One Sunday morning I walked into the sanctuary and found two people arguing about a banner. They simply could not agree on whether or not the banner was straight.
They asked for my help. And that’s how two ways to align a banner became three.
The person holding the pole that held the banner’s string would look up from directly beneath it and pronounce it straight. But the two of us on the ground and from a distance would loudly disagree, and we would shout out the adjustments that he needed to make to get the banner in line.
Only my ground-mate and I couldn’t agree on what adjustments needed to be made. She would say one thing, and I would say another.
About the eighth time a “minor adjustment” was made, we finally discovered that each of us had a different point of reference.
One of us was trying to get the crossbar straight. Another was trying to be sure that the banner’s fabric edge was straight. Still another was looking at the way the banner’s edge lined up with the wood trim along the sanctuary wall.
When one of us got what we wanted, the other two were unhappy. And we never had two happy at the same time.
We finally had to decide what the consensus “we can live with it” alignment was. There simply was not a way that all three of us could have our way.
When I think back on that impassioned discussion, I marvel that there were no casualties. No one stormed off in anger. No relationships were threatened. No one argued that the banner belonged to them. And certainly no one did anything as silly as blaming the banner for its presence in the sanctuary.
I discovered some things in that discussion that I hope to remember the next time I find myself engaged in an intense debate within the church:
- The other two people in the conversation cared about getting it right just as much as I did. While we held very different–even irreconcilable–understandings of what we believed was right, we each had to admit that we wanted the same thing for the church we loved. I discovered that it’s possible to trust another person’s commitment and faithfulness, even when I believe that how they understand something is wrong. And while it’s often harder, I also found that it’s possible to trust them and love them when they believe I am wrong.
- Falling in love with my way of seeing makes it difficult, if not impossible, to ever consider a different way. If the way I hold my belief about something is not marked by humility–by a willingness to recognize that I see only in part–there is no way that I can be led to the discovery of a deeper truth about something. One of my wise friends often says, “I would like to think I have yet more to learn.” And so do I. But that learning will never happen if I am convinced that my way is the only way of looking, or if I fear what others have seen. I certainly want to believe with conviction, but also with humility.
- It is much more difficult to dismiss another person when I take the time to look through their eyes. I had to admit that their way of thinking, though different from my own, was not without merit. It was possible to align the banner in any of the three ways we held. And though I preferred my own perspective, there was no doubt that what they were seeing made sense when viewed from their perspective.
- We would have been far more efficient had we agreed on what made for a properly aligned banner. But there’s something delightfully messy about the way the church lives together. Letty Russell says the church is characterized by what she calls a “calculated inefficiency.” By this she means that discerning who we are at any particular time in our life together will always be unavoidably complicated because every community of faith contains people who look at things differently.
- We finally had to trust in grace. There was something strangely satisfying when we discovered that none of our visions was enough to perfectly align the banner. It was yet one more reminder that we were imperfect people, serving in an imperfect church, who finally had to give thanks that grace abounds.
Whenever I think back on that conversation, or imagination conversations yet to come, my heart fills with a song by JD Martin called “Jesus, Help Us Live in Peace.” I think it embraces the things I learned while attempting to hang a banner with friends.
Jesus, help us live in peace.
From our blindness set us free.
Fill us with your healing love.
Help us live in unity.
Many times we don’t agree
on what’s right or wrong to do.
It’s so hard to really see
from the other’s point of view.
Jesus, help us live in peace.