My father was a man who quietly followed his own path. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he had little patience with others’ need to conform. “Everyone is doing it,” or “Everybody is going to be there,” said by any of this children was always met with a steely stare that seemed designed to assess whether this really was his child, followed by the question, “So if everyone is jumping off the cliff are you going to do that, too?” At this point the child in question would hang their head and mumble, “Noooo…” “Well, then,” he would say and the subject was closed.
I suspect a lot of parents had the same discussions with their children, and as frustrating as I found it at the time, I am glad he stood his ground. It wasn’t as though we were never allowed to do things that other kids did. It was that doing something for the sake of conformity was seen as an insufficient, even silly reason. Consequently, we learned to be more articulate with our arguments and, perhaps more important, we learned that we could be our own person, despite the discomfort of standing apart from the crowd. It turns out, that in that left out place where “everybody” isn’t, there are quite a lot of folks, so it’s not as lonely as one fears. And you get braver and stronger and freer to say “no” when you need a little alone time in order to find your unique path in life. We weren’t created to do what everyone else does, and if being like others and doing what others do becomes your priority, it’s almost impossible to uncover and discover your unique place in this complicated mosaic of life.
Paul, the author of Sunday’s scripture from Romans, knew about conformity. He called it “the law.” Hebrew people ordered their lives and their communities with law. It was a gift of God and they made an art form of having a law for every circumstance and occasion. It made for a predictable and well-ordered society. Conformity was the order of the day and Paul was a master. There wasn’t a law he didn’t know. There wasn’t a rule he didn’t follow. And, being such an expert, he was constantly calling out the faults of others and encouraging punishment for those who didn’t fall in line. He was with those who stoned Stephen, simply because Stephen lived the freedom of following Christ. Stephen had stepped away from Hebrew conformity and Paul was one of those who insisted he pay the price, the price of his life.
Later Paul had an encounter with Christ. It left him alone and blinded in the middle of nowhere. But like I said, there are a surprising number of people in the wilderness beyond the crowd, and some kind person took care of Paul and helped him find his way until he could begin to see things for himself. In Christ he found his path and his purpose, and in the end, he, too, paid the cost.
Paul speaks, therefore, with authority when he urges us not to be conformed to this world. He goes on to say that we need instead to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. “Think!” he says, in the voice of my father, “Think or you will find yourself tumbling over the cliff.” Paul met Christ and then spent the rest of his life discovering, one step at a time, the unique path that was his. He gave up the comfort of the law for the freedom of love and he learned, slowly but surely, that he wasn’t the standard of everything.
And if there’s one thing I know, he continues, “it is that I’m not as smart as I think I am and neither are you, so have some humility. You may be the expert on your life’s path, but it’s not your place to direct others.”
Conformity, Paul is clear, doesn’t make a community. Honoring and valuing differences, figuring out how all those disparate parts can work together to form a whole, that makes true community. That provides true security. But it requires risk and patience and faith. Mostly it requires love.
Jesus taught us to let go of the false security of conformity and risk the freedom of love. So perhaps, in these wilderness days, our best way forward is to follow One who stepped off the road more travelled long ago and blazed the narrow path. What if we put down our fear, our anxiety, our frustration with life, our anger (if we are honest) with one another, took a breath and asked “What would love do?” Could we be brave enough to risk it? Do we have faith enough to take a step in that uncharted direction? Perhaps it is truly time to step away from “everyone” and walk instead with the One.
Digital Coffee Hour We’ll be gathering via Zoom for coffee hour right after worship (11:30am). After worship, grab a cup of coffee (or whatever), click on the link, and check in with each other. Email Mia+ for the link or use Meeting ID 843 9927 2014, Passcode 10047.
Book Club The book club will meet this week and still reading “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans, this Wednesday 7pm via Zoom. We are using the same Zoom link as last time (if you don’t have it, please email RevMia20@gmail.com) We have room for you if you’d like to join us.
Doing School at Grace Grace will be offering internet service and tutors to 12 students beginning August 24. The hours will be 1 – 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Parents who are interested in sending their students need to register. (Please call the office for this information.) We will be using the parish hall so we have good distancing between students. Mask wearing will be mandatory, hand sanitizer in use, windows open and fans on for ventilation, and thorough cleaning at the end of every day. We will do everything to be as safe as possible. Our goal is to assist students with their online school work and to provide reading and math tutoring as needed. As things are uncertain regarding in person learning, we will be flexible and seek to provide the services we can to meet the needs we encounter. We need volunteers for providing snacks. If you feel called to assist with this program or have questions, contact Karen+
Spiritual Gifts Workshop Sun, Sept. 13th, 9am-4pm (includes worship). Spiritual gifts are God’s abilities, planted in each of us, that God uses for God’s good purposes. Using your gifts changes the world while filling you with energy and purpose. It’s a core part of faithful discipleship! You’ll learn about 32 different spiritual gifts, how to identify them in yourself and spot them in others. This all-parish event will be live and via Zoom. Potluck lunch. Please let us know if you’ll be joining in the Parish Hall or via Zoom, contact Mia+ at RevMia20@gmail.com or 208-860-7967.