Last night we had what we call “Rabbi Time.” It is an attempt to learn in a fashion that Jesus seemed to use. It is dialogical. It is full of questions. It allowed good minds to develop and strengthened our tools for mission. We centered around the word “identity” – how the world uses that word/concept/reality, the politics of it, the fracturing of it and our version of its formation — if we even want to use the word. I’m not ready to write about all we were thinking. It was a lot.
What is on my mind this morning is how serious it was. Rabbi Time was not without laughter, but people focused on important things: they did not feel the need to be ironic, when they laughed it was from joy or recognition, there were tears, too. I need to be with serious people like that. I think I feel about the people together for Rabbi Time like Paul felt when he wrote to the Philippians: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:3-6) Having serious partners in whom one is confident is irreplaceable. Knowing that they are going to stick with God as God sticks with them is life giving.
I was also at the Brethren in Christ Conference over the weekend. It was also full of serious partners. I came away inspired; revved up and eager to give the best I’ve got to serve Jesus. We BIC, as a people, are securely focused on our mission. That is a very good thing – and we are succeeding in it in significant ways. If the conference was about anything, it was about telling encouraging stories about our mission. But I was disturbed to keep running into a strange jocularity among our leaders that undermined how serious we are. They seem to share a common sense of self-deprecating humor (or maybe low self-esteem) that leaks out into others-deprecating. The banter between two of the leaders on the platform at one point in the confrence was a good example of what ended up coloring a lot of the deep things we were talking about. At one point one of them spoke about our Manual of Doctrine and Government (the plan for how we operate as a family) and he said something like, “I’m sure you have this by your bedside for nighttime reading” in a mocking way, as if no one would ever take us that seriously. It was like John Stewart on the Daily Show, only it did not point at something that needed taking down. It was humor ruling, not serving. I thought we were being taught to be ashamed if we were too serious about the BIC. Since I know none of my leaders intended to do that, I am inspired to watch my tongue. I can only imagine how many times I have given unintended messages that undermined what I was shooting for.
A similar thing happened during Rabbi Time. Someone pointed out something about Circle of Hope and said something like, “It seems like it is of the Holy Spirit, but I would not want to call it that.” It was as if they were afraid they would be mocked, so before they spoke they did a pre-emptive attack on what might shame them. Such things have me ruminating on being serious. I think I need to be less ashamed of Jesus and his work in me (and us), and more ashamed that I would make him less than he is, even doubting for others that I was witnessing his Spirit at work before they had a chance to doubt it!
The world will tear us down and mock us enough, let’s not help it. It is important to be able to laugh at oneself, let’s not lose that capability. But even our humor should build up. If we mock one another, our community or ourselves, we could make someone ashamed to take us and our Lord seriously. I need to watch my tongue. Seriously.