Tag Archives: Custom

Non-Essential Liberty

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
1 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)

The local gathering of Jesus’ followers to which Wendy and I belong has been growing steadily in the years since I began regularly joining for worship and serving in the community. What has been interesting is that the growth is largely coming from other local and regional churches and gatherings who have been slowly fading and even shutting down. The result is that among our community of believers we have a growing, yet increasingly diverse, population who bring with them a host of different traditions, beliefs, customs, and worship practices.

What I’ve observed among the leadership and staff of our community is that the attitude has not been a black and white “This is our way and we don’t do it your way” type of attitude. Rather, I’ve observed an open attitude asking “What can we learn from the richness of all these other traditions?” The result has been a fascinating and unique experience. A traditionally “mainline” church operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit typically found in gatherings labeled “Charismatic” or “Pentecostal.” A contemporary-style worship service that incorporates pieces of ancient liturgy and generally follows the ancient church calendar. A gathering that most casual observers would label “modern evangelical” and yet during the week many in our community pray the ancient, Divine Hours. During Lent you’ll find members of our community journeying through the Stations of the Cross. The whole thing has been less “either, or” and more “both, and.”

As I read today’s chapter this morning it struck me that Paul wrote to a fledgling gathering of believers in Corinth who were experiencing their own melting pot of diverse backgrounds and belief systems. The Christian faith came out of a typically rigid, black-and-white religious system of Judaism. Yet in Corinth there would have been believers who had come from pagan backgrounds and  knew nothing of Judaic traditions or beliefs. There would have been intellectual Greeks who were mostly steeped in philosophy and had little practical understanding of any religion. The result was a clash among the local gathering of Corinthian believers. Good Jews were horrified at the notion that the meat on their table may have been once sacrificed in a pagan temple. The former pagans and those who weren’t raised in the Jewish tradition couldn’t quite understand why, on Earth, it was that big of a deal.

Paul’s wisdom was the adoption of a “both, and” spirit rooted in Jesus’ law of love. Those who rolled their eyes at fellow believers from Jewish tradition (who couldn’t handle the idea of meat sacrificed to idols) were to respect their brothers and sisters who were. If the Abrahams are coming over for dinner do the hospitable thing and keep it kosher. Those of Jewish tradition were to respect that not everyone was raised in their life-long, black-and-white religious traditions. It’s not the same for them. Take off the Jr. Holy Spirit badge. Let it go. Take one for the team. Love one another in the diversity of our consciences and convictions.

I believe St. Augustine nicely summed up what Paul was getting at a few centuries later: “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity (i.e. love).” Whether or not you care that your rib-eye had been butchered in the Temple of Apollo is a matter of individual conscience. It’s a non-essential. Love and respect those believers in your midst who come from different backgrounds and may not believe the same way you do.

This morning I’m grateful for the diverse group of believers with whom Wendy and I regularly worship. From the “frozen chosen” believers from mainline backgrounds to the former Roman Catholics and all the different forms of baggage they carry to the Charismatics who spiritually bring in da noise and da funk. I admittedly don’t always understand, nor fully appreciate where they’re all coming from. We just shrug our shoulders, keep an open mind and spirit, and love, love, love, love, love. When it comes to stuff like this I always want to live, learn, love, and operate in “non-essential liberty.”

Love Trumps Freedom

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10:24 (NIV)

Wendy and I have friends and family members who represent a broad spectrum of generations, backgrounds, beliefs and social customs. When we get together with people we are aware that others have very different thoughts and feelings about all sorts of human rituals and behaviors. From saying a prayer of thanks before a meal to whether it’s acceptable to consume alcohol to choice of appropriate words/topics to the appropriateness of a cigar after a great meal, there are many different considerations.

That’s the crucial word: consideration. When it comes social settings with others of very different beliefs, my behavior is determined largely by whether I consider my beliefs or others beliefs more important to me in that moment.

Paul was dealing with exactly the same situation among the followers of Jesus in the first century town of Corinth. Some of the community felt passionately that it was inappropriate to buy or consume meat that had been sacrificed to one of the many pagan temples there before it ended up in the market.  Others felt just as passionately that it was silly to worry about such things. The result was one of many conflicts that had come to full boil among the diverse community of believers.

For the past three chapters Paul has been addressing this controversy. Yes, he agreed, there is nothing wrong with eating the meat. Those who felt such freedom of conscience were not be convinced otherwise. At the same time, Paul urged those who experienced such freedom to be considerate of those who held different beliefs on the matter. In other words: relatively insignificant dietary rules or beliefs of religious/social propriety are subordinate to the great commandment Jesus gave: Love those who think differently than you do. When you are with them, Paul urged, consider their conscience more important than your freedom. Freedom of conscience is subordinate to the law of love.

As I ponder this principle, I am aware that at times I am admittedly guilty of putting my pride and freedom ahead of others whom I make uncomfortable. I am reminded this morning: Love trumps freedom. Consideration of others trumps the freedom of my conscience. A good thing for me to embrace and apply as I press on with my journey today.

Art Heals (Continued)

I’m grateful to come from a family of artists and craftsmen. While most people think of art as confined to drawing, painting and sculpture, there is no doubt that the river of creation has an endless number of tributaries, and my family members have explored a lot of them. Despite the fact that we have a wide range of personalities and bents, everyone has found their own artistic and creative outlets. In my house I have a watercolor done by my mother. I have a pastel done by my brother Terry. I have a work of calligraphy and a custom bass guitar made by my brother Tim. There is photography by our daughter Madison along with paintings and drawings by our daughter Taylor.

The newest piece to the expanding family collection arrived a few weeks ago. The story of this piece begins in childhood. In the church we attended while growing up there was a small prayer room and in the prayer room there was a kneeling bench. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression because I certainly didn’t frequent the place. I did, however, use the room once or twice and it must have made an impression on me because I’ve never forgotten it. For many years now, I’ve quietly desired to have a prayer bench of my own. As I spend time in conversation with God each morning and praying the hours throughout my day, I’ve thought that I would like to have a prayer bench at which to kneel.

Earlier this summer the desire rose up once again and I began looking on-line for what one of these would cost. As I looked through some of the pictures and advertisements it struck me that my craftsman father could make one that would be every bit as nice as the ones I was looking at on-line and probably nicer. I shot off an e-mail asking if he’d like to do a little project for me. He quickly replied that he would love to do so. In no time I had learned that he, unsatisfied with finding any pre-made plans, had begun to design his own from scratch and he soon had me kneeling on phone books and taking measurements.

A few weeks ago he presented me with the kneeling bench complete with a reading shelf for my Bible and copy of the Divine Hours. Unbeknownst to me, Dad even had Wendy doing a little reconnaissance to find out about some verses that I considered to be “life verses.” Over a dinner date, in response to her curiosity, I’d shared with Wendy how central Psalm 112 had become to my life over the past decade. When Dad presented me with my prayer bench, I was shocked to find that he had Psalm 112:1 engraved on its reading shelf.

The kneeling bench now sits right next to my desk and I’m enjoying having one more work of family art that I both admire and get to functionally use each day. I’m sure the family arts collection will continue to grow. I hope to someday enjoy work of arts and crafts by my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and my nephews and nieces as they explore their own tributaries of Creation’s river.