Mud, Sweat & Tears
Since Sunday, I’ve been approached by some and received emails from others about my message, Mud, Sweat & Tears. I knew that would come, of course, and planned a blog to continue the conversation.
The questions I received were understandable. Off the back of Sunday’s message, I have been asked or told that I’m:
· Pro Socialized Medicine
Some wondered why I’d address such controversial topics. That’s a very fair question. The answer is that I felt led. Over the last few weeks the Spirit wouldn’t let the issue of rights and responsibilities go. I am genuinely burdened by what I see being played out on issues dividing the nation. Convinced that the local church is the hope for the world, I felt led to remind us that mission is an expression of love for the lost and the least. This mission is hampered when we don’t listen to those whose experience may be different from our own.
To get to the issue, I shared four examples of how life in America had impacted me. I shared these stories from the perspective of what is called my "framing story." A framing story affects the way we see the world and engage in it. On Sunday I shared my framing story and some people never got past certain phrases. Many people heard me having a political conversation when in fact I was having a human conversation, inviting all who’d listen to hear my story and engage with a picture of the world I was given growing up.
There’s a reason why I have never before shared my framing story: I didn’t feel I could. I didn’t feel I would be heard or understood. The tide, I believe, is shifting. People across our nation are gaining the courage to share their stories. Even in our own church people are gaining the courage to share the world in which they were born and subsequently formed. Every Monday night at Celebrate Recovery people share their story. They do so, not to point the finger, but encourage the community to engage with them as their formation continues.
That is what I attempted to do on Sunday. Share my framing story on some difficult topics. The last two caused the most concern: guns and health. I didn’t offer any opinions on either issue but simply shared how my Welsh heritage conditioned me to approach these issues in different ways. At the end of the message I shared how it is love that overcomes fear, not courage. Unless we are motivated by love the slightest obstacle – even different opinions and framing stories – could be cause to abrogate our responsibility to care and journey together.
I shared my framing story within the context of Acts 9:36-42. When Tabitha died, the widows cried. I shared my conviction that for the lost, the last and the least to cry over the thousands of churches closing their doors every year in our nation, something has to change. That change, I suggested, could begin with a willingness to put our responsibility above our rights.
This idea led to a number of conclusions being drawn, which I want to clarify in this blog. I’ve heard that I am:
Claim #1: You are anti-firearm.
Someone pointed out that Britain does allow for firearms. That’s true, of course. My point was that I didn’t grow up around guns, know anyone who had one or anyone who hunted with guns. It was a totally foreign idea to me. As far as I knew you couldn’t even hunt with one. That was my experience. That was my world. In the story I told I actually labelled myself a “Philistine” (out of date) and a “hypocrite” of sorts because I ate the meat my friend Jeff hunted! I shared how my wife laughed at me over this! So, no I am not anti-gun but I certainly don’t have experience of any. What is fascinating to me is how many people didn’t pick up this self-depreciating moral. Was it because of the emotion around the debate? Is that the problem, I wonder?
Claim #2: You are anti-constitutional.
Someone claimed that since I noted that the constitution could be changed I believed it should be changed. That’s a really bad argument. I made a factual statement to draw an important distinction. I did say that the constitution could be changed but I also added the words, (and I quote) “however unnecessary it may be.” I made the distinction between the constitution and the Bible not because holding to the constitution and to the Bible are mutually exclusive commitments. No, I drew this distinction in order to challenge priorities. The constitution does, for sure, give us rights. These rights can and should be protected. Acknowledging that if we don’t fight for rights we lose them, I also reminded us that the Bible, God’s unchangeable word, gives us rights too. Specifically, the Bible gives us the right to be called children of God (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1). With this right, however, comes the responsibility to carry our cross, something we do for the sake of others. This takes precedence over rights (see Phil. 2:1-11).
Again, rights and responsibilities are not mutually exclusive. However, the order they take is important, especially in troubling times.
To illustrate this, I had us turn to Acts 16. I was indebted to Pastor Steve Norman for this insight. Instead of lawyering up at the beginning, Paul laid down his rights to protect the fledgling church. Importantly, Paul didn’t abrogate his “right to his rights.” No, he championed his rights later and used them to protect the vulnerable church, by having the magistrates escort him to Lydia’s house.
In light of this, does a Christian lay down his rights? No, we use them to protect the vulnerable. We use them to care. In a desperate situation, Paul flips the script. First caring sacrificially then confronting boldly.
