It’s the weekend at “Phase 1,” and we’ve got some down time as a class. I’ve really enjoyed the time to stop and have one-to-one conversations with folks – getting to know them, pick their brains, and listen to their stories of calling. It’s what I enjoy about ministry, and honestly, it’s been super-inspiring and life-giving for me. I can’t help but think….“this is what it truly means to be church.”
I headed out on a run along river in Columbia, SC this morning with some of my classmates, and one of them talked about her experiences within the United Methodist Church. The big topic in the UMC these days is the issue of homosexuality, and she simply commented, “It’s just really sad and frustrating how mean and hateful people are in the whole conversation…..all we do is fight, and honestly, I think that’s what’s killing our church.”
As an ELCA-Lutheran who was around for our similar discussion in 2009, I get that. And today, the way we talk to each other over disagreements is simply no better. Whether within the denomination, with other Christians, or with people of other faiths (or no faith at all)….all we seem to do is fight. You could make the case all we do is talk about other people rather than with them.
We talk about them – people who are different from us, people who differ in opinion, and we make all sorts of statements. And while I could go on and on about what they are, the simple fact is this: we fight, and when we fight, we tend to dehumanize other and ourselves in the fight.
This first week of Phase 1 we’ve been talking a lot about what our role as Navy Chaplains to people who fight and are affected by wars. As war gets more and more technological, and we distance ourselves from witnessing killing (don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes no longer applies), moral numbing is happening in our service members, and it’s leading to trauma (PTSD) that has damaging effects long after they return home. And in my thoughts this week, I wonder what does it mean for us to wage war….to fight, but to do so with honor. What does it mean to fight with honor?
War and fighting is a reality in our world. We can’t avoid it, no matter how much we hate that it exists (and I do hate that war exists in our world). And fighting exists in the church and our communities of faith too in the same way. And I wonder if we shouldn’t be thinking so much about how not to fight….but rather, how do we fight with honor?
Honor for me is preserving humanity – both your own and your “enemy’s.” In war, we aren’t just killing an image on a screen, a target in our sights, but rather we are taking human life. And while I hate that our people have to do that – it’s an unavoidable reality that war brings. What’s important is that we keep in mind we are taking a human life – and we acknowledge that causes conflict in us. It isn’t good. It’s horrific in fact. We keep this in mind so that every time the button gets pushed, the order given, the trigger pulled, that decision isn’t made lightly, and it’s not celebrated. In doing this, we preserve our own humanity as well. We fight with honor.
What if we did the same thing in how we fight in the church. We fight over issues of all kinds – doctrine, social justice, ministry, etc. We can’t avoid it, no matter how much we hate that it exists. In fact, maybe fighting is good for the church, because it’s in that struggle God can speak a word of redemption to us…a word of grace that speaks new life and salvation for the world.
But we fight preserving humanity. We don’t dehumanize people with our weapons of words. Every time we think, speak, or write, we do so with great care, and when we know our words might hurt others, we don’t express them lightly, and we don’t celebrate them. And in doing so, we preserve our own humanity as well. We fight with honor.
Blessings to everyone on the rest of their weekend…..look for more thoughts from the #nuclearchaplain mid-week. There’s just so many good thoughts coming out of my training here….and this is the gift of being a multi-vocational pastor brings. God is good!