I love the Texas Rangers. I mean, love. And there’s very little I enjoy more than going to the ballpark. I love being outside. I love getting nachos. It happens during the fifth inning after I’ve gone back and forth as to whether or not I want all that processed cheese and the highest allowable amount of jalapenos. I eventually succumb to the voice that pretends I can’t get these nachos at the gas station near my house. Being at the ballpark is like being in a different world. I yell in a way I normally don’t yell. I eat what I normally don’t eat. I pay twelve dollars for a $1 drink. But the craziest thing I do is high-five and hug the strangers next to me when Hamilton or Murphy or Cruz smack the ball. I somehow feel close enough to my section-mates to celebrate with them or commiserate with them throughout the game. We’re all in it together.
The ballpark is a place of deep unity. I somehow feel connected to the lady behind home plate who awkwardly cheers with a monkey puppet. I am not as annoyed by the drunk guy on my row who keeps yelling, “You SUCK!” to the other team’s pitcher. I make allowances for people’s idiosyncratic behavior. Even if I don’t paint my stomach, I’m the same as that guy over there. I wear a Murphy jersey instead of a Kinsler jersey. Who cares? Same team.
I wish I was as gracious in the Church as I am at the ball park. In the church culture, I’m far less accepting. I criticize the way people cheer. I criticize the people who are cheered for. I judge whether or not their cheers are authentic, based on accurate or educated understanding. I tear apart someone else’s enjoyment of the church instead of affirming what we have in common.
It’s easy to cheer next to a person with whom you have one goal. Because the truth is, at the baseball game, no one cares what I’m going to do when I get home.
But it’s naïve to think it’s effortless to cheer next to people who you deeply feel are wrong.
Yet within the universal Church, we all have those people—the people who we think are too conservative or liberal, biblical literalists or open theists. The people that follow John Piper or Rob Bell. Those who stand any where on the spectrum of a hot button issue.
It can be hard for me to worship with people who doubt my calling to preach. There are days when I don’t want to worship with people who criticize me—those days when I’m drowning in feelings of defeat and a desire to prove myself. It can be a real unity killer for me, knowing that if I stood up at most churches within my denomination and preached from the pulpit, men and women alike would not want to hear from God through me.
And while I feel strongly that we must fight against oppression within the kingdom, that we must speak up against things that subjugate or dominate people, I also feel that we can do so in a spirit of unity.
We are on the same side. We’re cheering for the same end goal. The effort we put in despising other players on the same team would be better spent in love. It’s easy to accept those who have carbon copy beliefs. But life in the kingdom is about figuring out how to love in the midst of differences—figuring out how to push down walls by standing on the same side.
This is the challenge—to love the parts of the Body we’d rather not love. But this is also the beauty of the calling. It’s not easy—it requires a courage that comes from resting in God’s love. Relying on natural affection will never achieve the unity Christ requires. It doesn’t matter how I feel about a person—it matters that they are loved. I’m freed to bypass my natural feelings toward a person or church or perspective in order to take God’s outlook.
Somehow, this is a better unity than the nacho-laden ball game. Because this unity is grounded in reality—the reality of the Kingdom. Our unity is founded on Jesus, not our ability to eradicate differences. I often feel I wait to love until someone agrees with me. But, we already have all we need in order to live together—and it’s up to us to choose to live in it. It’s up to us not only to cheer alongside one another, but to cheer for each other. This kind of unity, this brave, real kind that exists in the midst of strong diversity—this is what shows the world who God is.