Friday, May 28, 2010

The Power of Mutuality

Being together, in the best sense, is the commitment to see one another experience God's best.  That's the essence of biblical love.

This is the final installment of the previous series of posts.  I didn't share this part at the men's retreat, but it's been on my mind and a fifth post rounds out the week.

There's a lot to be said for mutuality.  That's the shared nature of life that can be the source of great frustration and great joy.  That mutuality can come in many forms:  mutual interests, activities, relationships, goals, etc.  And the benefits are numerous as well:  better outputs, deeper relationships, greater understanding, etc.

For instance, I'll never forget the time my dad and I spent three days building a fence around the property of our house in Waco.  It was about 400 linear feet, three stringers, 6' privacy pickets, metal posts at 8-foot intervals cemented in the ground - very hard ground at that, rocks and clay.  Lots of work done, lots of conversation had, lots of mutuality.

Bill and I shared some mutuality too.  We were at seminary together, he as professor, me as his teaching assistant.  But he was a lot more than that to me and I became more than that to him.  For some reason, he actually liked the cocky, sarcastic, often foolish kid who helped him get ready for class each day.  His patience for idiots was forged in the 1960's, when he pastored the first church to integrate their preschool in their entire state.  Death threats and a midnight train for his family, while he stayed mind you, were some of the tools for growing patience.  And his career as a resolver of conflict.  He was brought in by churches in their worst moments to do what Jesus wanted but no one was willing to do.  The stories he told...

Outside of the seminary tasks, we had little in common.  He loved fishing, I loved catching fish but not fishing - give me a basketball game any day.  He was probably a little more *ahem* broader in his theological disposition.  I was (and still am, no doubt) wound tightly on that front.  But he and his wife found room at the dinner table for a seminary student.  He had this annoying practice of saying thanks, ending with, "Amen," and then lobbing out the question of the night.  I hadn't even put mashed potatoes on my plate yet and we're 5 minutes into whether or not Communion can be used as a religious education tool for children and the implications of that.  The conversation was always thoughtful, often spicy, and wonderfully irenic.

My favorite Bill moment was at his table where some peppered discussion was going on over roast, potatoes, and green beans.  He looked at me, flummoxed...

Bill:  "I have finally figured out why I like you."

Me:  "Because I don't eat all your rolls?"

Bill:  "No.  You drive me crazy sometimes with your theological strictness.  But you're no fun-damn-mentalist," emphasizing the middle syllable accordingly.

We talked a lot about that.  He believed my conservative theology is a position, but fundamentalism is an attitude.  One you can work with, the other you cannot.

Our mutuality of shared concern for the church and his patience with me led me to be more in God's likeness.  Our mutuality and his patience made me think more deeply and be more open to others with whom I might hold disagreement.  Our mutuality and his patience modeled for me that it's okay to disagree and still be mutually engaged in important things.

I have no idea what he got out of the relationship, outside of copies made and tests typed and graded.  I was honored to be called his friend.  I was honored to visit him when he was sick.  I was honored to be his pall-bearer.

Mutuality matters.  How else will you do all those "one anothers" in the New Testament?  Mutuality matters because through it you can experience God's love.  It's what makes the church the church and not a monolithic rock, cold and unfeeling.

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