God is Doing a New Thing: Getting Started with our Transitions

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. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.
– Ephesians 4:26-27 (The Message version)

In her prize-wining novel “Gilead” Marilynne Robinson tells the story of fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that rage in their hearts, battles that can also exist in our hearts, even in the heart of a church. In the words of three generations of Congregationalist (now called UCC) family members, she writes:

“In a spirit of Christian forgiveness very becoming to men of the cloth, and to father and son, they had buried their differences. It must be said, however, that they had buried them not very deeply, and perhaps more as one would bank a fire than smother it.

They had a particular way of addressing each other when the old bitterness was about to flare up. ‘Have I offended you in some way, Reverend?’ my father would ask.

And his father would say, ‘No, Reverend, you have not offended me in any way at all. Not at all.’ And my mother would say, ‘Now, don’t you two get started.'”

Today, in a culture where Republicans and Democrats are seen as too stubborn to resolves their differences (this time, it’s the budget), I long for that kind of resolution. But is resolution of differences, not to mention reconciliation, actually possible? And if it is, just what, I wonder, will it take? What will it take for our country or our churches or our families to “get to yes” – if not agreement, then at least some kind of mutual respect for one another, as children of God?

Families are the best place to start with resolving differences respectfully, and yet, as Marilynne Robinson reminds us, we really don’t want to get started. You see, if we got started, we would have to change the way we relate to each other – parent to child, sibling to sibling. If we got started, if we began to practice ways of expressing with respect how we think and feel about issues that matter to us, especially issues of the heart, we would have to live our lives differently. If we got started, we would have to learn to say to our loved ones things like, “When you said that, it hurt my feelings. When you did that, it made me angry. May I tell you why?” And they would listen, truly listen to us. And we would listen, truly listen to them. And surely, God would smile on us all.

I long for the day when the phrase “burying the hatchet” does not mean someone is thinking half-way seriously about burying that hatchet in someone else. I long for the day when I can more easily, more honestly and more safely express my thoughts and feelings. Life is too short, and as person and priest, I long for kinds of behavior that are life-giving, rather than death-dealing.

Getting started is, I believe, exactly what families – including church families in transition – need to do. But how do we do that? How do we start to get started, so we can live together in something that resembles harmony more than discord? What are the “baby steps” on a spiritual journey to reconciliation?

At the church I serve we’re starting to get started in some weekly, 30-minute informal sessions called “God is Doing a New Thing: Transitions at All Saints.” Through Sunday, August 29, after the 8 am and 6 pm services, feel free to join us upstairs in the Parish Hall for some good, healthy conversation. Or just come, sit and listen, truly listen.

At one of last week’s sessions we “got started.” Someone took a risk and expressed some anger at a church leader, in an honest, respectful way. I was not the leader, but even if I had been, I would still applaud that person’s courage, as I did. In the words this church member spoke, there was no hint of revenge or resentment. There was simply the speaking of one’s truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). I think I can safely say that the courageous person who spoke did not go to bed angry. I’ll go even further: God rested a bit better last Sunday night, as well.

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