Unity and Brokenness — a newsletter article

I’ve been sad because of a loss, lamenting that a friend and seminary classmate has decided to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Partly I’m sad because I’m convinced the ELCA is right. We live the liturgy, we embody our faith in loving service, we embrace Jesus.

Yet I’m not so naïve as to whine, “Can’t we all just get along?!” After all, I’m darn adamant in what I believe. Try saying that Jesus doesn’t matter, that crucifixion and resurrection aren’t important, that creation’s life is no big deal, and I’d be eager to argue. I’m disgruntled and disappointed that my friend’s decision involved homosexuality. But as much as I’d want to debate it theologically, scripturally, and socially, I couldn’t change his mind or convince him he’s wrong.

So much of my sadness is simply the brokenness. I don’t like separations, the pains and sorrows of our losses, whether like long-distance lovers yearning to be reunited or the harder grieving in death, waiting for the more consummate reunion in eternity. Some splits are stubborn disagreements that have gotten out of hand, while others for irreconcilable differences can be reasonable and necessary.

Amid such sorts of schisms, I also want you to know—for myself and for our community—that it’s a rupture or fracture in the Body when we’re not together here, even a single Sunday. Life is a busy balancing of priorities, but it still hurts to be away from you.

With all these dividings, we may wonder what we can do about it. How do we face brokenness in our relationships? If we can’t simply fix or correct what’s gone wrong, how do we move forward?

On the bright side, separations aren’t essentially the same as endings. I’m hoping my friend will remain my friend, in spite of our differences and this distancing. Transformations of the old may have good surprises. A new beginning may even be worth the steep cost.

Other times, we can only cling to hope. We heard John 17 a couple weeks ago, with Jesus’ prayer for us, that his followers would be one. Yet among both denominational and personal relationships, we’re pretty rotten at small “c” communion (being “united with” each other) or big “C” Communion (for the Lord’s Supper). We’re not unanimous (“one in spirit”).

But “uni’s” are not always desirable. We don’t believe that Jesus wanted us to be uniform, our voices in unison without harmonizing, for this to be monotonous. We’re reminded this Trinity Sunday that even God is not simply “One” but also distinguished as “Three.”

And in spite of it all, we believe and confess that we are indeed Unanimous, tied together by the one Holy Spirit, joined by God. Our fate, our hope, our existence is in God’s hands alone. Even when our divisions or barriers seem insurmountable, still we live in the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We are bound together in love—in a grand family and with all creation.

If that seems like an elusive wish, maybe our parting words—the terminology of going away—can be instructive and put flesh on it. The Germans say auf Wiedersehen, “upon-seeing-you-next-time,” sort of our “see ya later.” An adios or adieu commend somebody “to God!” in Spanish or French. That meaning is also hidden inside our “good-bye,” a contraction of “God-be-(with)-ye!” Our faith connects with the Hebrew shalom and Arabic salaam that say, “peace be with you.” Even the secular “farewell” bids the best, a salutation (meaning a “salve” for healing, health, wholeness).

Rifts in life are hard, but it’s not over until it’s over. When all else fails, maybe we practice prayerful separations, asking the best for the other. Ultimately God won’t fail. We can commend each other to God’s care and trust in what is to come; the finality remains with God who is all in all.

+ nick