Fragmentation and Wholeness
First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
October 7, 2018
2 Corinthians 5:20 MSG
20 We're Christ's representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God's work of making things right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you.
One of my favorite books during my doctoral program was the book Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future by Margaret Wheatley. It is more a book of conversation starters that has the reader wrestling with the meaning of our life together. I am considering leading it in our Seeking Friends study after our current book finishes.
It was in this book that I was introduced to Indra’s Net. Have any of you ever heard of Indra’s Net? It comes from Buddhism, as well as, Hinduism’s Rig Veda. Let me read how Anne Adams describes Indra’s Net from the Rig Veda:
There is an endless net of threads throughout the universe…
At every crossing of the threads there is an individual.
And every individual is a crystal bead.
And every crystal bead reflects
not only the light from every
other crystal in the net
but also every other reflection
throughout the entire universe.
Just imagine if we pulled a net from the balcony to the front of our meetinghouse and from windows to side wall and overtop our heads. At each cross point a crystal would be hung down to catch the light in this room. The light would immediately be dispersed throughout the room. I believe that would be an amazing sight to behold.
Margaret Wheatley says,
“We are all jewels that shine uniquely. But we are all jewels gleaming on the same web, each sparkling outward from our places on the net, each reflected in the other. As paradoxical as it is, our unique expressions are the only source of light we have to see each other. We need the light from each unique jewel in order to illuminate our oneness.”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds very Quaker-like. As Quakers, we generally agree that there is “that of God” in every person. Often we describe it in terms of the inner light, a guiding spirit that emanates from the Divine and resides in every person. This inner light in each of us helps us embrace our diversity and the possibility for unity. And it is our inner lights which help illuminate the world around us.
These all seem like wonderful metaphors and beautiful illustrations, but the reality isn’t always this simple. Probably because…
· We are a people in need of reconciliation.
· We are a people seeking wholeness.
· We are a people who want clarity, direction, and to sense hope and purpose.
The reason for this is we are fragmented. Our crystals are chipped and cracked. Our lights are dimmed and at times have been snuffed out. Much of this has to do with our suffering relationships and our unwillingness to see people and know their stories.
Just think about the fragmentations around us on a daily basis. We are fragmented by race, culture, age, health, economics, politics, gender, sexual orientations, religious beliefs…and you name it…it seems today almost anything can fragment or shatter us leaving us in utter frustration, a lack of genuine conversation, a lot of fingers pointing, and very little joy to be found.
The universal church has dealt with this from early on. It continues to fragment and fragment – so much so that I sometimes wonder if it even knows what it means to be whole.
The early followers of The Jesus Way fragmented over being Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, women and men, and many other issues like clean food, circumcision, and later doctrines, the role of Christ, and leadership. Sadly, the universal church continues to fragment over and over again almost to miniscule detail. Today, many churches fragment over worship styles, appropriate music, the right versions of scripture, marriage equality, and the rules or doctrines that are acceptable. Not much has changed in 2000+ years.
Yet, I believe each reformation of the church was a call for reconciliation and healing and to return to relationships and community. To listen again to one another and try and follow Christ’s example of life together united but diverse.
We find it so easy to divide on specific lines and so difficult to engage those on the opposite sides. We often lack the ability to talk or work together and know each other, first and foremost, as sisters and brothers in Christ.
This is deeply rooted in our history as Quakers. This is why early Quakers did not want to use titles. It was to create a sense of equality among all people. On a website I like to frequent called, “Quaker Myth Busters” they talk about this.
For example, why is it necessary to distinguish between married (“Mrs”) and unmarried (“Miss”) women but not men (universally “Mr”), as though availability for marriage was an extraordinarily important part of a woman’s identity? In the US, in the Jim Crow era, the rules of the time included that Black folks must use titles (such as “Mr”, “Mrs”, or “Miss”) to refer to White folks, but that when White folks referred to Black folks, it was simply as “boy” or “girl” or some arbitrary first name (“Jack” or “George”). It was also common until recently (and perhaps still occurs in some workplaces), that a boss may refer to a secretary by the first name, while the secretary would be expected to answer the boss using a title. These are just a few examples of sexist, racist, and classist uses of titles which Quakers attempt to avoid.
Taking the time to know who you are talking to and their life situation is key – but as we can see – even how we address someone shows our willingness to engage on an equal level.
Just ponder a couple queries for a moment:
Where is the church, today, nurturing opportunities for healing and reconciliation to begin?
Why are we still afraid of addressing our fragmentations?
Probably, because we haven’t realized yet how they are affecting us. If there is one thing I have taken away from our Poverty 101 sessions it is the fact that I am middle class – and if anything – I have things to work on. I have privileges and opportunities that others do not have. I am part of the fragmentation. I am part of people staying in poverty. Just think about it…
Do we realize how we are continuing racial divides in our own neighborhood (that go all the way back to the 1930’s)? How gentrification is directly affecting our community and the breakdown of the African American communities in Indianapolis – just blocks south of us?
Do we realize how much we discriminate and simply ignore the aging? Or devalue what they have to say – simply because they can’t keep up with technology or the changing times?
