“Gray Matter”– a response to the “White Paper”
On February 2 a steering committee of seven pastors in the PCUSA sent a letter to the church with a “white paper” attached about what’s wrong with the church and how they think we should right it. The white paper makes me thankful for the gray.
Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may no overtake you.” –John 12: 35
One of the things I love about Jesus—and one of the things that makes following him so hard sometimes, is that he was not afraid to work in the dark—by that I mean in the shadows of the world. We don’t talk about it much in the Presbyterian Church these days except when we speak the words of the Apostles Creed, but the harrowing of hell is a portrait of our Savior that is potent when it comes to who Jesus was and is today. He wasn’t afraid to go down to the lowest pit and find ways to relieve suffering and to set the captives free.
During his ministry Jesus was not afraid of the dark—and he also knew how to parse out truth in the gray of life’s shadows. If there is one thing he does for me every day, it is that he makes it safe for me to live with ambiguity. I know I couldn’t do it without Him. He is the peace that passes understanding, the compassion that never falters, and the truth that will set you and me free.
Jesus followers have always had a tough time following Him into these hard- to-sort-out situations. The parables baffled people—still do sometimes. And how in the world could Jesus take water from a Samaritan woman? It offended his followers in the deepest places of their sense of right and wrong. Jesus didn’t settle for black and white—he mixed them all up, and he created a vibrant, startling, turn-us-upside-down-kind of truth. And he never wanted it to be something you and I just accepted in our minds. He asked that we get close enough to him that we, too, would not be afraid to find truth in the shadows. He wants us to be able to be his Body in the gray matter that makes up this world.
So, like everything that makes a splash today in our cyber-hyper world, once this “White Paper” hit the inboxes and blogosphere, everybody had a way to characterize it and respond. All the different perspectives and emotions—well that’s just us being church together.
I guess the thing that strikes me about it all is that the white men who wrote the “white paper” are both right and wrong at the same time. They embody this “gray matter” that we all live in. They are picking up on problems that we all sense. They want to find integrity in the midst of it all. They are searching for ways to be faithful. In all those things they have their fingers on the pulse of what all of us can feel.
At the same time, they are sequestering themselves in circles of conversation about how to “fix” things with a limited color palate in the conversation. From my internet round up of the steering committee for the paper—they are all white men in multi-staff churches with similar theological perspectives. In my experience, when I get in a room of all white women my age with similar perspectives and life circumstances we have really good gripe sessions and the venting is cathartic. But I sure shy away from us being the ones to figure out how to fix the church—we’re too busy doing all the work and that sounds like a job not fit for man or beast. I think God’s probably got an idea about where things are going. I am hoping I can get into the Spirit’s flow and follow along.
Another thing God has taught me is that when I work with people who are different than I am (like in my work with the multicultural movement and my work with churches where there is real theological diversity), that’s when I catch a glimpse of how beautiful this life is that Christ calls us toward. It is breath taking, really. And it is a source of life and rejuvenation for us all.
So the “white paper” reminds me of how good Jesus was with the gray. The challenge for some of us in the church these days is to resist the temptation lots of white people have to try and fix all the problems. Jesus didn’t tell us to fix anything—he said to follow him and to be sure to love one another along the way. Without Him, we won’t get through this new thing that is happening in the church because we’ll be off trying to find the black and white world that sounds safer, more predictable, and easier to navigate (at least on paper).
Right now we need to get close to Him—we need to practice our capacity to trust Him when we can’t see the way. We need to dig deep in ourselves and root out what it is we are really afraid of in all this transition and change and difference. Jesus does demand that we be honest—and not just the kind of honest that makes us look good. Jesus asks for the truth—demons and all.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we do have some demons—each of us do and all of us do together. What I wouldn’t give some days for a good exorcist to come along and get this show on the road. I believe that Jesus has us on a road toward healing. And profound healing can take time. I believe that—I live it every day. I feel it in my bones. As for me, I am not afraid of the gray matter—He’s made it safe to be there.
Christianity has never been a shallow religion—following Jesus has always demanded life-changing, gut-wrenching commitment. More of the same was never the mode of operation of our faith. I look around and I see lots of people learning anew how to work in places where the light is dim. I encounter believers every day who are finding Jesus in the shadows, in the contradictions. Shades of gray are a promising place to be—a mixing of white and black, a sign of age and wisdom, the color of mourning and repentance, and the dusty shadows of an early morning sky when a new day God has made stretches out before us.
Thanks be to God for the gray.