How often my blogs, letters, even thoughts, start with “I.” This easily expands to “me, my, mine, we, us, and our.” As a former English teacher, I had to concern myself about the proper use of these personal and possessive pronouns. But, I had no trouble in linking the objective “me” with the objective “them.” A recent discovery led me to the conclusion that none of the pronouns “me, my, mine, we, us,” and “our” can be objective in an emotional sense. The problem surfaces because “he, she, it, they, them, and theirs” suggest a difference, separation, and wall.
The minute I mention wall, into my mind pops Frost’s “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” which he parallels with his neighbor’s “Good fences make good neighbors.” Both statements make sense at times, but Frost says, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know /What I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offence” (“Mending Wall”).
On a recent trip to visit family, I was reminded of the walls built by religion. I am an ordained United Church of Christ female, white, liberal minister. All of these descriptors put me into a category of belief. My family members I was visiting are Southern Baptist, and conservative. These descriptors put my “family ” into an “us” and “them” relationship. Other descriptors, however, such as “Christian” and “family” and yes, I venture to say “love” put us together. I know by the hurt of exclusion that “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” But I also know that the faith I hold requires me to continue to ignore the wall and to embrace that which is positive about the faith we do share.
As I struggled with this on the way home from my family vacation, I read a blog by Chuck Fager ( Quaker Theology) that is now filed under the category of Quaker Theology and titled “A Message from John Wesley to Kevin Rollins (& Others)”. It references a sermon by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (Wesley Center Online) The sermon is on the text Mark 9:38-41. The disciple John was telling Jesus that someone was driving out devils [doing good] in Jesus name, but was not one of them, and the disciples tried to stop him. Jesus indicated that if the man was doing good in Jesus name, then he was good. If, Jesus says, this man simply was willing to offer the disciples a drink of water, he should not be criticized.
Wesley reminds us in many strong words just how much acceptance of “them” is required of us. Unfortunately, Wesley spoke using the typical male pronouns of his day and struggled with his own unconscious or conscious bias. He encouraged women to “testify” rather than “preach” (Azusa U blog) says Dr. Karen Winslow from Azusa Pacific University in an article entitled “Wesleyan Perspectives on Women in Ministry.”
Wesley’s conflict with his own culturally instilled bigotry is a testament to how very hard the struggle of the pronouns, “we and us” versus the “they and them” is. What has settled my mind and heart after the conflict of religious belief and love of family include four recent words of grace.
- Mark’s Gospel Chapter 9: 38-41 which calls me to accept any willing to give me even a drink of water because I am a follower, not a follower like them.
- Words by Milton Irvin, an African American UCC minister who in a sermon given at our church mentioned the importance of sitting down with those whom we disagree. This sermon was preached before the massacre at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston and my heart aches but I am also so proud and moved by those who offered love at the price of their own lives. They, too, accepted the cross.
- Another African American pastor at a Vigil for those lost gave new meaning to “That they shall all be one” by speaking of the wonderful gift of vegetable soup in which nourishment comes to all, but the individual parts that make up the soup retain their individuality.
The most difficult part of acting all of this out whenever I am faced with the many conflicts involving “us” and “them” is that it is easy to point out how “they” should accept “us,” but much more challenging to figure ways that “I” must accept “them.” But that seems to be the clear message. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”