Friday, May 30, 2014

Oil and Water

I tried to replicate a salad dressing I once made from a recipe.  I started with some basic ingredients, oil (vegetable) and vinegar (apple cider).  I added peanut butter to create a vaguely Thai-ish taste, then rounded it out with a pinch of salt and a bit of sugar.  It turned out pretty good – or at least my family was kind enough to say so. 

Don’t ask me for exact amounts.  If I had to make it again I could only figure it out by taste.  Making it required quite a bit of trial and error.  It was hard won and it took a lot of trying.

I’m not sure what prompted me to make my own dressing for our salad last night, but it seemed that among the many options on the store shelf – bleu cheese, ranch or honey mustard – this was the healthiest.  Still, it strikes me as thought-provoking that such unlike things can go together; sugar and salt, peanut butter and vinegar, sweet and savory.

I believe that unlike things are meant to go together.  This is part of the divine plan. 

I often get asked the question “Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?” (Actually more often, I get informed of the belief that one does not.)  My response for those who are willing to listen is always the same.  God calls us to be in community. 

To be a Christian by ourselves is the easy part.  On our own, there is no one to challenge our beliefs or actions, nobody to threaten our comfort, no one to compel us into unpleasant practices like self-assessment, forgiveness, patience and growth.  In the extended family known as church, we are forced (I believe this is on purpose) to rub up against one another like sandpaper.  It isn’t comfortable.  It isn’t meant to be.  But we grow through the process.  Our edges are smoothed and we become much more beautiful and useful to our Creator.

I think this is true in our individual church communities and in our general, world-wide church.

Recently, a vocal group of pastors and church leaders ignited a lot of talk about the “schism” said to be happening in the United Methodist Church.  Apparently, some consider the controversies of our time to be insurmountable and the presence of differing opinions tantamount to division in our denomination.  There are calls to make official the separation that is already thought to be in progress, and to vote at General Conference for a formal split.

My feeling about this is the same as my belief about why we need to go to church.  God calls us into community.  It is not supposed to be easy.  We are not always supposed to be of one mind or identical feelings.  We need not always even like each other that much as we navigate the thorny and obstacle-ridden path we have to follow as those who call themselves the Body of Christ.  There will certainly be days when we are less than fond of each other and each other’s perspectives.  The whole point, however, is to strengthen ourselves so that we can deal with those unpleasant realities and still behave somewhat like our savior; in love toward each other and as an example to our world.

They say that oil and water don’t mix.  By and large this is true.  Maybe our church, with all of its factions, is just like oil and water.  Maybe – though I doubt it – our differences are irreconcilable.  Maybe – though I doubt it – we can never blend.  But even if oil and water don’t mix, unalike things can still be put together to make a damn fine vinaigrette.  And may I add that among the many options you have on a store shelf, this is often the healthiest.

Such mixtures can be made to work, but it might take some trial and error.  They will be hard won and they will take a lot of trying.

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