Laurelville’s mission statement begins:
In response to God’s gracious generosity, Laurelville plants, cultivates and nurtures Christ-like hospitality with welcome and safety for all…
I spend a lot of time wondering about that… What does “Christ-like hospitality for all” look like? How does this happen?
In my work, I interact with Christians (and even non-Christians) with diverse beliefs, opinions, and values. It amuses me that people from opposite ends of the spectrum (on any hot-button topic) will share things with me and automatically assume that I agree with them – simply because I work at Laurelville. Little do they know! It just isn’t possible for me to be in agreement with everyone. Nevertheless, I am thankful for these interactions and am always searching for ways to build bridges – a challenge when you only interact with someone for maybe a day or two.
In a recent essay, Gerald Mast describes two directions that difficult conversations may take. Perhaps counter-intuitively, he argues that maintaining complexity in our social interactions is a good thing, while reducing complexity is harmful. To understand this, we must recognize our tendency to define ourselves by saying what we are against. It is easy to create dichotomies – to say this is good, and that is bad. Or to state things more forcefully: I am good, and you are bad. When I speak this way, I have let myself embrace a complexity-reducing position. However, if I refuse to exclude you from my social circle – if I avoid the language of insiders and outsiders – then I am maintaining complexity.
As I am looking for ways to build bridges and extend hospitality to all of Laurelville’s guests, I am impressed by Mast’s analysis. It provides a helpful reminder to me in the midst of the diversity of visitors we receive. But in talking with Ordinary Spouse*, I also realized that I am biased and others might not care to maintain complexity.
* Ordinary Spouse and I have many of our best conversations in our van on the road while we’re travelling. This was one of them.
This embrace of complexity goes against the impulse of holiness.** The desire for holiness is something that may drive us to erect boundaries in order to remain pure. One might even argue that holiness and bridge-building are diametric opposites. And even if that seems a bit strong, it is understandable that someone who prioritizes holiness would not appreciate bridge-building efforts. In fact, I think that simply being willing to build bridges – not even taking sides – might be enough to drive wedges into communities where members have differing priorities.
Naturally at this point, my thinking drifts away from Laurelville to the Church generally and to my denomination, Mennonite Church USA, specifically. I wonder: Is it possible that my desire (or anyone else’s, for that matter) to build bridges is actually achieving the opposite result? As Ordinary Spouse put it…
Is my presence at the communion table driving you away?
In fact, I can think of local and denominational examples where I suspect this to be the case.
Well – you can see that I’ve tied myself into a knot. Where do I go from here? I want to build bridges; to avoid the language of us vs. them; to use complexity-maintaining arguments. And doing so is counter-productive.
I don’t have a good answer, except to realize this problem is not solved by me sitting around thinking. I have to be true to myself and earnest in my dealings with others. Anything beyond that is in God’s hands, I suppose.