Anyone who’s spent any time in Central will have heard me passionately stand up for the first amendment: the free exercise of religion. I have openly opposed any attempt to redefine this as the freedom of worship. To limit our freedom to the hours of Sunday worship is wrong. I’ve adamantly stood up for rights so I’m certainly not anti-constitutional. I’m just dismayed that the discussion of rights often comes at the expense of a refusal to assume responsibility for others – shown in the first instance by truly appreciating someone else’s experience.
That’s why I shared my stories. It wasn’t to cause concern but to lay the foundation. I’ve been at Central for nearly four years now. My experience on crucial issues is so different to ninety-nine percent of those who call Central home. My experience isn’t right. It’s different. If it’s not possible for Christians to appreciate my story how on earth are we going to appreciate the stories of the lost, the last and the least? The gap between us will grow wider and wider. This threatens the very mission of the church! If people can’t engage with me, how can they engage with the world. I chose two topics. I could have chosen a whole load more: abortion, socialism, capitalism, immigration, refugees, marriage, LGBTQ, etc. How do we care for people whose experience of the world is different from our own? It begins by truly listening and is only possible by making love a motive not a verb.
Claim #3: You are pro socialized medicine.
Again, the story I told did talk about the values of compassion and equality that drove the health care system of my homeland. I missed these qualities when I adopted children out of the foster care system. Was the British health system perfect? No. I shared a painful experience of moving to Germany and undergoing surgery, almost immediately upon arrival. I felt deceived and lied to. It was that German doctor who explained the limitations of the British health system to me. The system was not perfect and is by no means the standard. My point was that, despite all these flaws, I was never made to feel second class.
My challenge after this observation was this: when Tabitha died the widows, the vulnerable, cried. They felt loved enough to go to extraordinary lengths to bring her back. What would it take, I asked, to be cherished like that? It would take love, I suggested.
By no means was I saying that socialized medicine is the way to go. Those of you who are in Central’s C6 groups would have met to discuss the sermon. You would have seen the question that accompanied and qualified this story. The question read: “We can’t care for all needs all the time. Looking at 1 Timothy 5:9–16, noting the list Paul asked Timothy to make, what principles can you add to your ‘”caring list”? What principles can guide your efforts to care in a Christ-like, non-dependent way?”
A look at the text reveals that Paul offered the following eight guidelines for the Ephesian church’s caring ministry:
- DISCERN (v. 3) – listen carefully, asking questions. People long to be heard.
- DETERMINE FAMILY RESOURCES (v. 4) – God has designed His world so that family of origin is the primary source of physical and emotional support.
- ESTABLISH COMMITMENT TO CHRIST (vv. 5, 10) – For continued ongoing support, recipients should have a valid connection to the church.
- DETAIL CRITERIA (vv. 5, 9, 11) – Put into writing the necessary minimum benchmarks for consideration. That helps remove from the table claims of favoritism.
- BE REALISTIC ABOUT EXPECTATIONS (vv. 11-13) – Younger widows remarry and may even do so out of the faith; drug addicts may return to their addictions; someone with a repetitive sin may fall. It is wise to clarify from the beginning the parameters under which aid can be received in a given case.
- RECOGNIZE THAT HANDOUTS ARE NOT ALWAYS HELPFUL (vv. 13-15) – Instead, they may encourage dependent idleness rather than resumption of a responsible life. Idleness is a tool well exploited by Satan.
- ENLIST OTHERS (v. 16)– Churches are blessed with generous members who are privileged to assist in support situations. They find great joy in being used by God. Discourage the idea that the institution itself is to provide all assistance, as if it were divorced from the actual saints who make up its people.
- TEACH AND ENCOURAGE CHRISTLIKE SELF-RELIANCE (vv. 1–16) – The Lord Jesus Christ spent years working as a carpenter with stone or wood. Paul made tents. Lydia dyed cloth purple. From the beginning of creation, God designed work to be part of the fulfillment of mankind on earth. We are called to teach self-reliance that depends on God’s enabling. It is Biblical.
These are Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Handouts aren’t always helpful Paul says. So, there is a balance in the Scriptures. We are to care without abrogating individual and family responsibility. How to institutionalize that is the challenge!
I’m going to wrap this up here. Please do engage me in conversation. These are crucial issues and I’d love for us to continue the conversation.
Thanks for allowing me to serve with you all.