Formula of Agreement

I spent the last two days with representatives from our formula of agreement denominations: The Presbyterian Church USA, the ELCA Lutheran Church, and the Reformed Church in America.

The original documents that we signed 20 years ago asked us to affirm and admonish one another in Christian love. It was mentioned that it is now counter-cultural to say that our differences are not dividing us.

There is a tendency today, often encouraged by the larger narrative of our culture, to work hard to identify significant differences between us.  These could be the result of gender binaries, religious beliefs, racial identities or political orientations. Recognizing these differences becomes the first step in objectifying the other, creating what becomes a distance few bridges can span. The pressure to establish an identity that binds you to one group while separating you from all others has grown enormous.

What results from this is the fracturing of human community. None of us is served well by this. What can feel like pride of self and in an owned identity becomes the foundation of division from and fear of the other. This is learned behavior, and it arises from deep feelings of insecurity. It erodes the fabric of human community that is so essential to spiritual health and wholeness of both the individual and the community.

Everything I know and have learned about the abiding Spirit of the Jesus I worship leads me to believe that at the core of his message was a call to see the other as whole. Those whom his culture had been taught to hate, to fear, to shun or to shame became the direct object of his loving embrace. Lepers, sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, the lame, the Samaritan – all were part of the human waste that the religious and political elite cast aside. They were the detritus flung aside by the mores and mandates of the culturally acceptable – and precisely to whom Jesus turned his loving gaze.

Those whom we categorize as enemy, as diseased, as unclean, as unworthy or as impure, these are precisely the ones Jesus asks us to see as intimate members of the family of which we are a part. It is a counter-narrative that stands in direct opposition to the way the powerful want and need us to distribute our loyalty. The act of separation from another for whatever reason might feed an internal need or desire to be perceived as better than; but it erodes our spiritual wellbeing and distances us from precisely those whom God has called us to love and be loved by.

Formulating an agreement with Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Reformed Christians may not be seem to be such a big deal. After all, its Christians getting along with Christians.

Nonetheless, it matters. It helps rewrite the narrative. Every label we attach to our identity can be, and is often, used as a means of defining the circles in which we gather. Going beyond the limits of our labels and cultivating relationships with those who see the world differently is an act of rebellious love; and exactly what our hearts need and the world’s hope depends upon.

Gentle traveler, your pathway will always take you into places where you will encounter the strange and the stranger – those whom your eyes and your heart have been conditioned to see as alien and foreign. Look beyond the differences. See what the Creator saw in fashioning every child. Come to know the joy of hearing a new story and seeing from a new perspective. Expand your horizon and open your heart. See in the stranger not an other, but another – another fellow traveler with hopes, dreams, and fears and as in need of love as you are. Surprises await you on this, your journey Into the Mystic.