Monday, October 15, 2007

LIVE THE CONTRADICTIONS

PEARLS BEFORE SWINE? Recently, I participated in a neighborhood strategic planning event. I listened, tried to tune in, and offered some suggestions in both large and small group settings. A few days later, I received a mean e-mail from another participant who misconstrued my input in the most negative terms. I knew his rant was way off, but it irritated me just the same. My initial response: “Who needs this?! I just won’t participate! This is what happens when you throw pearls before swine!”

THE TERRAIN WE FACE. After I calmed down, however, I knew I would continue to engage in community planning processes just as constructively and hopefully as ever. I reminded myself that there are out-of-focus people in the community as well as in the church. You can get criticized and be misunderstood in faith-based as well as community-based settings. There are contradictions inside and outside the church. Getting your feelings hurt, having your words misconstrued, receiving hurtful reactions to well-intended efforts, living amid numerous contradictions--that’s the terrain you’ll face when you care enough to try to make a difference and move toward community.

CONTRADICTIONS ABOUND. When faced with adversity, the apparently easiest thing to do is withdraw. It is the path of least resistance, or so it seems. Sometimes it is necessary, I suppose. But challenges and contradictions abound in many different arenas. They’ll crop up again, no matter where you turn. It’s an illusion to think of the church as a refuge from them. So, instead of retreating when the going gets tough, accept the contradiction and engage the situation in prayer. Don’t run away; whenever possible, stand in the tension. This is one of the ways Parker Palmer (in photo) has helped me in his writings. I cherish his following quote:

INSTEAD OF RUNNING AWAY. "The cross which many Christians are called to bear involves the contradictions of contemporary life. And these contradictions are especially pronounced in the public realm. Christian faith, the way of the cross, empowers us to live these contradictions creatively instead of retreating from them as we so often do. The way of the cross both leads us into public life and gives us the grace to live there."

THE WAY OF THE CROSS. "The way of the cross challenges us not to remove tension from our lives by avoiding the places where tension is found, or by abandoning the convictions that cause us to feel tension. Instead, the cross points another way, a way of 'living the contradictions,' a way of taking tension into our lives and transforming it from a force of destruction into an energy of creation.” Parker Palmer is author of The Company of Strangers, The Active Live, Let Your Life Speak, and The Courage to Teach

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