A Pastoral Letter on Recent Events
In the past couple of weeks, incidents in Ferguson and Staten Island revealed a long-existing divide in our nation. My purpose in writing to you is not to debate the specifics of those cases, but rather to exhort our community to be a place where we come together and talk honestly with one another.
Our community represents a diversity of opinion and perspective which is something I highly value. We strive to create a culture of asking questions, wrestling with challenging issues, and being open with one another. This is easier to do with some topics, much harder with others. Race, which is deeply embedded in the Ferguson and Staten Island incidents, is one of the toughest ones to talk about.
I understand the hesitation to engage in this topic—I know our community is one in which people endeavor to treat each other with respect and do not want to offend others. To talk about race may feel like walking into a field of unmarked landmines, and most folks would rather choose a different field than attempt to engage this issue. Don’t—this is too important for us to not talk about, especially in a faith community.
Ferguson and Staten Island are not far off situations that do not affect us—they are us. The racial disparities between black and white people in Wisconsin are among the worst in the United States. This issue is our issue because we all live here.
The reasons are complex and the range of opinions vast. Yet God calls us to be one body in Christ, to come together with our brothers and sisters whom we might normally be divided from. The gospel is about reconciling people to God, and people to each other. That is what I want our Pres House community to be about and it will mean we all need to practice something I call “holy friction.”
When you are faithfully trying to live out God’s kingdom here on earth, you can count on holy friction being present. Let me first tell you what holy friction is not. Many people avoid conflict for good reason because friction without purpose just wears on a person’s soul and can be toxic for a community. It is often drama filled and life sucking with people more interested in proving they are right than seeking understanding or reconciliation. That is not the kind of friction I am talking about.
Holy friction is different because it is friction with a purpose. Holy friction looks like people from different backgrounds coming around the table and staying there even though they disagree and do not see eye to eye, because they are committed to loving one another despite the world’s expectation that they hate each other. There will be bumping up against each other, folks rubbing other folks the wrong way, times when things get really hot because it is hard to dialogue with people whose views offend you. Yet holy friction is necessary if all of God’s people are going to be reconciled to one another because it is hard work to be truly honest and work towards understanding that transforms everyone around the table.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to something much bolder than we can imagine or achieve on our own. When we are truly engaging in the work of becoming one body in Christ, there will be friction, but that does not mean something is wrong; in fact it probably means something right is going on. That is holy friction, and you want to stay at the table long enough to witness Christ’s grace unfold through that sacred work. If you disengage or leave, you miss out on being a part of what God is doing. Holy friction is a sign of hope that the Holy Spirit is doing something new that will bring light to the dark places in our world.
I know people in our community have different perspectives and disagree with each other on the incidents which have unfolded in recent weeks, yet many folks are reluctant to bring it up with others at Pres House. I encourage you to remember holy friction and risk talking authentically with one another. For there to be change, we must start with our own community.
In that vein, I want you to know that my door is open if you would like to talk, whatever these incidents have brought up for you. And especially if you are struggling with some of the words I have said about these incidents, I invite you to share them with me in the spirit of holy friction. Let us commit to listening to one another, sharing life together, and loving each other as a testimony to Christ’s grace for all of us around his table.
There has been much dark news recently, a sense that things cannot change, and a feeling that we have no impact. Don’t believe those lies. Viktor Frankl wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” Let us engage in holy friction, trusting that the sparks which may flare are a sign that God is transforming us into the beloved community where everyone is truly welcome.
Grace and Peace,