Objectives are as diverse as you can imagine. Baking cakes, designing a building, walking around Australia.
Agreements are just as varied. Agreeing that cake is cake, that gravity exists….
Using a hockey team as an example – a hockey teams usual objective is to win games. It is not an agreement per se. You can’t agree to win a hockey game. You can agree to try. A game of hockey is a physical, skill-filled sport. The 22 or so players don’t run onto the field and stand in the positions and agree that this is a hockey game. Its not designed to be rigged. The victory is competed for, its worked towards during the game.
Yes, they agree to the rules, and their positions. There are agreements all through the structure of the sport. But there is that overall common objective. Competing. Its natural, it’s built into the game.
A business comes together with an objective. For example a butcher sells meat. The butchers don’t arrive at a corner place, sit and point at the meat and murmur – “that’s meat” or “we have a shop”. Things go on in their day to be able to sell meat. Agreements are made in the shape of prices of meat, rent amounts and shift times. But the common objective is meat.
It makes sense. The agreements uphold the objective. The agreements are only there so that the objective is met.
The church seems to function differently. We hold up common agreements over common objectives. We label ourselves not as “the people who love Jesus and have a heart for heroin junkies” (objectives) or “the men and women of Brisbane who are going to effect change in the government”. We label ourselves to the general public, as well as in conversation – “Baptists, uniting, Methodist, catholic”. Our communities are based on the common agreement that we all believe the same dogma and its different to those others outside. (Some referred to as plebs, others counted brothers and sisters just less so then those congregated inside) We teach our children our belief structure, our thinking systems. We invite only insiders to speak at our churches and events. If we don’t do it vocally or publicly we definitely do it subtly with our actions.
Consequences from such labels are deeply ingrained and sometimes strangely subtle. Hand in hand with nationalism we defend the labels we have on ourselves, some times to the death of good things. Even when the label itself carries good things.
Take the Bosnian war for example, or the strangely similar (in time and social brain wash) Rwandan massacre. In the case of Bosnia, one side under the guise of expansion (and a certain leaders penchant for power) Muslims and Christians, who days ago were neighbours and good friends, exploded into a violent frenzy. In Rwanda it was hutus and tutsis. In both the labels were fought for to the death. In many ways it made sense, it was passionate, the label has hundreds if not thousands of years of history and family ties. In his book Love Thy Neighbour Robert maass describes a man whose good friend was the town doctor.. He treated everyone, orthodox, catholic, muslim, and got along with everyone. And seemingly instantly his friends and family turned into enemies.
We see these common agreements end in conflict in even sports teams. We commonly agree that these sports teams are great. They are better then the other team. I like this band, rock star, movie director. We decide en masse that they are better then others. For good reason too. They make good movies or music that reminds of better times. They win more games then the other teams. But the consequences of these things is as soon as that agreement gets into a battle with another agreement, it is on. Battle ensues. Even I sit in the midst of a war between to ideologies I don’t agree with I am most of the time, pulled into the conflict because I said yes once. Even if I am not passionately nationalistic, if Australia gets pulled into a war I am as well.
At the age of 17 I had grown up, like all Christian kids, in a common agreement. My father was the pastor of a church, I love him, I loved youth group so I learned very quickly how to defend the common agreement I found myself in. When Mormons accosted me at the supermarket, when jehovahs witnesses came to my door, when scientologists stuck things in my hands and asked questions, when my science teacher kicked me out most lessons, I became excellent at battling to the death. Including losing friendships and communities. Some I’m glad, some I was sad, and some stuck it out with me. The would let me argue till I was blue in the face and yell and scream and chuck tantrums. And at the end of these they would still be there, loving me, hanging out.
When we believe something is true or better and we care for people, we go out of our way to try convince people. Convince them that what we have found is better for them. Better for the world. If two ideas come up against each other all hell can break loose. Especially if both people are passionate. Because then the passionate entangle shares an objective – bettering the world or at least being right. But their shared agreement with others, in some way, forces each of them to tear shreds off the other.
Church division, a lot of the time comes out of reaction, defense or offense. Reaction to a truth being taught or believed in that doesn’t gel with what we believe. Defense of a life giving experience that others don’t understand. Or out of offense we run, we divide, we sometimes even destroy out of disgust.
But division isn’t of God. The communal God we follow is completely united, with a common agreement and a common objective. But I would argue that even if the holy spirit came up with an idea that was different to an idea Christ has that their common objective would allow them to find a way or the best way without any disunity.
But that isn’t our way is it? Because we hold our common agreement higher then our common objective. The common objective that we share with our God. The common objective that is designed into the very fabric that keeps us alive – relationship. We need to be right, because if we aren’t right, then we are wrong. And if we are wrong then we are humbled.
PRIDE (in the name of love)
We feel we can be right and pride-filled if its in the name of love right? Because that’s what Christ did. Right?
Christ came as the most humble – a baby. He left humble – a criminal. He came in service and in love, he came submitted to the will of the father, he healed and taught and loved on and hung out with. These are all humble activities. So who are we to be right in pride? Who are we to commit to a common agreement that shields our eyes from the common objective that Christ died for.
A man once asked me if I could ever fight for the position of someone I thought was wrong. It started something big in me. I began to rethink why are argue about football teams that I don’t really follow. Bands that I have no relational connection with who once wrote a good song. Food, drink, clothing, all preferences that I would fight tooth and nail for. What if I could not only agree with some I disagreed with – what if I could fight for them? And by doing so I fight for my relationship with them.
Now bands and food is one thing, what about preferences in worship or missions trips or how we pray? If I like praising Gods name in a simple room with no instruments and that’s how I connect with God the best. Can I also celebrate singing with a whole band, or reciting liturgy? Or do my convictions and favourites force me to either avoid the other places completely or just sit up the back like an immature child and pick apart why a woman pastor is wrong?
I’ve done it. A LOT. And it got me no closer to God, no closer to convincing the world that I am right and the best person ever. And I have missed out on worshipping and praying and learning with and from some of the greatest people I’ve had the honour of being around.
Our common objective is love. Relationship, inclusion, making space for. If our common agreements disagree with that then our common agreements are wrong.
I want to write a lot more about this but I think I will leave it there for now.
If our common agreements – the reason we meet together as a congregations – disagree with Gods objective that he invited us into – to rescue the world, to get us back to holy community, then the reasons we meet together as communities of the faith are wrong and need to be reformed.