tolerance revisited

Yesterday I preached about the ills of tolerance. It was a long time coming. I had held on to the sermon for four weeks before uttering a word in public. All the while listening to the speculation on what I was going to say. You see, I only use one-word titles for my sermons, and this has been the title in the bulletins for one cancelled and one stripped down worship service. So people had a lot of time to reflect on what I was going to say.

I have a reputation of being a bit confrontational when I preach. So I can get away with saying, tolerance enables us to have a conversation with different people, but it is just not the same as valuing one another as unique creations of God.

I don’t think they could have imagined that I would say that tolerance is nothing more than politically correct hostility; or that racists can be tolerant if they stand to make a buck in the working world; or tolerance is what we do when we buy into the cultural phenomenon that there is too little time to get to know one another.

I even got away with saying that our world is full of what I would call tolerant people, and look at where it has gotten us. Religions tear one another apart, people hate or worse ignore others who are different, and save for the times when major disasters strike we are all fairly self-involved. It is as though we wake up each day with the goal to be tolerant of all the other idiots out there, forgetting the fact that we may be one of the idiots ourselves.

I don’t believe they heard what they were expecting. I can’t believe I said what I said. I can’t believe I stood in a pulpit and told people that toleration is a problem, but I do think it is a problem. It can keep us from really getting to know someone and valuing his or her beliefs and experiences; and toleration stems from a belief system that is inherently defensive rather than grounded in our value to God.

I was trying to make the point, a point I hope they heard, that being tolerant is not enough. I want to live in a world where we value one another rather than tolerate someone’s presence. That was what I heard Paul saying (I Corinthians 1:10-18) when he called us to be unified. That was the beginning point for me, that we are valuable, as we have been created, and that our lifestyles, indeed our lives are not twisted or vile.

By the end of the sermon, I was exhausted and emotional, my voice cracked as I asked them to repeat after me, “I am a child of God;” “You are a child of God;” “We are all children of God;” “Everyone I meet is a child of God.” The problem with sermons like these is that I have very little left emotionally, mentally, and physically.

I stood outside church to shake hands as people left. There are two young girls in our church who do not shake hands with me instead they like to hug. No matter where I am they will find me and give me a hug. The youngest, I think she is three, was about as tired as I was yesterday. She wandered out of the nursery, head hung low, not saying a word. If she were an adult I would have said she was depressed, but she is too young for the labels adults affix to one another.

I saw her and held out my arms and she returned the favor. I picked her up and felt her head come to rest on my shoulder, arms no more than dead weight flopping across my back. She said nothing and let her body tell the story of her morning. We just stood there, amidst the line of well-wishers and other folks who want to tell me what a fine job I did with a difficult subject. She was the comforting presence I needed following worship yesterday. Our time together was a few moments of living in the world I want so desperately to see. My world faded away to a place where she and I inhabited the same space, where we accepted what the other had to offer, and valued being present together. It was warm there, and nice, and I didn’t care about shaking peoples’ hands or smiling like the world was full of roses and fluffy bunnies; In that space I could let my guard down and be tired and weary and drained, and be okay with it. In that space, I was valuable to God. I was a child of God. I was going to be okay…

Thanks Martina…

Grace and peace



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