station, my gifts and talents made me somehow “better” than anyone else.

Then God’s call to ministry became irresistible. I knew at the core of my being that I needed to go to seminary. So, what did I do? I chose the seminary that would allow me to keep my job at the radio station, to maintain my sense of importance, while studying for a career in ministry. Well, it didn’t take long to realize that I needed some practical experience to go along with my education. I began looking for a job in ministry, and after being accepted to a position, began training my replacement at the radio station. I
came face-to-face with the fact that I wasn’t irreplaceable.

The radio station is still running fine, years after I’ve gone. Does that mean I wasn’t important? No. I was an important part of that organization. But, I wasn’t more, or less, important than anyone else. Likewise, each and every one of us is important to the life of this church; but, not more, or less, important than anyone else. I, for one, am thankful for that!

Understanding Uniqueness

As we continue our way through the vowels, we have made our way to “U” and the idea of uniqueness. I do believe that Marshfield Christian Church, and the Disciples of Christ, has a unique role to play in the religious landscape of North America and the world. We are a movement that seeks wholeness and welcome for all people. And, we are a movement that has at its foundation restoration and reformation. For all these reasons, and for many more, the Disciples are my chosen home. And I can’t help but think we have a unique and engaging witness to offer Marshfield and the world.

But, there are some inherent difficulties with uniqueness as well. When I first talked about uniqueness in 2008, I used the analogy of ice cream. I argued that we are not called to be a “plain vanilla” church that is palatable to everyone, but doesn’t have much flavor. I don’t know that I would choose the same imagery today. It doesn’t seem to have the depth that the concept of uniqueness requires.

So, let me try to explain our unique position by using two other words, Unity and Uniformity. Unity has long been called the “polar star” of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We have strived to live up to the idea that we find unity in the essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and in all things, love. But what is essential? What is not essential? And how can I love someone who is so obviously different? I think we should take Jesus as our example.

Jesus was, and is, united with God. As he tells Phillip in John 14:9,” To see me is to see the Father.” And yet, Jesus is not the same as God, the Father. Jesus is united with God, and yet unique. I mentioned one of my friends who has autism in my last article. I am careful not to call him “autistic” because that implies that his autism completely defines who he is. It doesn’t. It has been said (and my experience proves the point) that if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism… People with autism are not uniform, they are each unique and loved children of God.

We simply cannot stereotype people for any reason. Because all stereotypes are offensive, whether they focus on a medical condition, race, hair color, gender, or anything. People are more complex than stereotypes allow. The same is true, I believe, of churches. Because churches are really communities of people with their unique experiences, backgrounds and belief systems, churches are really much more diverse than we often think, or give them credit for.

As we live into our calling as a community of radical welcome, we will be forced to deal with our differences while focusing on what unites us, our common faith in Jesus Christ. That is our unique place in the world. But, a community of radical welcome is neither easy, nor is it comfortable all of the time. Sometimes our uniqueness, our individuality, our very being, will rub up against someone else with a very different way of being.

And there will be conflict. I can assure you of that. There will be times where we get angry with one another. And that is good and healthy. It’s how we handle that anger that matters most. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry.” (Ephesians 4:26ff – The Message). I am excited to see how God continues to work in and through our lives as we are transformed into a unique, and united community of faith where all people are welcome to seek after the Living God.