I like Rick Mercer. I think he has wise and humorous things to say and he highlights things that are quintessentially Canadian. I particularly like the “rant” segment on his tv show where he wanders around back alleys talking to the camera about something that’s bugging him.
The Holy Spirit has moved me – I’ll come back to that in a minute – to have a little rant this week. So imagine me stomping around the back alleys of town talking to myself. (You may have already seen me doing that, anyway.)
Tolerance. Just the other day, someone, in a meeting I was at, brought up tolerance. I think it was in the context of saying that our church is very tolerant, but to be honest, I’m not really sure. Soon as somebody uses the words tolerance and church in the same sentence, I have trouble listening. I’m not very tolerant, I guess. Here’s why.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the compliment – yes, it’s a compliment – and I know it was intended to be positive. But I don’t think Jesus taught tolerance. Ever. I think being tolerant implies that there’s something to be tolerant of. And, especially when it comes to people, Jesus never showed, suggested or asked for tolerance, only love.
Now, you might be thinking “cue the singing of Kumbaya, let’s all hug and feel the warm fuzzies,” but Jesus wasn’t for that either. Jesus was for love, radical, engaging, challenging, spirit-led love. Jesus didn’t tolerate anyone for being different, he engaged them, communicated with them and learned about them, connecting to them, building a relationship and building community with them. There was nothing to tolerate, only love. That’s not easy, it can be challenging and not always successful or satisfying. That didn’t stop Jesus, though.
I wonder if, when we approach people with tolerance, it isn’t giving us an out, a way of recognizing that they’re different but keeping them at a safe distance. If we can acknowledge them and put up with them, we don’t need to engage them. We can feel good about the fact that we’ve noticed and let them have their own space, but not welcomed them into ours or tried to relate to them and learn more about them.
This week on the church calendar is Pentecost, the day we often refer to as the church’s birthday. The story is that the disciples felt the spirit, symbolized in a rushing wind and tongues of fire, and began to speak to everyone there in their own language (Acts 2:1-21). Perhaps we focus on the wind and fire because it’s energy and enthusiasm, but the key part of the story, I think, is that the spirit moved the disciples to communicate in a way that each person, unique and individual, could understand. The spirit didn’t tolerate difference, but embraced it, engaged it, and found a way to connect with it.
Similarly, Paul later wrote to the Corinthians about how we each have our own gifts, unique, distinct and different gifts, but they are all inspired by the same Spirit. In the Spirit, we are one body, Paul says, each of us a different part, but still part of one body (1 Corinthians 12). Not only do we need all the parts, we need them to work together. I know it’s hard, I have to look into the mirror too, but I don’t think Paul wants you to tolerate your body, he wants you to love it and all its parts.
Whether it’s your own body, the body which is your faith community, your town, your family, your home, your team, your work, your world, don’t treat it like there’s something to tolerate. Treat it like something to love.