8th Letter: Prelude to Lausanne

I am currently sitting in my apartment in Cape Town, South Africa where I am attending the Lausanne Global Congress on World Evangelization. I am wanting to blog some of my thoughts about the congress ….. but I think that sharing my letter to the North American church that I prepared for the 8th Letter conference may be a good prelude. The 8th Letter conference was in the spirit of Jesus’ seven letters to the seven churches given through the apostle John in the book of Revelation. Several speakers were invited to come together and share in 15 minutes or less their letter with the church of today. If you are interested in hearing recordings of the other speakers, please go to this link. My letter came out differently than what might have been expected. Some people expected that my letter would basically be “start really loving gay people you stupid church people”. Now there are times I have thought along those lines, but if I had focused my letter in this fashion it would have only served to perpetuate the polarity and ghettoization of a particular group of people. I have always had the conviction that if the church was actually being the church I would be out of a job and there would be no need for advocacy. So my letter was focused on my overall longing for the church to come into the fullness of her calling – in part by recognizing some of the ways that we fail to fully embrace the reality of being ministers of reconciliation. The other surprise for me was that the letter came to me in a poetic voice. I don’t consider myself a poet – and given the amount of teaching and speaking I do, my default position is prose-heavy. What I think is delightful about the letter coming out in more of a poetic voice is that poetry can, at times, by-pass our heads and connect in a deeper place in our being. When I was interviewed about the letter, I was asked what I hoped people would think about after hearing it. My response was to suggest that I hoped they didn’t think too much …. but rather allowed the poetic voice to penetrate some place beyond words, beyond our propositions and ideas, and rather to connect to a deeper place where God stirs and unsettles and births new things. Thinking is an important thing – and I’m afraid we have often forgotten how to really think – and we instead allow leaders and experts to think for us. But there is also a danger of getting stuck in our heads, in the world of philosophy and theology, ideas and principles, and in the process our deepest gut can remain complacent and apathetic. So, it seemed to me, that part of receiving a poetic letter was about being catalytic in a different way. The other thing that struck me as I was birthing this letter (seriously, I think I gestated on this puppy for months before it actually came together – and then when it did, I finished it in a few hours), was that it emerged as a mother’s voice. I think this is significant. I know Peggy Campolo has been known to say to her husband Tony when he argues that the early church fathers were consistently opposed to homosexual behaviour, “And where were the early church mothers?” Indeed, the voices of women have been so often marginalized in the church. But rather than a feminist voice rising up …. it seemed to me to be the voice of a mother. Now I am a mother – I have three children. But it wasn’t about me. It was both the nurturing and firm voice of a loving mother. As for my voice, it was critical to me that the entire love letter / lament was written in the spirit of “we”. I am part of the church. Her joys are my joys. Her pain is my pain. Her failings are my failings. Though the letter is a lament – it is not a finger-wagging scolding. It is a love letter of identification. All of this is not only important to preface the letter itself, but it is important for the subsequent blogging I will do about Lausanne. It sets the stage for the joys and challenges I am experiencing here in Cape Town. So ….. here is my 8th letter: My friends who gather in the name of Jesus the humble One….. Oh how I love you. I love your devotion, your worship your prayer. I love your compassion, your concern and your care. I love your celebrations and moments of joy. I love you because we are one. I love you with your blindspots. I love you with your passions. I love you with your half-assed and misdirected efforts. I love with you with your fearful strivings. I love you because we are one. Across the differences that mark the Body of the striped and wounded One, oh how I love you. Through crisis and tumult, factions and fighting…. I love you. Through dogmatic certainties and defensive posturing – I love you. Through divisions, alienation, inequities and injustice …. I love you. I love you because we are one. I love your dreams, your surrender, your service. I love you in your decline, your revitalization, your new initiatives. I love you with your professionalized shepherds. I love you with your programs and strategic plans. I love you with your huge buildings and budgets. I love you because we are one. But oh how this love slays me. It cuts. It groans like a volcano waiting to erupt. This love pulverizes triumphalistic expectation for transforming prosperity. Such love is raw. No niceties here. No please & thank you. No limp-wristed handshakes. This love is pain and this pain is love. Such paradox, my friends, is the tension in which we are called to live, to hunker down and make our home. But we don’t want to. We don’t want pain. We don’t want paradox. We don’t want conflict – even as we cause and create it. We want…. we demand resolution. We grab for our certainties requiring the conformity of all others who come through our doors. Our systematizing elevates closing the logical loop and suffocates glorious mystery. Our bifurcated days and bifurcated hearts consternate and call for perceptions of hypocracy. We, my beloved friends, have missed the mark. Our arrogance rarely leaves us. We sanctify our colonizing tendencies calling it discipleship, blind to our own exclusionary demands of assimilation. “Become like us” We argue ad nauseum and in our loveless debates trample the lives of the real people the issues affect. We fixate on sin and forget the words of the Master – without mercy our sacrifice is useless. Our cynicism dries up our gratitude and we audaciously demand more intense experiences. My beloved friends, we have missed the mark. No one likes to be told they’ve been patronizing, but my friends how condescending we have been….. across the street, across the country, across the globe. Our oblivion to the domination and power plays of our majority privileged status render us oppressors of the invisible kind. And we say, “Who us?” We respond to the prophet from the margins with our power of cash and programs – failing to receive the exposure of our own impoverishment. Oh my friends, we have missed the mark. We talk with clever words of revelation and inerrancy and authority as we make an idol of literal text. We hold conferences and workshops and go to seminaries and we learn so much our cognition thwarts the connectivity of imagination and spirit. We strain to engage story, to glimpse living exposition. But my friends, we miss the mark. We capitulate to compartmentalized and virtual encounters and struggle to enter the chaotic, intimate realities of community. We perpetuate favouritism and dishonour courageous difference. Our privatized lives open doors for hidden escapes. Our addictions and consumptions dull our minds and deaden our spirits. Our aloneness drives us to up the ante on risk and recklessness. Our houses are big, our homes are few. Our world, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we till pays the price. Oh my beloved friends, how we miss the mark. We preach on grace but live in fear. We teach Trinity but Sybel-like split God. We reach the lost but project our parched anxieties. Beloved ones we miss the fullness of love. Clanging gongs. Crashing cymbols. What will enlarge our receptivity? Our capacity? Our generosity? Our posture in weakness, humility, powerlessness…… This love is pain. This pain is love. Come, make your home in this tension ….. this place of Incarnation. Heaven meets earth, earth meets heaven. Poverty meets wealth, wealth meets poverty. Exclusion meets inclusion, inclusion meets exclusion. Injustice meets justice, justice meets injustice. Doubt meets truthfulness, truthfulness meets doubt. Fear meets hopefulness, hopefulness meets fear. In these spacious tension-filled places listen for whispers, look for glimpses, sniff for fragrance. Let eyes meet, gazes locked. Seeing anew, crossing borders, singing new songs. Embracing suffering. Inviting obedience. Embodying shalom. Humanity meets God. God meets humanity. The fullness of love. -WG

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