12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:12-13)
In the past two weeks, I’ve been in the unfortunate position of caring enough to open my mouth. Those closest to me know my steady state lowest common denominator of existence is not high energy. If I had my way – if something ever happened to my family – I would fall back to a hermit’s existence high in the mountains somewhere on par with Mark Walberg’s character in the movie, “The Shooter”. Just me, a dog, and enough firepower to keep the freezer full. Some of this has been passed down to me from my parents. Some of this tendency developed as a defense mechanism in tumultuous waters of my life. Some of it is just plain apathy.
I find the verse in the above scripture haunting, though – in light of my apathy. Two things immediately strike me as I meditate on it today.
First, the writer is speaking to the Church. These are “Christ Followers”. As God’s Chosen People, is a direct reference to people that have stood together in a room and said, “We believe this guy here in this book is who he said he was, and is coming back to bring us all back with as many people as we can tell between now and then”.
Second, this puzzling admonition. A call to “bear with” those people in that room. To “forgive” those same people in that room. An acknowledgement that at some point in the not too distant future, if those people are doing it right – there will be a “grievance” between one or more people, in that room.
Since returning from northern India, I’ve been in a melancholic landing pattern, of sorts. I have a sense that something is happening on my interior. There is a spiritual furniture moving party. I am seeing things in my own life that once sat unchallenged in different hues and lights. I have a sense that I am very close to realizing something profoundly important, and most days when you see me, my thoughts linger as a sleeper awoken freshly , expecting to find their heart’s desire beneath the pillow from their evaporating dream. I have no desire to move past this immediate time, sensing that if I lower the landing gear too quickly and run past this time, I will concede a great treasure and forfeit an irreplaceable opportunity.
What really bothers me about this verse, especially in the context of the early church – is a duality not often preached from pulpits in American churches. There is a Gemini relationship between the call to Love, and the call to Forgive. I believe the two are bound together with ropes at the ankles, and hold each other in eternal tension. Moreover I am starting to believe that they also serve to confirm one and other’s existence. Proof that the former is occurring, in the latter.
Simply stated, we are called as a body of believers to love each other so intensely that the world staring in from the outside, is perplexed at it’s breadth and intensity. To live our lives in such deeply overlapping ripples that we blend seamlessly into one and other.
On the opposite side of that coin lay forgiveness. As we are not home yet, and being conformed daily to the likeness of Christ – as “Christ Followers”, we’re not perfect yet. And I believe the call to forgive implies a depth of love that precludes the potential for friction and hurt. If I can go one step farther with it, the idea of forgiveness as I read about it implies a love for one another – lives lived so closely together – that we’re open and exposed enough to have our guards down to BE hurt…at all. To find ourselves staring back at a Peter in our own lives in the final subdued echoes of our own third rooster calls of denial and betrayal.
But what I see from my landing pattern, high up in the contemplative sky doesn’t quite match up with that dichotomy. When I look down from the windows, do I see a body so embroiled and involved that the world stares in with amazement and envy? Do I see lives lived intermingled in encouragement and exhortation and confession and forgiveness? And if not, what is the inhibitor…that which delays or slows down that critical spiritual metabolism?
I have a theory. One that I hold very delicately in my mental hands right now. It is an ember of a thought so delicate I fear blowing into it to bring it to flame. It’s enough for me to know it’s there, and feel it’s microscopic warmth and just “be aware”. And so here we sit together contemplating one and other.
As a result of that theory, I’ve moved out from behind my bomb shelter. I’ve started to consider that my deep thirst for deeper fellowship and love…for community, implies a foray into, and reciprocal permission to enter into my own deep and delicate “crystal glass caverns”. Areas of our lives that can be easily broken. Where trust is reluctantly given, and quietly requested. I sense in my deepest most ancient of places that we were created for this – and equipped to move towards this, through the connection of the Holy Spirit. And in His absence, we move into the crystal caverns – however good our intentions – like spiritual bulldozers.
In the past 2 weeks, I’ve cared enough to venture out far enough to speak truth into the lives of two different caves. The initial data from this experiment is sobering, but predictable and consistent with my expectations.
It is safer in your own cave. You can shout, “I love you” from your own cave, and the acoustics in there when properly taken advantage of, can project far enough outwards that it sounds like you were out of the cave when you said it.
But to say it – and be deep enough in – close enough to – someone else’s life that something you do – done in love – stings a little. Stings enough for the genesis of forgiveness in that moment to arise as a requirement to move forward…that I believe is moving towards the community we were called to become. That we were made, to be.
Both times out of the shelter of my apathy have met with less than pleasurable results. So discouraging in fact, that last night I could feel my heart palpitating in my own chest from the angst of my most recent sortie past the borders of my own selfish life. It was racing, and took me well over an hour to fall asleep as I reviewed every word of the conversation that had taken place in my mind, over and over again for traces of ulterior motives born from within me.
Love one another…forgive one another. Forever in tension…eternally calling and recruiting true followers deeper into a seamless “body” of gifts, support, and glorifying purpose.
Like the bicep and tricep in the human arm – Love and Forgiveness are moving back and forth over time and strengthening the one to the other as they flex back and forth. The absence of one rending the other useless and ineffective.
Their duality has never been clearer to me, or scared me more than of late. But I don’t want to miss this. I don’t think we can afford to be wrong about this one.