Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 4Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
I recently found myself engaging with the above text in relation to my experience of Evangelicalism as a tribe, with tribal influence. When it comes to assumptions made about the experiences, hopes, insights, dreams and beliefs of those of us who self-define as evangelical, I have found this to be a significant problem.
There are particular markers that are assumed non-negotiables of the tribe. That which is considered the culture, ‘the way we do things here’, or ‘what we think’. The challenging of these markers is deemed to be beyond the pale and creates high risk of ensuring our ejection from this tribe.
Well, I never really got on with the idea that I would sacrifice thinking, questioning, challenging, truth-telling and wrestling with God, in order to be part of a club.
Actually, that’s a teensy weensy lie.
I’m a conformist at heart. Honest.
I was a good girl at school (except when I petitioned the headteacher because they stopped someone taking their exams and I thought it was just to do with league tables), I was excellent when I was a police cadet (although I had to report a police officer for misconduct), I was great at church (until, they started preaching that God hated some)
The thing is – I want to conform. I really do, it honestly causes me a stupid amount of stress sometimes to do what a number of people seem to assume comes naturally to me. Stick my head above the parapet. Point out that the emperor doesn’t seem to be wearing any clothes. Rock the boat.
But all through my life, that is what I have seemed incapable of not doing.
Why…why…I ask myself, am I HERE….again.
Why cannot someone else be sticking their head in this particular guillotine shaped hole?
I will be perfectly content to cheerlead from the sidelines. I love pompoms.
And in actual fact, I like the club! I don’t want to leave it. It’s my home and it’s where I have been formed and being chucked out is not to be worn with a shrug of the shoulders and an ‘ah well, I’ll find a new place – here this bus shelter will do…..’
But I don’t half get frustrated with my evangelical siblings. The strict control of what makes for acceptable discussion, surely makes for a kind of pseudo-community. Where people tentatively, flicking their eyes at one another, suggest possible questions, but are quickly given the sign that some things are just not up for grabs. This doesn’t of course mean that those things are not thought about. It just means that there are a lot of people thinking things on their own in their head and choosing belonging instead. I cannot think that this is a healthy state of affairs. But it is understandable – belonging is a serious part of human functioning. It is not just a nice fluffy feeling that we get with our friends. It is how our identity is made up – because it is a measure of which relationships form us. Belonging is high on the agenda of human need and flourishing.
So I do find myself torn sometimes. I have a strong ‘cause’ streak that runs through me. I am incapable it seems of choosing to avoid the conflict, if it seems to be that an issue of justice is at stake. Or simply that ‘It’s Not Fair.’ I believe this is shown up by various ‘Personality’ type tools that I have done. But I could have told you it without them. I could never cheat at board games as a child.
However, it does often cause me angst to stand where I stand. And deep frustration. How can we ever hope to have genuine relationship and understanding of what we think, when it’s at the risk of being sent out to the wilderness?
But the temptation of belonging does pull on me, and sometimes I find myself silent.
And this is where the Jesus encounter above sits in my heart.
If I am ever tempted by belonging over justice, over compassion, over love, then this is the text that jumps into my brain.
‘he was grieved at their hardness of heart’
Sometimes I find myself fearful of not having any tribal home in the CofE – I’m an evangelical, but often that seems under threat. But I can tell you that the fear of having Jesus look at me and be grieved at my hard heart is whole magnitudes larger than that.
I am more than unwilling to ever stand before Jesus and have him look at me and be angry that I chose to harden my heart rather than risk being wrong for the sake of love. When I say ‘more than unwilling’, I mean, I would rather risk everything and have a fleshy vulnerable mistaken heart.