Too Mutch

...a safe place to dance with ideas, play with theology, and re-create a life implicated by God

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Embracing Injustice

A few months ago, a couple that I really look up to, recounted to me that they had sent a letter to the church they had been members explaining why they were removing membership from the church. I suppose they could have just walked away. I would have given them satisfactory marks just for calling to let the church know that they could be “scratched out” of the church’s ledger. But no, they sent a pretty descriptive letter detailing the reasons why they felt and believed that they should remove themselves from membership.

So, that got me thinking. Christine and I haven’t really been part of our previous church community since I was laid off. And we don’t envision a scenario by which we would jump back in. Ergo, shouldn’t we change our status to non-members?

Here’s my dilemma…and my question to you all. What kind of letter should we write? Based on how things went down, how much of what we feel should go into the letter? How much detail should we go into about theology, philosophy of ministry and ecclesiology? Initially, I thought it would be a good way to give our final “2 cents.” It would allow us to thoroughly communicate to the elders and leadership our “concerns”. Admittedly, we aren’t going to change the world with a single letter. But if everyone that leaves their church fails to communicate WHY they have made this decision, then the leadership of the church is left in the dark a bit. As I thought about these things, the desire for justice began coursing through my veins. I wanted…no…I NEEDED to be heard…to clear my chest about everything. Then, we could both “move on.”

Well, that was before I read this from Miroslav Volf. I have been challenged anew. Read it through a couple of times with our situation in mind. Then, make some suggestions about what we should do. OR...maybe there's a story you'd like to tell from your own life...

The “blood” in which the new covenant was made is not simply the blood that holds up the threat of breaking the covenant or that portrays common belonging; it is the blood but of self-giving, even self-sacrifice. The one party has broken the covenant, and the other suffers the breach because it will not let the covenant be undone. If such suffering of the innocent party strikes us as unjust, in an important sense it is unjust. Yet, the “injustice” is precisely what it takes to renew the covenant. One of the biggest obstacles to repairing broken covenants is that they invariably entail deep disagreements over what constitutes a breach and who is responsible for it. Partly because of the desire to shirk the responsibilities that acceptance of guilt involves, those who break the covenant do not (or will not) recognize that they have broken it. In a world of clashing perspectives and strenuous self-justifications, of crumbly commitments and strong animosities, covenants are kept and renewed because those who, from their perspective, have not broken the covenant are willing to do the hard work of repairing it. Such work is self-sacrificial; something of the individual or communal self dies performing it. Yet the self by no means perishes, but is renewed as the truly communal self, fashioned in the image of the triune God who will not be without the other.
–excerpt from Exclusion and Embrace: A theological exploration of identity, otherness, and reconciliation (Volf, 1996)


At 7:49 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Rev. Greg,
Very pithy quote. Makes me think.

At 10:10 PM, Anonymous rapraptorman said...

I'm not tracking Greg. How are you in covenant with your old church right now? How would you restore relationship by simply accepting the injustice? You might say that you who were wronged are willing to do some hard work of repair, but they don't want repair.
I empathize with your pain.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Nate, I'm not sure I agree. Sure, I'm not in some "formal" covenant. But I'm not in a formal covenant with you either--We've never been married have we? Yet, I would view our "brother hood" as a type of covenant. We are bound to one another "in Christ" even if you are in Canada and I am here in the US of A. So, I AM still in relationship/covenant with my old church. And my desire is to be BEYOND the hard feelings and pain. This quote from Volf helped me realize that sometimes embracing and swollowing the injustice/pain/etc. is what it takes to maintain that covenant. If I harbor negative feelings forever, I will essentially be allowing the covenant relationship to erode. I don't want that.

Say, I thought you were coming to GR sometime soon? And what's up with the job search?

At 5:58 PM, Anonymous rapraptorman said...

I guess it depends on how you define covenant. I think I get the jist of what you are saying though. Neil Plantinga once said in a class of mine that before he went became President of Calvin sem. he went to Princeton sem to talk to their president about being president. He said that the Princeton guy advised him that when he receives criticism/injustice from professors he needs to absorb, absorb, and absorb some more while holding to principle. It seems that Jesus was pretty good at this. I pray that you and Christine will be able to work this tough stuff out.
I just interviewed at Saginaw yesterday. The church in Sarnia will have vote tomorrow whether or not to create an associate pastor position, essentially for me.
Why would I want to come to Grand Rapids? I'm Canadian :) Actually, actually, I'm gonna be back in August. I look forward to seeing you and taking some money off you at the card table

At 3:24 PM, Blogger Asher said...

I've uhh... stumbled across your blog, Greg! I understand what you're saying (and I realize some time has past since you've post, so please humor me here) to be this: we should seek to maintain relationships because ultimately it isn't about ourselves, it's about the relationship. If my understanding of what you're saying is correct, then I agree. Recently I was reminded by a friend that no good relationship should be terminated over a spat. However, that doesn't mean the fault goes unadressed. It's dealt with openly and honestly because we understand that communication is essential to authentic living. Which is better: an open, honest relationship that reveals pain, or a relatonship that is "together" but is wearing a mask? I'm not saying it's easy. Ask Christine, I LOATH confrontation or anything that gives the slightest appearance of confrontation. But I've had to "confront" a lot lately because the actions of others have hurt me or are endangering themselves and the thing that always gets me through the process is remembering that they are my brother/sister and the object of God's adoration. I want them to grow, not to be right... not even to be "justified," but because I see something that may be hindering them. As the church we have the responsability to uphold the image of God in everyone... and sometimes doing so means confrontation. Honestly? As hard as it would be, I would sit down with them and tell them you're hurt and and why. Hopefully they will see that your motive is not to be right or point fingers, but to restore the relationship... I don't think ignoring the injustice is healthy for anyone.

But then again, I may have just shared my thoughts on a completely offbase perception. If that's the case, thanks for reading, just the same!

Im praying for you and Christine... I totally know how the job search thing feels! Take care- Asher

At 9:19 AM, Blogger Micah said...


I'm not sure how or when my son Asher learned to use the internet, but I thought he said some good things. I think we'll put him in the advanced classes.

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