by | Mar 1, 2021

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Mark 8:34-35

Every Thursday at 4 pm, Monte Vista Grove has been holding their Convocations by Zoom. I have attended several, and they have been fascinating. It seems that because they are meeting via Zoom, they are able to hear speakers from Virginia, Chicago, and Australia. Their current series will continue through March, and I encourage you to join them via https://www.mvgh.org/convocations

This coming Thursday, the Convocation will celebrate the World Day of Prayer, this year led by the women of the island nation of Vanuatu. On March 11, General Assembly Co-Moderator Elona Street- Stewart will speak; she is a wise Indigenous woman who has been a national church leader for decades. It was so perfect that she and Gregory Bentley are Co-Moderators at this moment, because both have been strong leaders and prophets for the PC(USA) for many years, and so are well prepared to provide guidance and challenge during this time of new awareness and self-examination.

On March 18 and 24, Ross Purdy and Jerry Andrews will speak on “Evangelicalism in the Presbyterian Church Today.” I am so grateful for the opportunity to listen to these sessions, because the evangelical voice has been almost totally silenced in the PC(USA) in recent years. I am also grateful for evangelical leaders who continue to strive to be a reconciling presence through and after the conflict that caused so much distress in the denomination. Jerry Andrews has been especially proactive in seeking dialogue among evangelicals and progressives in the PC(USA).

I could not attend last week’s session, but the talk from the week before still rings in my ears. The speaker was Trevor Wie, a man who was raised among the Original Peoples of Australia. He took on the challenge of explaining the social psychology and value set of his indigenous culture—in less than one hour! It was a daunting challenge which he took on valiantly, but I confess I had a difficult time understanding all he was sharing with us. I took to spotlighting other attendees to see if they seemed to be tracking better than I.

I was especially intrigued in Mr. Wie’s talk because the description included the statement “When you are asking questions you are not listening.” That statement immediately took me back to Hawai‘i, where I could see the stark contrast between the locals (Polynesian and Asian) who learned by watching their elders, and the mainlanders who needed verbal instructions given to them. This caused stress for the locals whose ways were ignored or misinterpreted unless they forced themselves to explain what had never been reduced to words before, and the mainlanders felt excluded and mystified by local ways that were not explained to them.

It also reminded me of my surprise when I was told that a Hawaiian value was tentativeness. Now how often have you heard a North American parent say, “I just wish my child would grow up to be more tentative!” The value of being tentative is not one of timidness or fearfulness, but of grace, or a reluctance to impose oneself unnecessarily on others.

As Mr. Wie spoke of the importance of permission, I thought of Indigenous people on this continent, who are so careful to seek permission before they speak of their ancestors, or of their culture. That clicked for me, how difficult it was for me to understand Mr. Wie’s sharing as long as I listened from my North American, non-Indigenous context. When I lived in Hawai‘i, I had the great privilege to serve a native Hawaiian church, so I had several years of stories and practices and lessons and mistakes and forgiveness that helped me glimpse into an entirely different way of being. I can’t say that I truly understood their world view, but I could see how there was a very different set of values that, when taken together as a whole, provided an alternate way of life that taught me so much. When I lived in Hawai‘i, I often thought I was a better person when I was there—I think I brought back with me some of what I learned, but I apologize to you all now for what I have forgotten!

Even if I was qualified to explain, I would not try to articulate this way of being that is so fundamentally different from the dominant culture here. But a few values that I think might be shared with other indigenous cultures include:

  • the strong sense of community belonging (and seeing oneself only within the context of community),
  • the dual values of gratitude for abundance, and responsibility (or practicing moderation),
  • the integration of spiritual/physical/rational/intuitive experience, and
  • the value of humility, which might be adjacent to tentativeness, as a sign of respect for

Why am I sharing this? We are in the season of Lent, and we are reminded of the ways Jesus sacrificed himself for the cause of righteousness—and then challenged us to do likewise. Yesterday I heard a preacher be totally open with the difficulty of trying to follow the way of Jesus, when we remember that the way of Jesus was the way of the cross. In our society, much of Jesus’ teachings would be considered irrational, and downright unhealthy. But if we are truly converted away from the ways of the world, if we fully lean into the goodness of God and life eternal, if we want to emulate the love of Jesus for friends and those in need, then perhaps we can let go of what seems reasonable—which can also be restricting us from a faith-filled life.

Rather than picking and choosing one lesson or another—like choosing one thing to “give up for Lent”

—perhaps we might offer our whole selves to God. And by giving ourselves to God, we may see how everything falls together, in a way that celebrates community, and grace, and abundance, and giftedness, and humility, and self-restraint, and gentleness, and respect, and trust in God whose power to love and save has been shown to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus warned us that this new way of being will be misunderstood, even hated, by the rest of the world, because the way of God’s realm is not the way of the world. May we follow God’s way—and by doing so, our lives will be small glimpses into the kin- dom. What a heavenly calling!

May this Lenten season remind you of God’s love. Peace,