Lead, kindly light
Years ago, I realized that I had a certain talent for destruction, at least of a verbal sort. I could preach, and write, slashingly. I could demolish an opponent's position with flair. But, I thought, that's too easy. And it's not enough.
So I set out to make the effort to describe, in ever-increasing detail, what I was for.
I put my best efforts into explaining the truth as I knew it. I tried to do so as attractively and winsomely as I could, plumbing the depths of the wisdom of God in clear words that a child could understand. I don't know that I always succeeded, but I didn't want to just be an "aginner."
I still believe that it is better to say what you are for
rather than expend all your energy in saying what you are against.
That doesn't mean that I'm not against some things; indeed, being for some things means you are also against other things. But I want to draw people in, not drive them away. Even if they're not within the circle of oughtness that I'm describing, maybe if I present the truth in love, they'll be persuaded to step into the circle instead of stepping away in a huff. Especially in theological, moral, (and political) discussions, I think this is very important.
Now since advocating for
some things inevitably means advocating against
other things, you might think the opposite would also be true. But I find it's not. Many of those whose writing and preaching is full of what they are against never get around to explaining exactly what they are for. And when they try to do so -- are requested to do so -- many of them fail to express themselves clearly. They mumble a few vague cliches and tired slogans, and soon return to the negative. It turns out that they only really knew what they were against.
There are conservative/evangelical/orthodox people who only talk about what they're against. But there are also liberal/progressive/radical people who only talk about what they're against. And all of them just come across as scolds. The scold only sees the enemy he or she desires to assault. That enemy -- which can be a person, a group, or a cause -- has no redeeming features; it must be dug out, root and branch. There can be no treaty with it, no truce; the battle must be joined every single day, without a single nod to the essential humanity of the wicked Other. We are becoming a nation of scolds, I think. It is wearing me out. And if I have sometimes come across that way in the chaos and convulsions of The UMC, I beg your pardon. That is wearing me out, too.
So it was good to sit in church this morning and feel the peace around me. These are good people, in a good place. God is with us. Deanne and I are feeling more at home in this congregation every week, and I am rapidly learning how to belong.
Not the pastor any more, just another believer. And communion this morning was extra sweet, since I missed it last week. God is good. The challenge is fully explaining that goodness. We need to avoid the temptation to dwell upon the dark, except when we must, and then return to explicate and experience the light again. For "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."