It Isn’t Quite Right

During the open worship time on Sunday at our Friends meeting, I was wrestling with concerns and ideas, but did not believe that anything I was thinking was intended for the group. I found myself being in a position of “knowing too much”. My upbringing and personal dispositions have prepared me to be a person who is willing to identify needs and to accept responsibility. This willingness makes me a prime candidate for saying yes to invitations for service, and also compels me to volunteer for service before I am asked. Once I accept a responsibility, I am diligent to carry it out. I know that as a result, I am busily involved with the politics of organizations.

I serve as department chair at my University. As such, I have many responsibilities that go beyond what would be expected of a faculty member. I serve on the editorial board of a scholarly journal and am president of an international association of scholar-teachers. In these roles, I am expected to plan programs, lead people, assess efforts and teach others professionals. In my local congregation  I have been active in leadership for several years in varying capacity.

What this context provides for me is an understanding that when I say, “It isn’t quite right”, I am in a position of knowing more than I should about various groups I am a part of. As a result, whether I am dealing with other professors, with university business or with local church politics, I can say, I know too much, and things aren’t quite right.

My realization about things not being quite right does indeed come from my vision of what an ideal organization would be like. The three organizations I mention are all made up of people who are followers of Christ, and I can say with confidence that the actual practice of people in these groups does not measure up to the ideal.

So what? Does it really matter to me that life is less than ideal, that people are less than perfect, that love and respect and servanthood have been replaced by “every man for himself”, “the wealthy and powerful have first crack, they’ve earned, it after all” and “why should I be the one to get involved, it is not worth hassling with”.

I make sense of my lack of response in various ways. For instance, since we are all human and none of us measure up to the fullness of the ideal, I can just learn to live within a comfortable margin of tolerance between what I would characterize as my ideal and what is awful. In this grey, in-between area there are gradations which are less than totally light but light enough for me to be content, and other, darker levels in which I am uncomfortable. If I am lacking courage or energy or focus, I can lower the threshold of acceptability of the environment and say, “yes, I guess this is okay after all.” Or, I can say, “I don’t want to get so single minded that I am unable to enjoy a balanced life that allows me time with my family, some leisure, and the opportunity to continue to grow professionally”. At times, I find myself getting to the edge of speaking out, saying, it isn’t quite right.” And then I wonder, “how will this affect me personally, will my willingness to confront and offend other people bring me discomfort and pain from others whom I choose to challenge.”

I reflect on the people that were featured in the sermon on Sunday. Jesus, Paul, Peter and Martin Luther King Jr. were all killed for taking stands. George Fox suffered at the hands of the church people of his day and was imprisoned for his efforts. Martin Luther was harassed, run out of the church, and had a death sentence pronounced on him. Mother Teresa embraced a life of poverty, and although honored for her efforts at service, was also attacked by others for her attempts to influence culture. Lucretia Mott’s opposition to slavery and advocacy for women’s right seem mainstream today, but in her day, she was so far ahead of the culture that she was attacked, ostracized and considered to be out of bounds both within the church and in the culture at large.

Are these the kinds of lives that I aspire to? Or, am I Like the disciples that Jesus dealt with in Mark chapter 10, who were amazed that Jesus stated that rich people would find it extremely difficult to enter the Kingdom of God.

23-25Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”
26That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.
27Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”

I say I want to follow Jesus, so why is it so difficult for me to accept the fact having it all is actually a barrier to God’s kingdom, not an indication of my heavenly citizenship. Those folks that we were reminded of in the sermon on Sunday saw things a bit differently. I learned from the sermon that my behaviors, my choices, my life will reflect my grasp of the vision of Christ in my life. The work of transformation that Christ can do, desires to do and will do occurs only if I am willing to let God to it. I realize that I am attempting to pull off things on my own, figuring out how to make transformation occur at my behest, all within my comfortable notion of, “things are just about right”. I suppose that at this point in time, I am looking for ways of holding on to much of what I have, not in laying it down for the sake of saying, “it isn’t quite right”. And that isn’t quite right, is it?

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