The often-funny Pearls Before Swine comic strip with its “Great Bunny of Wisdom” wish speaks specifically to our crazy political world. The fights in the church world, particularly the UMC one, nearly perfectly mirror the ones in the political world. The essential message slammed me in the face.
Why the facepalm when I saw this? Because we in the church DO have a Great Bunny of Wisdom.
We call that Great Bunny by far more majestic titles, of course. Things like Lord God, Almighty, Creator, etc.
And, as church folk, we all profess to worship and acknowledge the holiness and goodness of our Great Bunny no matter what terms we use.
But, even with our common statements of faith, creeds, and lists of essential doctrines, we still see things differently from one another. Furthermore, just as in the world of our comic strip characters, and in the world of politics, the viewpoints of our theological sources dramatically influence the way we see things.
Most of us do the same thing with our information about God and the Bible as we do with whatever news sources we watch or read or listen to: we stick with information that confirms what we already think we know.
When we are around those who use different sources of theological information, we do just what the people in the comic strip do. We divide and we separate.
We LOVE to divide
The church folk version of “not being able to eat with” is “not being able to have them at the same Table of Holy Communion.” We quit talking with each other and start talking at each other. Or, equally problematic, we stop talking entirely.
All quite sad. And especially so because, when we drill all the way down, no two humans ever fully agree with each other about everything anyway.
Our penchant for dividing, for seeing everything as “either/or” has long been the key factor in human conflict. The dialogue below was voted the “Best Christian Joke” in the UK a few years ago.
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: “Stop. Don’t do it.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.
“Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Are you religious?”
He said: “Yes.”
I said: “Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?”
“Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”
He said: “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915.”
I said: “Die, heretic scum,” and pushed him off.
The Great Cube O’ Silence solution
So what if we did the ecclesiastical parallel to locking all the partisan TV hacks in the Great Cube O’ Silence?
What if we temporarily silence every single person who insists, “I, and only I, can tell you how to think on any given theological point or on how to interpret the Bible.”
Everyone who says, “Anyone who disagrees with me is heretical.”
Everyone who says, “If you even think about embracing some of the ideas from the other ‘side,’ you must leave.”
Everyone who says, “THOSE people have left the Bible behind, but we are on God’s side!”
Everyone who says, “Either accept me and everything I believe or leave.”
Everyone who says, “If I don’t get my way, I’m going to shut this discussion down by my protests and endless interruptions.”
Everyone who says, “If I don’t get my way, I am going to leave and encourage as many as possible to leave with me.”
Everyone who says, “Let’s engineer the voting process, so we get what we want when we want it.”
Everyone who says, “They are [choose one] immoral, disobedient, ignorant, rebellious, sinful, cruel, thoughtless, power-hungry, schismatic.” [Note: I’m aware I’ve used some of that language myself. I believe it has not been helpful to a more thoughtful discussion.]
A move to dialogue
Once we remove all those kinds of statements from the conversation, perhaps we could move from talking at or around each other to authentic dialogue.
We could practice discerning the full humanness of each other, even in profound disagreement.
We could sense together where the higher call to holy unity supersedes the lower call to unanimity.
Together, we could humbly acknowledge that all still see through a mirror dimly and none has a complete take on absolute truth, there are no ideal paths or solutions, and that all processes and structures must be flexible to continue to serve us well.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we might even fall on our knees, acknowledge our weaknesses, reach out and hold each other’s hands, and cry out, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, for we are sinners.”
And then we, too, could get things done. We can envision a church for the next generation, adequately biblical, nimble, flexible, and other-oriented. We can create a structure where the words of grace can pass freely to a world that longs to see hopeful love and redemptive life in the midst of way, way too many tragedies, illnesses, unrelenting poverty, and the abyss of spiritual hopelessness.
We HAVE a Great Bunny of Wisdom
Yes, we can do this Why? Because unlike the hapless creatures who inhabit the Pearls Before Swine comic strip, we DO have a Great Bunny of Wisdom. We don’t have to “wish” one into existence.
We do have Jesus, the Messiah, the one whom we acknowledge as Lord.
We do have one that calls us to do far, far greater things than he was able to do.
We do have the One who set his life down for the sake of his enemies and reminds us that the most despicable among us are the ones we are most called to love and to love with massive generosity of heart, soul, and finances.
Truly, we are called to the most challenging task of all: to encourage life in all of us.
We are called to transcend differences in supernatural unity.
We are not called to mirror US politics by our inability to recognize the legitimacy of differing points of view EVEN WHEN those differences make us deeply uncomfortable.
We are called to hold onto our own beliefs until that time when the Holy Spirit nudges us in a different direction–and to recognize that in the fullness of God’s kingdom, there may be multiple directions for different people at different times.
We don’t have to “wish” God into existence as pig did in the comic strip. God already is. We all live and have our being in God’s I Am.
All we need to do is recognize that the real Great Bunny of Wisdom asks us to undertake the hard, often soul-exhausting work, of learning to love one another as God has loved us. And that means we put up with our differences and treat one another with the same kind of open-hearted love we wish for ourselves.
What will we choose? If history teaches us anything, it teaches us this: We’d prefer to split than to do the hard work necessary to live out the Kingdom of Heaven mandates for earthly living.