“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”
(Romans 4:20-21, NRSV)
You know that metaphorical idiom: “The elephant in the room.” It speaks to the obvious that no one wants to discuss. These such elephants present themselves in virtually every aspect of human life—the work place, social institutions, family dynamics, and even churches. They also can be found at almost every level, from the most serious, to even the lighthearted. The problem is, wherever and however they exist, by not discussing those things, by not acknowledging their existence, by refusing to name them, we ultimately give those things power over the things we truly want.
I have been privileged to witness and recognize one such elephant that is particularly pertinent at this time in our communal faith walk and journey here at Marble; and that is our church-wide book study of author Gordon MacDonald’s work, Who Stole My Church. Interestingly, this book has generated a wide range of initial reactions, ranging from curiosity to irritation to amusement to even anger. Some of us were unable to put the book down once started, and others of us had to set the book aside after only a few chapters unable to keep reading.
Here is what I have learned in experiencing the many initial reactions to this book both in myself and from many of you … every one of those reactions is valid and relevant. Admittedly, I was surprised at my initial reaction, and I never would have predicted such a range of reactions in others. But I believe each one is a result of combining where we personally have come from, our life’s experiences, the values and lessons we have learned, the particular stage of life we are in, our past and present struggles and successes and failures, our comfort zones, and our likes and dislikes. Wow! That is quite a list. And what’s more, no two of us share the same specifics of that list. With all of that, it should be of no surprise that we have such a range of initial reactions. But more than that, I’m thinking it is actually a good thing.
But it is only a good thing if we do something good with it. What I mean is, we have a choice as to whether our diverse initial reactions become a basis for division and separation, or a foundation upon which to build mutual understanding, dialog, respect, and trust. As a personal illustration, I can tell you that my marriage has benefited more from working thru initial disagreements than it has from the easy walk of shared opinions (I hope Rochelle agrees). From the context of our church, our unique initial individual reactions set us up to respectfully share how we feel, what resonated with us either harmoniously or with dissonance, and the passions and dreams behind our feelings and thoughts. But if you are like me, it can take a bit of conversation before we can really articulate all those thoughts and feelings, not to mention realize and identify what’s really behind them. It is my prayer that our small group discussions of the book provide that safe and respectful place where each and every one of us can engage in such conversation, as well as the invaluable self-discovery and disclosure.
And so, let me encourage you to stick with it. If you were one of the ones who couldn't put the book down … great. If you are struggling with either the book material or the group discussions … push through. The book really does have an amazingly good ending … well worth the journey. But even more, your response to the readings, and to the conversations, is vital to our discerning and realizing the plan that God has for our church and for our individual lives. And I can tell you with unwavering certainty, God has amazing plans for each of us and for this church. That certainty fortifies our faith, convincing us that God is able to follow through on God’s promises; and as such, God is looking for our buy-in. I say, let’s name that elephant, and make it a tool for building trust and strength here in this place. I’m in … how about you?
Blessings and peace to you always … Pastor Bob