Sunday, April 3, 2016

Slow of Heart

Endorse SB 484 and HB 1835
Working the past few weeks on redistricting reform issues, I’ve found myself caught in circular conversations where the same questions are asked and answered, the same ground covered again with no apparent shift.

Why a constitutional reform? Why now? Why not another approach? Why these allies? Why this timeframe?

It seems clear to me that allowing politicians to draw maps for their own electoral districts is a conflict of interest with a host of implications for representation and governance. And it seems clear that the best, maybe only real solution is to change how the lines are drawn.

And to do that requires a constitutional amendment, which takes years. So either this happens now, or we wait another decade.

Our coalition, Fair Districts PA, launched a petition this week asking legislators to support redistricting reform. (If you live in PA and haven’t signed it, please do, right here). I can understand legislators resisting this change: they have power and want to keep it.

What I don’t understand are those who claim to be allies who won’t support the effort, won’t promote the petition, and waste precious time in the same circular discussions.

In the days following Easter, reading in the final chapters of Luke, I was struck once again by how hard is was for the followers of Christ to grasp that he had risen.

The downcast men on the road to Emmaus had the evidence they needed, but they were stuck in confusion. Jesus had died, the women had reported his resurrection, but to the men it didn’t add up.

The Disciples, George Roualt, 1939 Paris
They had the testimony of the women, the testimony of the empty tomb, but more than that: they had Jesus walking right there beside them. But they couldn’t accept what they’d been told, couldn’t see him right there with them.

Even when he said “how foolish you are, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken,” they didn’t see it was him, didn’t grasp what he was saying.

That phrase has traveled with me this week: how foolish you are, and slow of heart.

We live inside our own limitations. We have experiences and expectations that shape what we’re able to see and believe.

Sometimes we hold those limitations tightly: it might cost us power, or privilege, funding, friends, to see from another angle, to set prejudice aside.

We tell ourselves we want to know the truth and are open to new perspectives, but how often is that a friendly lie we tell ourselves while ignoring evidence that points in new directions?

Am I wasting my time on redistricting reform? Compared to some of the larger questions of life that’s a small one, but for me, right now, worth asking.

I set out the evidence I have, the frustrations, potential, limited resources, possible outcomes. God has led me in many strange directions over a lifetime of job changes and volunteer investment. Is this where I’m to invest today? I believe it is. I pray I’m open to redirection.

And what of those circular conversations, rehearsing the same questions, the same evidence? As I look for new ways to explain strategies and direction, I find myself wondering: are these honest questions, or ways to hide alternative agendas?  Is there a real desire to do the right thing, or is the goal to look supportive while subverting forward motion?

In politics the plays for power are not always obvious.

In other arenas that’s even more the case.

I’ve seen disastrously foolish decisions made, in direct conflict to all evidence, driven by hidden personal agendas and surrounded by spiritual language about prayer and God’s leading.

I’ve seen power grabs masquerade as ministry, mercy, marital harmony, good fiscal management.

Folly is never far away.

And we are all, so often, slow of heart.

How much of that slowness of heart on the road to Emmaus was tied to tradition?

Those men had grown up in a framework that expected one kind of messiah: political, powerful, punishing, patriarchal.

Their kind of messiah wouldn’t place himself in the hands of his pursuers.

Wouldn’t stand silent in the face of his accusers.

Wouldn’t die without accomplishing all they believed that he should do.

The Empty Tomb, Jesus Mafa, 1970s North Cameroun
They were drawn to Jesus. But tied to their own narrative framework.

And how much of that slowness of heart was tied to gender?

“Some of our women astounded us.” 

The Greek word, “existemi,”  translated  here “astounded” or “astonished”, literally means out of line, out of bounds, out of one’s mind, radically altered. In some places it’s translated bewitched, or insane.

Those women: What were they thinking? Who could believe them?

Who did they think they were, so confident in what they’d seen, speaking of angels, insisting Jesus was alive!

To really hear them would require a complete shift in the prevailing belief that God spoke to men, Jewish men, only Jewish men. Never women.

I find myself wondering how much we miss, insisting the message come in the form we most prefer, ignoring those we’ve decided God would never use.

I look at the places where we are most divided and wonder what foolishness and slowness of heart keep us from hearing God’s word of unity.

I look at our churches and wonder, what foolishness, what slowness of heart, keeps us locked in debating the same old tired questions:

How old the earth is. Really, does that matter? Read with new eyes. Listen with a larger language. Let's stop the myth that science and faith conflict.

The role of women: Any! Every! What petty prerogative dares to dictate terms to the daughters of God, co-heirs and co-workers with Christ himself?

The role of the Holy Spirit? Amazing how many conversations I’ve heard debating what God Himself can and can’t do. What blessings and power we miss trying to cram the Spirit of God into our chronological constructs.

Abortion? We shout past each other rather than really listen, to the struggle of single moms, the heartbreak of unsupportive workplaces, the lack of affordable housing, adequate medical care, reasonable parental leave.

Gender identity and marriage? I see a great deal of folly and slowness of heart in almost every direction. I am slow of heart myself in this space, unable to see what God has in mind.

Walking a woodland trail after a rainy day, thinking and praying about my own areas of folly, my own slowness of heart in arenas where I struggle to see God’s hand, I am struck by the tiny voices I hear around me. Some bird calls are very familiar: the cheer cheer cheer of the cardinal, then its loud, metallic “chip!” The  anxious call of the wood duck, speeding by overhead. But the woods are full of tiny whispers I can’t describe and can’t identify, soft enough you could walk right past them, gentle enough if I said “what’s that sound?” most friends would answer “what sound?”

Yet I know people who would hear what I hear, and more, and hearing, could tell me what I hear, point out where to look: maybe a contented kinglet, high in a tree, murmuring delight at the most recent bug? Maybe a brown creeper, low on a tree trunk, whispering plans to hop to the next tree?

I know people who are like that in hearing what God is doing:  they’ve spent a lifetime in listening, waiting, praying, studying scripture. I can often sense the Holy Spirit moving, yet so often miss the point. Listen, I say, and others stare blankly: to what? Yet some, a rare, treasured few, know what I’m asking, listen with me, and can often hear what I’ve only, almost, guessed at.

Watching sunlight streak across my muddy path, I wonder how I would have responded if I had been one of those Jesus met on the road to Emmaus.

I long for wisdom, quickness of heart. Pray to be one who sees and recognizes Jesus.

And I pray for all those I know and love. Those who follow Christ, yet are slow of heart in other things: slow of heart to set down their own agendas. Slow of heart to welcome and love.

And I pray for those who have taken another path: slow of heart to believe. Slow of heart to see enduring love walking right beside them.