Friday, January 25, 2013

I may be wrong

A young mother named Jane knelt at the communion rail with her toddler, Daniel, beside her. I placed the bread in her hand, saying, “The body of Christ, given for you” and then I blessed Daniel. As I moved on, I watched out of the corner of my eye while Jane broke the bread and gave a little piece of it to her son. I stopped in my tracks and returned to her. While she was still kneeling at the rail, I leaned down and whispered in her ear with a tone of righteous indignation, “That is not allowed in the Lutheran Church.” And that’s the last time Jane ever worshiped with us.

I was 20-something years old and had just graduated from seminary, where I learned the rules about what was and wasn’t done in the Lutheran church. Rules like the one that said no one could commune before fifth grade, and you had to go through a class first.

Now, those of you who know me best are probably shocked to hear that I would have done such a thing because I’m almost militant now about everybody being welcome at the Lord’s Supper -- no matter who they are, what they’ve done, what their age -- no questions asked, no one is turned away. What happened? Well, the short story is that when I was younger I put doing the right thing above doing the loving thing. And those were the rules, doggone it. But I’ve changed my mind. I was wrong. I don’t care what the rules were, I should never have done that to Jane and her son.

I changed my mind. I was wrong. When’s the last time you said that? Some people have no difficulty saying those words and others have never uttered them in their entire lifetime. Even when it’s obvious that they’re wrong, they can’t bring themselves to admit it. And they certainly don’t allow themselves to be changed by their experience. This a huge impediment to the spiritual life. A big part of growing in the faith is being able to change your mind and admit that you were wrong.

Those who are truly open to the guidance of the Spirit approach life with a sense of open expectancy. Rather than resist transforming moments in their lives, they expect them. They are always open to the possibility that they may be changing their mind and admitting they were wrong. 

I remember how my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, had taken the position of excluding people living in committed same-gender relationships from serving in ordained ministry. After studying the issue, and praying for the Spirit's guidance for years and years, we came to a time when we corporately confessed: We changed our mind. We were wrong. 

I was at the churchwide assembly where this all came down. After it did, our synod's bishop met with a group of pastors in attendance to talk about how this would impact our ministries in the parishes where we were serving. (I was in one of the few congregations in the North Carolina Synod where there would be celebrating.)

A pastoral colleague who had been diligently working for several years to start a new mission church with a large number of African American members was in tremendous turmoil over the churchwide decision. I think it's safe to say that she was against the change. She told us that she was afraid to go home, afraid that her people would never accept this, and afraid that all her hard work will have been for naught. When she described what had happened for her people, she said, "It's like their whole world has been turned upside down."

Wow. As soon as she said it I thought of a verse from the book of Acts. That's exactly what people were saying about those very first Christians who went about proclaiming the gospel of Christ: "These people have been turning the world upside down..." The gospel has a way of doing that, doesn't it? It turns our world upside down. And just when we think we may have it right-side up again, the Spirit reminds us that we may be wrong about some things and we've got some mind-changing to do. And, once again, our world is turned upside down. 

I've been so wrong about so many things in my life, and I suspect I still am. And every time I find myself having one of those Duh! moments when I wonder how I could ever have been so mistaken, something inside me grows. It's like knocking the sides out of the tiny little box I was living in and discovering a world so much grander than I had ever imagined.

World-flipping, transformative experiences have happened so often for me that I've grown to expect them.  I've learned that not only is it okay for me to be wrong sometimes, it's necessary. At least I think it's necessary. But I may be wrong about that. 

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