I’m sitting in a hotel room in Dallas thinking about the weekend (Firestarters) and what I wish I could have said. Because of our quest for the elusive fifty-five minute celebration (trying to cram in three celebration start times between 9 and 11:45 on Sunday is a challenge), sometimes there simply isn’t time to unpack a particular point. I would have liked to talk a little more about the idea of safety in relationships. It wasn’t critical to the main thrust of the message, but it left some things unsaid.
I mentioned that many of us at VCC came from messy family systems with varieties of dysfunctions that make us nervous about any real depth of relationship. But in this New Family that God was forming, there should be a sense of safety. Otherwise, we can’t admit our failures or shame without fear of judgment or rejection. Without safety, there’s no real intimacy or depth of relationship.
Months ago I was both amused and sad when I got an email with “Bless me, Father…” in the subject line. It began with:
“I have a confession. I have been at the Vineyard for years. I still am not a Republican. Is there a Growth and Healing group for me? I'm being obstinate here, but I was there in the conservative church in the early to mid-60's. The MLK video triggered some flashbacks. I admit I don't understand the attraction of the right wing for evangelicals. I also know that even discussing political issues can painfully divide churches. I don't even admit my political views to my small group, who know more about my dirty secrets than anyone else. My casual friends know I voted for Obama, but my small group leader said they thought it possible that Obama is the Anti-Christ. They really said that, and they’re one of the most caring and sincere people I know.”
Obviously, some tongue-in-cheek, but between the lines is real pain. They went on to write:
“Sometimes hesitate to invite my liberal friends. I still crave acceptance from other people and I'm afraid to leave my particular ‘closet’.”
Regardless of your personal politics, that seems sad to me that they don’t feel safe in their group. As many of you know, the Vineyard works really hard to be apolitical; the staff is a mix of backgrounds, sensitivities and politics. What’s more, because of our high value for recovery ministries and the power of redemptive, restorative and reconciliatory relationships, we deeply understand the need for safety, transparency and vulnerability in order to be whole people. I find it fascinating, though, that because of our politicized and polarized culture, someone can feel free enough to expose their deepest secrets but scared of admitting a particular political slant even in passing…for fear of rejection and reprisal.
Jesus told His disciples that people would know they belonged to Him because of their love for each other. The kicker?—they were a diverse group of personalities with extremely different political views and socio-economic backgrounds. But God’s New Family would reflect His Kingdom…and the evident power of the Holy Spirit to tear down walls that separate us—whether they are walls of ethnicity, race, politics, education, gender or whatever. Or as the apostle Paul would say, In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:28 Message Version).
And so when we invite outsiders to our gatherings, there is an obvious message that goes beyond words and slogans. Imagine a spiritual family that includes men and women, the wealthy and the under-resourced, Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites, singles and married, young and old, all broken and bruised…all in the process of healing and reconciliation. What do you think that would communicate? I believe people are longing to belong to a real family.
There was a long history of racism and hostility between Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Empire. It had sociopolitical and religious roots…those are two strikes right away. In the second half of chapter two in Paul’s Ephesian letter, he doesn’t sweep any of this under the rug but fully exposes it. And at the same time, he doesn’t avoid the chosen status the Jews had in their covenant with God, and that those outside of that covenant were truly lost and apart from intimacy with God.
But Paul understands that a new covenant has been made, a covenant that makes the old one obsolete, as the author of Hebrews writes (Hebrews 8:13). God is doing something radical in the human race…and Paul outlines it further in Ephesians 2:
For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. (Ephesians 2:14–15 New Living Translation)
Safety is critical if we really want to grow as Christ-followers. How are you on the safety scale with others? Are you a safe place, a city of refuge?