Last Sunday the scripture reading I had chosen from the Lectionary, for some forgotten reason, was Ephesians 6:10-20. Paraphrased, it goes like this:Ephesians! Wear your armour of God to protect you from the evil and temptations that exist all around you. Wear the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Helmet of Salvation (that's right, I said it, Helmet of Salvation), Belt of Truth, Shield of Faith, Sword of the Spirit and very sturdy sandals so that you may stand FIRM in order to proclaim the gospel of peace. (If you want the actual, non-paraphrased version, click here.) Oh yeah, and...pray all the time. I really don't like this scripture. I like the bit about praying all the time. That’s a good piece of wisdom. It’s the all other bits. I feel the need to put this piece of scripture in a time out--to send it to the corner for the time being.
Vicki, why so grumpy today about this sixth chapter of Ephesians? It's cause of the Duggars. The Duggars happened. JOSH happened. AGAIN.The armour of God was to protect the early followers of Christ and to allow them to stand firm against evil. I would venture a guess that each and every one of the Duggars knows this list by heart. They are righteous. And they have stood firm. The problem, for me, it is implied that in order to don all of this gear, one must be worthy of putting it on in the first place. To have a full and confident understanding what it all means—what righteousness is all about, what salvation is, what conquests God would have us use the sword of faith in God’s name, what obedience looks like. You can’t don it unless you know exactly what the wills of God and Christ were. Without a doubt. And doesn’t that sound like an attempt to be perfect in one’s faith? Without question or doubt? And, God only knows, and as the Duggars are figuring out, it’s pretty damn hard to be perfect all the time. And that armour must get pretty darn heavy over time. It gets heavy and can make it hard to breath after awhile. Hard to fill up your lungs and take a deep, life-giving breath. If you are wearing impenetrable armour all the time, how do you grow? Stretch? Evolve?
Leonard Cohen once wrote, “forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. And we know, where there are cracks letting in sunshine, that is the place, however improbable, where things grow, where, despite all odds, life takes hold and grows. I just don’t like this scripture as I read it today. I don’t see where it allows for pluralism, the understanding that there are many paths to God, not just the path Jesus has set before this United Church of ours. The armour does not allow for diversity, for expansion of thought and theology, for growth in understanding others in our world. When someone is standing so firmly, wearing their breastplate of righteousness, they cannot possible see that another is as good and loved by God as they believe themselves to be. Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. If we follow this author’s urging to don this protective armour in order to keep out what might distract us from Christ’s Way, I’m afraid we will not learn and grow from the beautiful diversity that is our world, our United Church and our very own faith community. In light of the many decisions made recently at the 42nd General Council of the United Church, it is evident that there is broad range of belief in what decisions were right or wrong.
But we have chosen to be together in the same denomination, the same congregation, so how do we be in relationship with one another, to be friends, allies and advocates together on things we do agree on if the armour is preventing us from learning from one another about the things we don’t agree on? Our church, the United Church of Canada, was built upon a solid foundation of social justice issues and has taken many of a controversial stance on certain topics over the years. Remember 1988 anyone? The year General Council voted, to the great consternation to a vocal opposition, to ordain and commission openly gay and lesbian people into ministry? There can be a great tension in being a member of this church, this church that struggles to listen for those not often heard, this church that seeks out those who live at the margins and do not experience the privilege of speaking the common language, being the dominant colour or race, who do not process thoughts, ideas, concepts fast enough to keep up with those around them, who struggle to live with limited mobility or chronic illness. And yet again, we have some challenges before us, trying to sort our way through the tension of being a denomination rooted in social justice and the living it out in our day-to-day lives.
When I read this scripture today, in light of the decisions made at this year’s General Council, in light of the striving-to-be-perfect Josh Duggar falling from grace because of multiple infractions against his faith, his family and the covenant he made with his wife, I worry that this armour listed in Ephesians might get in the way of us trying to figure out how we will sort our way through what the church is calling us to be, what the church understands as God calling us to be. There were many decisions besides divestment and Israel/Palestine that were made at General Council that we, as a community, need to learn and talk about, to discuss, argue and agree about. So, can those of us who choose to enter onto holy ground together agree to not put on our armour, our breastplate of righteousness, our helmets of salvation, our shields of utter confidence that God will protect our beliefs, our belts of truth, the shoes for standing firmly and our swords of the Spirit, ready to conquer instead of listening. Can we set aside the armour, maybe go put in the corner for little while in a time out. Can we forget our perfect offering and allow the cracks to let in the sun? Do we have the courage to be vulnerable with one another? To offer ourselves, our thoughts and our beliefs and trust that our brothers and sisters in Christ in the UCC will not harm us? Will you strive not harm another with your own worry and concern? Will we hear and try to understand each other’s points of view? Will we know each other’s truths to be real just as our own truths are real? I think we can. Because we love one another. We care for one another. Knowing that God is always with us and that God will not leave us, can we forget our perfect offering? Can we let the cracks show and let the light in? May it be so.