Need of you, need of me

Before focusing on those controversial issues of the day, this edition turns our attention to the most important issue of this and all days: the people Jesus loves.

Consider one person you know who fits into that group: a grandparent — your own — or an aunt, uncle or older neighbor.

Do you care about her? Does he matter to you? Or have you written her or him off, or by the same token, written yourself off? Have you said, either out loud or by passive-aggressive silence, “I have no need of you,” and/or, “You have no need of me”?

This issue of the magazine highlights the present or upcoming life-stage of the grandmas or granddads. They — specifically, those in their retirement years — represent fully half of the members of the PC(USA). Do they matter to you?

What troubles me so much these days is the frequency with which I hear colleagues and friends saying to one another, either out loud or by passive-aggressive silence, “I have no need of you,” and/or “You have no need of me.”

Those words are being expressed most explicitly by those who, having entered “a season of discernment,” are contemplating or have already decided to separate from the rest of us.

It’s also declared implicitly but just as loudly by those who — convinced of the need for the church to redefine family structures — demand that the rest endorse their proposals without delay and add, at least implicitly, “like it or leave.”

The spring 2012 edition of Insights, the faculty journal of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, takes up the subject of church division, naming it as a “bad spirit” that “has risen among us.” It speaks penitently in the words of President Ted Wardlaw, “If ‘a bad spirit has risen among us,’ that spirit dwells within me, too.”

Tom Currie, dean of the Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary, concurs by echoing the response of G.K. Chesterton when asked in a symposium “What’s wrong with the world?” His response: “‘I am.’”

Currie adds, “Our sinfulness perverts not by making us vicious little sinners but by blinding us to the consequences of our own ‘principled’ action.”

The antidote? “The church,” which Currie points out is really hard to love. “It is so easily despised, especially for its manifold shortcomings, its weak and timid witness, its halting and vacillating call to discipleship, its own failure to live out what it professes. … But,” he counters, “the mystery of the church is that Jesus Christ loves the church.”

Of course, it’s not just the PC(USA) that the Savior loves. None of us is so foolish as to equate the capital-C Church with this particular segment of it. Jesus has united himself to the whole company of redeemed, the catholic community of the elect, the worldwide family of the faith — in all of its expressions.

But one important aspect of that company/community/family is that its members care for one another. As Currie puts it, “the church in its life and witness is the joyfully embodied affirmation that at the heart of reality we are not alone; that we belong to one who has claimed us and called us into a co-humanity, a fellowship, a life together that in its deepest sense is a communion.”

That grandmother or grandfather in your life understands the need to know that kind of communion. Some are finding it in a faith-based retirement community, where commonalities are treasured and differences make for interesting topics of conversation. However, most residents in those communities, understanding their own vulnerabilities a bit better than we young-uns, know better than to say to their debate opponents, “I have no need of you” or “You have no need of me.” Perhaps grandma or granddad still could teach us a thing or two.

JHH

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