This is a reflection based on 1 Peter 3:13-22, thinking about we live faithfully in our own context.
As I said in last week’s reflection, it is easy to be comfortable with how things are because we benefit. And yet, many of us look around the world and see situations that do make us uncomfortable or that we know are wrong. Living faithfully is an on-going challenge. It isn’t something we figure out once in our lifetime but a constant commitment to looking carefully at the world around us, seeing our place in that world and then asking ourselves what is the good or right thing to do in a particular situation.
And that is what this week’s passage struggles with. Sometimes doing what is right or good leads us into the uncomfortable. Doing what is right or good leads us to give up certain things. Doing what is right or good leads us to places where we feel like we are a lone voice. In extreme cases doing what is right or good leads us to suffering, violence and even death.
In this video, Do We Need Persecution? Nikki Hardeman talks about how being immersed in a culture where Christianity is the norm actually makes it more difficult to practice our faith.
The early churches really were in a place where holding onto their beliefs—living rightly—really could mean death. In the United Church, we often find ourselves in a strange place. We identify as Christian in, as described in the video, a post-Christian culture. In some ways we fit with the culture…we don’t have particular dress that sets us apart, we watch TV shows that are part of our culture including reality TV and many of our values of inclusivity and tolerance are shared by the people we interact with around us. These values of inclusivity and tolerance are the same things that can sometimes make us uncomfortable in interacting with our Christian brothers and sisters. It sometimes feels like we don’t fit in either place.
So what is the right thing to do? We want to avoid suffering. In our culture, this is sometimes understood as avoiding conflict or trying not to upset anyone and yet this reading reminds us that if we are doing the right thing, we can expect suffering. We can expect conflict but we are often taught to avoid conflict. As a child, I was taught to ignore the bullies. It didn’t stop the bullying or make me feel any safer. Now, we try and teach people how to stand up to bullies. It isn’t an easy thing to do. It can be dangerous but we recognize that it is the right thing to do.
As a church, we need to find that voice of standing up for what is right. We’re pretty quiet in how we respond to things in our community. It is sometimes easier to talk about problems on the other side of the world than address issues right here in our own community. Talking about what’s happening here is more likely to create conflict for us because it touches our own lives. Harvey Milk, an early gay activist (who was assassinated for his work) said “If you want to change the world start in your own neighbourhood.”
As a church we need to be talking about issues that affect us here in Yorkton. We can talk about poverty, affordable housing, immigration, racism, homophobia, our relationship with First Nations, climate change, violence and many others. We have some of these conversations amongst ourselves but we need to take this conversation to the wider community and not be afraid of offending or hurting others.
Often when we are afraid of offending people it is because we already have a relationship that we are worried about damaging and we want to avoid what we perceive as suffering. We forget that by remaining silent, someone else is hurt. The most vulnerable among us need people that will choose to be in relationship with them and speak with them for justice. It takes courage and a willingness to risk conflict.
I am excited about living in a post-Christian culture. I think that it really pushes us to decide what it means to live faithfully and how we practice our faith on an on-going basis rather than taking for granted beliefs and practices that have been passed down to us. Finding how to live faithfully in this culture may mean that traditional Christianity no longer fits and that we take a step aside from the culture around us while remaining engaged with it. An important part of our participation in the faith community is challenging each other about our choices, about where we choose to stand in this world in which we find ourselves.
My hope and prayer for us is that we will continue to find our voice with courage and conviction and that we will take our faith beyond the doors of our church regardless of the suffering and conflict it brings to us. May we choose what is right.