A Question of Location – It’s a Game Changer

January 16, 2022

I recently watched an interesting piece on ’60 Minutes’ about an organization, StoryCorps, which travels the country recording responses to the question: “What would you say to people you love if you knew you only had 40 minutes left to live?”

The purpose? To reorient priorities. 

Recently, the group began a new project: One Small Step.

In this project, people of diverse political viewpoints, predetermined to dislike those with opposing viewpoints, are paired to share, not their politics, but their life stories in face-to-face, one-on-one sessions.  

The premise: it is more difficult to dislike others we interact with when given the opportunity for face-to-face interaction on a personal level.

The sessions begin, not with the act of listening to each other ‘tell about themselves’ (which can often become so much blah blah, to the listener), but rather by one individual reading the biography of other aloud.  

All senses are engaged in the exercise: the reader holds a paper synopsizing another’s life, while speaking the life of that other through his/her own voice. As roles are exchanged, the previous reader now listens to his/her own life spoken through the other’s voice.

‘Predetermined adversaries’ are now able to see each other from a nexus of commonality: family stories, favorite meals, hobbies, family traditions, vacation spots, etc. 

From this One Small Step, participants begin to compassionately understand where each other is ‘located’ (how each one ‘got to where they are’), how more alike than different they both are, and the healing process can begin: from a culture of contempt to a culture of compassionate life together.

As I watched, I wondered…

So many of our churches are fragilely held together by polity and finances, rather than by Christ’s mission of love for all the world, creating a ‘religious culture of contempt.’

We are often perceived as gatherings of the self-validating and self-righteous – be we liberal or conservative; a gathering into which folks are ‘invited’ so that we might increase our numbers and offer our particular brand of religious Kool-Aid.  Should they choose not to drink what is offered? Ah well, they’ll get thirsty soon enough or leave for a ‘less holy’ drink stand. 

Sounds harsh, perhaps, but this is what I hear ‘out there’! 

People are ‘turned off church,’ not so much over contemporary versus traditional worship, but rather by the perceived divisiveness within us and the culture of contempt that we unwittingly project to the world.

I wonder what would happen if we had our own One Small Step project with no agenda beyond sharing life together as we ‘locate each other’ and find common ground on which to build a Christ-centered community where folks feel listened to and loved? 

The template is right there in scripture: 

  • In the ‘beginning’ with the story of the Fall (Genesis 3)
    • The humans sin
    • God comes into the garden and asks a weighted question: 
      • ‘Where are you?’  
      • A potentially game changing question of location: physical, psychological, and emotional
    • God knows the answer but is 
      • offering a holding space for listening, reconciliation and new beginnings
      • giving the humans a chance to self-locate 
    • But the humans blow it. 
      • Setting in motion a culture of contempt by playing the blame game
      • Relegating themselves to the consequence of broken relationship

How often do we in church zealously condemn the sin of others by not listening to understand the ‘location’ circumstance of ‘the other,’ though expecting compassionate location questions from others in regard to the circumstance of our own sins? 

How often do we deny holding spaces for grace-filled listening, reconciliation, and new beginnings for all leads to broken relationship across the board?

  • Then there’s Job.  (Job)
    • The man’s life was a mess.  
    • Job’s friends showed up
      • While they sit in silent empathy, they are awesome friends.  
      • However, they start talking
        • Not asking Job the game changing location questions
        • Rather telling Job how he screwed up! Culture of Contempt 
    • Then God speaks. 
      • The Lord has listened long enough to the men’s locations. 
        • The friends are wrong.  
        • God blasts their self-righteous platitudes
    • Job’s meager questions are wrong. 
      • The Lord allowed space for Job’s doubts 
      • But even Job needs a reality check.  
    • Job becomes the reconciler
      • Having listened ‘to all sides’ Job prays for his friends – game changer
      • community begins again

How often do we as church provide platitudes to those who are suffering when we really haven’t a clue as to their location and circumstances? Instead of faulting the victim, how often do we empathize with, pray for, and work toward finding a nexus of commonality so that we might offer them new life together with us?

  • Then Elijah. (1 Kings 19)
    • Elijah is over it: 
      • his calling
      • his lack of collegial support
      • over life (and God!) itself
  • God asks a locating question:  
    • ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ Game changer! 
      • God knows the answers.  
      • But wants to hear from Elijah so that Elijah is addressed at his self-located place of need.
  • Elijah leaves strengthened and renewed in his call 

How often do we listen to the hearts of the disillusioned and burned out among us and help them begin again not where we think they should begin, but where they actually feel the need to begin?

+ + +

Christ is all about game changing location questions.

With only a few exceptions, Christ consistently honors the one who comes to Him for healing and help by asking some game changing version of ‘what do you want me to do for you?’.  (Check it out)

But, healing isn’t the only game changing location question Christ engages in:

  • there was the rich young ruler struggling with his faith 
    • The man left the holy Q&A, still struggling 
    • Christ showed no contempt for the lack of resolution, but rather loved the man even as he left, making room for the man’s further struggle and potential resolution.

As church do we lovingly leave room for spiritually struggling rather than condemning them as just not as ‘grounded/spiritual enough’ as we are?

  • Then there’s Peter on the beach with the risen Christ 
    • No divine contempt because Peter screwed up!  
    • Rather a game changing question of location.  “Do you love me?” 

When as church do we work toward non-judgmental reconciliation and renewal as defined by Christ’s unconditional love for all?

These are hard reflections, I know, but we live in hard times; times in need of a game changing church which: 

  • Chooses to be relational game changers for Christ by focused listening to and compassionate ‘location’ of not only those in the world, but within the church herself.
  • Is willing to share life stories face-to-face with those we have predetermined to dislike because of ‘flawed theology’ or lifestyle by to ask the ‘location questions’ in order to understand each other 
  • Will listen with focus to life stories and love without condition 

We as church are intended to be game changing instruments of God employed in the ushering in the peaceable kingdom of God on earth, where those living in the darkness of condemnation and hate come to live safely in the light of the inclusion and love found among God’s people.

This is the game changing work of God’s church!

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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