NOTE TO READER: This week’s Denim Spirit is a redeux of last Sunday’s sermon, suitable for secular publication
Open the Bible and from the very first chapters we discover an argument (two competing versions of creation, for example). Like a curmudgeonly old couple who cantankerously grump back and forth, the multiple voices of the Bible bicker through a thousand years and 785,000 words. The Hebrew text and New Testament were written and edited by a multiplicity of hands without much effort to harmonize all the variety. But in later centuries considerable effort was made by churches to blend the multiple antagonistic perspectives and obvious contradictions.
From the beginning, theologians imagined they could systematize the diversity of thought in the Bible. Like driving a team of horses, they actually thought they could make all those ancient voices behave – but not so much. The Bible is full of unruly kids that don’t do what they are told, and in that scrum of tangled beliefs are a host of conflicting perspectives. That is just like us.
Any human relationship can strain like the bruising of hamstrings that won’t stretch further. Sometimes we simply have to turn away from those we love – a parent, sibling, spouse, friend, or neighbor. Sometimes they will not change with us and then judge us harshly for continuing to change when they have refused. Sometimes it may be us who are left behind because we will not accept a change that others have evolved toward.
Sometimes a schism between people comes about because of things done or left undone which cause us to lose trust, respect, or simply the will to reconcile. I am not someone that believes all fractures and conflicts can or should be reconciled. As is so often quoted from Maya Angelou these days, when people tell you or show you who they are, believe them the first time. When people have acted poorly toward us, and it has happened more than once, then we need to adjust our expectations and accept what they are telling us about who they are. Then we can decide the appropriate distance we need to keep between us – which does not mean we need to hate, fear, or be mean to them. Simply, that we do not wish to make ourselves vulnerable to them again.
But there is another kind of fracture, the kind between people who love each other yet hold between them a value conflict – a value they do not share. That is the kind of conflict that burns in the Bible between competing perspectives.
A value conflict between those who love each other does not resolve, narrow, or soften. Rather, we must live with the pain between us even though it is a cut that does not heal. We cannot and should not give up a value for someone else. Rather, we are left to acknowledge it; to be as clear about it as we can; to understand it as best we are able; and then simply hold the distance, and difference, between us.
Learning to love around a basic value conflict requires an artfulness and elasticity some people do not come by easily – and no one embodies completely. Learning to hold one another even as we hold opposing values is the mark of both spiritual depth and emotional maturity – for individuals and communities.