The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(New Revised Standard Version)
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(New Revised Standard Version)
My Lenten journey this year took me to Hawaii. Tough assignment but I was willing to answer the call. That’s the kind of guy I am. On a cloudless day we flew for hours over the Pacific to get to the islands, tiny specks of land in a vast expanse. As I looked out the window of the plane, I wondered what was going on below all that blue surface. It was a mystery, another world, and it led me to think of other other-worlds.
I’m a news hound, with my own political perspective, reinforced by 24/7 news sources that ratify my opinions. I recognize in our partisan culture that there are other news sources supporting other points of view marked by equal intensity. There is another world out there, one that views the world from a wholly different point of view than mine.
I grew up in a tight church community, part of a denomination that represented about .0001% of Christians in the world. It was all consuming, in some respects inspiring, in some respects toxic. (I suspect that’s true of many religious traditions.) In that culture, we believed we had the answers. Nobody else really did, bless their hearts. My own faith journey has been a matter of discovering other worlds found in other expressions of Christianity and other faith traditions. As I reflect on the intensity of the religious culture of my youth, I wonder about other intense religious cultures. I may never know what it is like to swim in those streams. They may never know what it is like to swim in mine.
As I reflect on my privileged life, I know there are billions of people who live in communities that have been denied the kind of privilege I take for granted. I can’t pretend to know what that is like. I think of the older woman we saw several times in Hawaii, pushing a stroller with all her earthly possessions held in garbage bags, moving along the shoulder of the highway in the hot sun. Appearances indicated she had no home except maybe the woods. I wondered about her story, as daughter, as sibling, perhaps as parent, perhaps as spouse, not to mention, as beloved child of God. I wondered what it was like to live in her world. It was hard to imagine.
Did I mention Hawaii? I was honored to offer a presentation at the annual diocesan convention. Honored with just one hitch. I gave a talk at 11am on a Saturday morning. I looked at the schedule and realized that at 10am, a certain Michael Curry was speaking. I wondered if I was having an anxiety dream, like taking a test for a course I never attended. I felt like changing the title of my talk to this: “And now for something completely different.”
But it was a grand gift to hear him. A part of his gift: he always speaks of love. I’ve heard him talk a few times, but this question was new for me. He asked: Do you know what the opposite of love is? I’ve heard that the opposite of love is hate. That the opposite is fear. He said that the opposite of love was self-centeredness. It’s exemplified, when someone shows me a group photo, one in which I am included. Guess who I look for first?
As I pondered that big blue ocean, its surface hinting at another world, I thought of Jesus as one who entered another world. I thought of Jesus as one who listened to the Samaritan woman at the well, who invited himself to lunch with scoundrel Zacchaeus, who called Matthew, the hated tax collector to be one of his followers, who ate with Pharisees and prostitutes. I thought of Jesus who calls us to go into the world, not to make everyone just like us, but to serve, to share, to show grace, which may well begin with wondering, listening and learning.
The sin of self-centeredness refuses that adventure. (After all, ego is an acronym. It stands for edging God out.) It’s the pride that claims a corner on the truth, that claims with complacency that there is nothing more to learn. It’s the hubris of refusing conversation. It fails to admit we don’t know what we don’t know.
Jesus points to another way, and in the end, to another world. The entry point? Love, compassion, listening, learning. Step into that other world this week. It may be a small step, just putting your toe in. Or you might want to jump right in, taking the plunge.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.