Do we realize how our middle to upper class ways cause us to worry about the future while we miss living in the present?
Do we realize that there are good people on both sides of the political divide? And that defending our points and proving someone wrong is not going to bring more unity?
Do we realize that ALL people should be welcome among us and a genuine welcome should be offered on every occasion?
Do we see forgiveness and reconciliation as keys to health in our community and healing the fragmentation?
I can’t help but think of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s work in South Africa with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid. Even though at a much greater scale, this is a picture of how the church can have an impact on the fragmentation around them. On the South African History website, they talk about the impact of forgiveness as part of this commission. Just listen to what they say,
The primary objective of the inquiry was to preach forgiveness in order to heal the emotions and wounds of hatred or anger that had been created by the apartheid system. There was no place for retaliation in the new society that emerged after independence. It was envisaged that "one who forgives becomes a better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred." By the same token, it was also argued that "If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too." Nevertheless, the process of forgiveness also required acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrator that they have committed an offence. The Chairman of the Commission noted that he had actually "witnessed so many incredible people who, despite experiencing atrocity and tragedy, have come to a point in their lives where they are able to forgive."
This process has become the model for reconciliation and healing in many places – and especially in the church. If you need to be inspired, read Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness where he tells more of the story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Another place I have seen the church nurture opportunities for reconciliation and forgiveness to happen is right here at First Friends and in my former meeting in Oregon. We both went through similar processes regarding marriage equality and the welcoming of the LGBTQ community. We both took a couple years to have important conversations, become educated, listen to one another, forgive each other for assumptions and misunderstandings. I remember my meeting in Oregon said, “In working through this issue, we now see other areas we need to work on.” I sense the same thing happened here at First Friends. I commend you for engaging the hard work and for being an example of nurturing and reconciliation.
I wish sometimes we could go back and take another shot at our reactive and divisive ways in the church and become aware of the fragmentation that ensues. How the church handled the Aids epidemic in the 80s is deplorable. Even the Indianapolis Children’s Museum documents the innocent life of Ryan White and the hate that was spewed on him and his family making him a poster boy for sin throughout our country. And the hurt and fragmentation that occurred for the Gay community because some religious person considered AIDS God’s punishment for being gay. This was not our best moments and we were not nurturing reconciliation by any means.
As well, over the years when the church has taken up the positions of specific political parties, or when they have married their theologies or doctrines to the political sphere – we have done more fragmentation and little for reconciliation.
What makes First Friends a unique and I believe healthy and safer place is our diversity. We have people on a spectrum – politically, educationally, socio-economically, sexually, and that’s because I believe we are a beautiful picture of the body of Christ or the Kingdom of God.
We are a people who are concerned with being sisters and brothers before republicans and democrats, or straight or gay, or rich or poor, or…you fill in the blank. We come to this meetinghouse because it is a place of welcome a place where we don’t have to take sides, where we can listen for the Spirit’s direction.
And when we don’t take time to see the good that is going on, to see the deeper stories, to engage in the process – we become bystanders – sometimes hurling rocks into the midst – instead of doing the hard work of building relationships and working on reconciling, healing, and forgiving. Or maybe we could say restoring the crystals around us to their original illumination potential.
How is the spirit nudging your heart this morning? Where are you aware of the need for reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness around you? And how are you being nudged to be the change?
Let me close with one of my favorite metaphors. How many of you have heard of the Japanese art of kintsugi? Kintsugi literally means “golden repair.” Stefano Carnazzi writes,
This traditional Japanese art uses a precious metal – liquid gold, liquid silver or lacquer dusted with powdered gold – to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery item and at the same time enhance the breaks. The technique consists in joining fragments and giving them a new, more refined aspect. Every repaired piece is unique, because of the randomness with which ceramics shatters and the irregular patterns formed that are enhanced with the use of metals.
I believe one of the chief roles of the church is to be about a similar art of kintsugi with the fragmentations surrounding us. In the same way, the fragments surrounding us are unique, irregular, and need our attention to restore them to beauty and wholeness. Whether the gold represents forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, or simply a willingness to understand, listen, or start a conversartion, this is our calling to help repair the fragmentation around us and return us to wholeness.
Will you pray with me:
O God, help us to be in touch
with that gentleness from which springs strength,
that silence from which springs wisdom,
that chaos from which springs creativity,
that openness from which springs love,
those wounds from which spring our sense of justice
and that depth of being from which springs wholeness.
The Inner Light
By Andrew Pell © September 2001
Let the inner light shine in my life once more
Let it burn in my heart as it did before;
Let it be a beacon in a world forlorn,
A world in trouble, a world that is torn.
Let me touch the heart of all who comes my way,
Those that I see will have a brighter and happier day.
Let them see the wonders, the magic that each day can bring,
Let them experience and feel the majesty and the power of God within.
Let each new day be an adventure in the journey we all take,
Let them walk in the light and in the fullness of God partake.
Let them be a beacon for the entire world to see,
Then the world will be a wonderful place, a world in harmony.