Saturday, July 2, 2011

Finding Equilibrium: "rest in one another"


Though it hasn't been updated in a while, this blog seems like the most appropriate place to add my own thoughts to a chain blog that I have been following with great interest on the subject of division in the church. This is the 13th in a conversational exchange that began a few weeks ago. Links to the 12 previous posts, and the rules of the chain blog follow at the end.

First, I wish to say a thank you to all who have come before me - I have gained insight and wisdom from this dialogue. I chose this moment to step in because Andy's post, which discusses how Scripture can guide us in understanding how to live with our divisions, reflects some of my own thinking. I am assuming here that we have all read his posts (see links at bottom), so I will just note in brief that I was particularly drawn in his first post to the citation of the Genesis 3 dialogue between Eve and the serpent as an example of arguing about "what God said". And in his most recent post, he presents the two ways that the New Testament quotes Genesis 15 (in Romans 4 and James 2) to reflect contrasting views of the relationship between faith and works. In summarizing his discussion he suggests that the New Testament presents us therefore with models of how to allow a healthy tension of difference in doctrines. This is what I would like to pick up on.

As a Lutheran, I have been impacted by Bonhoeffer's sense of equilibrium. This word which has been trivialized in contemporary usage could benefit from being recovered in its fuller and more robust meanings. An equilibrium engaged by Bonhoeffer is one that flows out of his dissertational work Sanctorum Communio, which at its heart has much to say about how we reconcile our own personal theologies with community in the church. The key idea here is one of a tension that holds difference in a sustained and sustainable relationship of mutual trust envisioned and emboldened by Jesus' call to live out the gospel witness.

To Bonhoeffer, all things are reconciled in Christ. The desire to cling to one's own ethical and spiritual dilemmas can be a movement away from God (and Genesis 3 is an excellent example of this) when the dilemma prevents us from holding the principle of God's divine grace as our primary and utmost knowledge of God. Christ reconciles all dilemmas for us by putting the 'love of one another' as the model of obedience. We make ourselves over in our dilemmas by submitting to that love, even when such submission involves a painful accommodation of those whom we have been hurt or compromised by.

Bonhoeffer: "Within the community of love, both social and religious, which was originally given, ... the spiritual form (this community of love) and the natural form (the empirical community) are so created that they rest in one another."(1)

In this way I found Jon and Fred's most recent posts compatible with each other. If I may paraphrase them: with Jesus Christ as our absolute center (Fred), we can make an agreement to be in unity (Jon). And Andy has now shown us the ways in which the New Testament calls us into that Bonhoeffer tension in which we "rest in one another."

If I can offer a kind of worldly image of this equilibrium it would be the playground seesaw. When you and your mate sit at opposite ends of the seesaw, you are engaged in a dynamic relationship of ups and downs having to do with having chosen this partnership. There is the capacity for both serving each other in joy and creating cruelty. We can pull ourselves up or push ourselves down with the goal of 'bumping' the other hard on the ground or swinging them uncontrollably in the air, or we can go up and down with a feeling of mutual joy in the ride. We face each other along the device of our difference, we are looking at each other all the time. In fact, it is in the nature of the seesaw that you cannot actually look at yourself or see yourself, but only the other. Then, arguably the greatest joy in the seesaw experience comes when you find that wonderful balancing place, when you both have your feet off the ground and through the careful exertions of the body leaning forward or backward you help to keep yourself and your partner in equality. You are engaged in an action that in some ways defies the natural rhythms of science - and yet the fact that such balance is possible is an expression of the mystery of scientific truths: a metaphysical suspension exists within the hard laws of gravity.

It is this equilibrium that I most yearn for in the church. That sense of mutual trust and balance in dynamic tension, even while holding our own tenets of faith and belief. To be sitting on the same axial point: the traditions and witness brought to us by the authors of Scripture, but doing so through the knowledge and acceptance of differing points of view. One person looks at that axial rod, that long pipe of connection (which metaphorically could be Scripture for instance, or the witness of Jesus) from one point of view, and the other partner looks at it from theirs. When we pull or push hard and 'bump' the other, we become absorbed in our own power. When we suspend our feet and try to 'balance', we surrender that power to the thing that binds us.

There is an important difference between 'balance' and 'harmony'. Balance is exactly this: the tension of things being held in common at equal weights. Harmony is a relationship of mutual well-being, in mutual service. One can have balance without harmony, but one cannot have harmony without balance. Achieving that selfless sense of the desire to be in communion and community is the starting point, accepting difference but acknowledging our common axial focus. From there, harmony is possible, if both parties learn to love the surrender to unity.

It is worth noting that Bonhoeffer himself believed the community could only exist as a collection of individuals: "God does not desire a history of individual men, but the history of a community of men. In his sight, the community and the individual are present at the same moment, and rest in one another. The structures of the individual and the collective unit are the same. Upon these basic relations rests the concept of the religious community and the church."(2)

It is no coincidence that "rest in one another" appears twice in these quotations I've used, though they are from different arguments of the thesis. Bonhoeffer's call for us to rest in one another in Christ, is not just a call to be obedient to the commandment to love one another, but to love one another through our differences. To perhaps even love the tension. Loving the tension is not about the suspense of "who might win", but an expression of companionship which is equal in its difference, a surrender which allows that (mutual) 'feet off the ground' bliss.


(1) quoted in J.W. De Gruchy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1991, p. 59.
(2) De Gruchy, 54.

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Chain blog rules:

1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.

2) Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain”. Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog.

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“Links” in this chain blog:

1. "Chain Blog: Dealing with Divisive Issues Introduction", by Alan
2. “Chain Blog: Dealing with divisive issues starts with love” by Arthur
3. “I am divisive” by Jeremy
4. “Chain Blog: Please agree with me” by Jon
5. “Division and our shared humanity” by Andy
6. “Chain Blog: solving the problem” by Bobby
7. “Divisiveness: Acts 2 & Ugly Carpet” by fallenpastor
8. “Stimulating our Collective Memory” by Trista
9. “No, we can’t just get along” by Alan
10. “Who says we are divided?” by Jon
11. “Disunity and the mind of Christ” by Fred
12. "Cooperative Division: We are united in our division", by Andy
13. This post.
14. You.....?