Friday, July 22, 2016

Getting Uncomfortable Can Be Good

Last Christmas, my family had the opportunity to join in a tradition outside our own experience. My daughter is in a dual-language program at her school that combines students who are native speakers of both Spanish and English so they can learn from and with each other. One of her friend's family is from Mexico and they invited us to come to their Las Posadas celebration.

Las Posadas is a religious tradition for Mexican Catholics recalling the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and their search for housing along the way. That's about all I knew when we arrived at their house for the celebration and crammed into their crowded living room. We were handed a sheet of paper full of Spanish songs and prayers and without much warning the event began. Various people took the lead with songs and prayers, a young girl and boy dressed as Mary and Joseph moved around the room at certain times, my wife and daughter jumped in easily as they are both fluent in Spanish, and it was clear that for everyone outside my family, the happenings were familiar and meaningful.

But I was lost.

I know enough Spanish to mumble my way through something written on the page and I felt honored to have been invited to what was clearly an important family event, but I spent most of the evening confused, and maybe even uncomfortable.

I've been thinking back to that night in recent weeks as we absorb more stories about the death of black men in encounters with police and now shooters murdering police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. I think about that night as we publicly mourn the loss of lives and ask questions like, "What is happening to our country?" I think about that night as our attempts to seek solutions devolve into more blame, anger, and shouting. I think about that night because perhaps part of what we need to get through these national growing pains and to a better future is to be uncomfortable.

We are in an age where we form opinions hard and fast. We are increasingly isolated from people who are different from us politically, economically, culturally, and racially. It's easy for us to huddle with people who agree with us and never really be challenged in our opinions or assumptions.

And we do the same things at church. We work hard to make churches safe places, friendly places, happy places, and yes, comfortable places. I have many people tell me how church is the place they come to rest from the craziness of their lives or "the world." And to a certain point, that's as it should be, but if we wipe away too much controversy from our churches, they cease to be relevant to the lives we live the rest of the week.

Now we do all this hiding from controversy because it can be uncomfortable to listen to others' opinions and see things from another perspective and no one ever wants to feel uncomfortable or stupid or unsafe. It can often feel all of those things when we have honest conversations across political, economic, and racial lines. But we cannot become a stronger society by one half shouting down the other. We cannot be a better Body of Christ by ignoring the real fears and concerns of our neighbors (many of whom are a part of that same Body).

Church should be a place of hope and love and life. Jesus promises all those things to those who follow Him. But Jesus never promised comfort or ease or safety to his followers. In fact, he says people will hate you (Matthew 10:22, et al.). He says we must lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel and follow him (Mark 8:34-35, et al.).

It was uncomfortable to sit through a Las Posadas celebration that I did not understand, but I loved it. I'm thankful to have been invited into someone else's life. It was helpful to be reminded that my "normal" Christmas may be totally different from someone else's and how we experience and understand the holiday can be colored and shaped by that normal. In the same way, maybe those uncomfortable situations that we (and I confess my own sin in this) avoid can be the seeds for better understanding and real solutions to the social and racial problems that steal from all of us in some way.

In an age of division and public strife, I believe that part of "losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel" is losing some of our certainty in our opinions, losing some of our sense of safety from difficult conversations, and being willing to listen, to learn, and to be uncomfortable. It won't magically solve racism or our nation's other problems, but if enough of us do it together, we can start moving in the right direction.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

“But I will not hide you through this; I want you to help.” -10 Years, “Wasteland”

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