In our strong individualist culture, there seems to be a strong tendency towards being in control and holding onto our own power and seeing the differences between ourselves and others. As life becomes more confusing through immense changes and the turmoil of a society that feels in a time of transition, we look to defend our turf, our world-view, our powerbase and what we can control. It is a way of establishing some order in a confusing, difficult world. It is a way of finding some firm and secure base when everything swirls around us. It is a means of maintaining some sense of control when everything feels out of control. In such times we look for our own tribe, those who are like us, believe like us, act like us, look like us… This tribe is safe – or feels that way. It is familiar and we need a place to belong and be connected. It is also a place to affirm our own beliefs and expectations around life and society.
This desire for control and to belong to like-minded people and maintain some sense of control over something in life can be a positive way of surviving the chaos of life. It can also be a source of more chaos and internal destruction of groups. I remember hearing about a school P&C organisation. Their clear focus seems to have been on raising funds for the school to benefit their own children. Everyone, it seems, had ideas and put energy into things to be done. For a time it was good and I undertand considerable funds were raised. As new people came into the group and wanted to contribute and also add some of their own new ideas, tensions began to surface. The newer people joined in and took on roles that existed and participated in various fund-raising activities but sometimes changed things or took lead roles or added new aspects to old ideas… The old guard stood up and defended their turf, ‘the way we have done things’. They also tried to pull back control from others were doing what they done and did it in their name – the school P&C.
The situation grew out of control. From the stories I heard, there were evil stares at 20 paces. There were stories and gossip shared in the playground. Rumours flourished and meetings were deep, dark places filled with tension and abuse. I was saddened to hear the story but understood it form my own gentler experiences of this. What amazed me most was that everyone actually wanted the same thing – more funds to purchase more resources for their children at this school. It was the need for control, mistrust and people feeling others were usurping their power or role that broke this effective committee apart and focussed their energy onto fighting rather than pooling resources for a common good.
Of course it isn’t only school P&C’s that experience this. We have watched as the Liberal Party (and Labor before them) have tried to tear theselves apart through power sturggles and competing needs for control. Although our political parties claim to be aligned and focussed on a common goal, they inwardly struggle, fight and channel energy everywhere but into their proclaimed goals of serving and leading the nation forward. Perhaps this week’s ABC shenanigans are also part of all of this struggle for control – of power, order, truth and belief systems.
In so many ways we defend our turf and challenge anyone who seeks to impose themselves or feels different. I find the saddest expressions of this within the church, where groups tear themselves apart over beliefs and belief systems, where energy is not directed towards serving the world in God’s love but internally directed against one another – because we now seem different. The invitation of Jesus to walk in a way of love and compassion, peace and justice, joy and hope seems lost when Christians start fighting each other and defending their turf.
In a very strange story (Mark 9:38-50), Jesus is approached by disciples who tell him they have been trying to stop other people doing things in our name. They are helping people and bringing healing to people in Jesus’ name but aren’t following him with the disciples so the disciples don’t trust them. You can almost feel the frustration in Jesus’ response. He is moving close to his death and trying to get this group of people to get over themselves, understand the way of God and get on with it but they keep getting in the way and looking for power, control, security and perhaps being important. He tells them that if anyone is doing good in his name (or probably just doing good!!) then they are serving God and on his side, his team. The goal is to make the world a better place in God’s love and grace and to proclaim peace, healing, life and joy. If other people have gotten this message and are getting on with it, then excellent! At least someone is doing something so don’t stop them or get in their way.
I wonder how many times we get in the way of people doing good things because they are different? I wonder how often we tear ourselves apart because we see things differently, despite having similar goals? I wonder how often ‘my ideas/beliefs’ get in the way of working with people who are different or believe differently but want the same goals as me?
I remember being invited to meet with a group of Muslim men one Good Friday. They gathered each week for prayer and they used a room in the church hall where I was a minister. They were the most gracious and peaceful group and they wanted to hear what Christians experienced and believed about Good Friday, what it meant to us. The Senior Minister and myself went along and shared with them. We spoke about our differenr Scriptures together – some were the same. These men then asked about the mission activities that our church were responsible for and we shared our stories. They finished by saying that they wanted to build their group and worl with us to make Parramatta a better, safer, more communal place and to care for the poor and struggling – together.
One commentator Ir ead this week says:
The longer I’m a Christian, the more awed and overwhelmed I am by the radical nature of Jesus’s openness, inclusivity, and hospitality. Every time I think I’ve made my circle of inclusion wide enough, Jesus says, “Nope. Make it wider. Your circle is still too small and stingy.” Every time I think I’ve drawn an appropriate line in the sand — between us and them, saint and sinner, saved and damned — Jesus scatters sand all over my line until it disappears. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Whoever doesn’t oppose the beautiful and salvific works of God — mercy, love, kindness, justice, liberation, peacemaking, healing, nurturing — is on Christ’s side. How mind-blowing is that? How challenging for us Christians who love our institutional, denominational, doctrinal, and socio-cultural cliques so very, very much?
In Jesus’words I hear a call to not get in the way but to be open, hospitable, welcoming and to work with each other without the power struggles, need to control. Love each other!