Draw Your Own Circle

Blind Faith (No. 21, 2015)
Weekly Devotional for May 21, 2015
Draw Your Own Circle

Polarization is rampant! It is far too prevalent in too many
segments of daily life. Benign forms can exist, such as the polar separation
in the state of Alabama between War Eagles and Crimson Tide faithful. More
virulent forms of polarization fuel talk radio and 24-hour cable news
outlets. Political polarization fuels slinging epithets today that would
have been thought libelous or treasonous a generation ago. Religious
polarization is repackaged as “culture wars” when adherents of different
world religions castigate each other as infidels. Some of the most
intractable polarization separates people within denominational families who
share most principles of faith, but whose differences seem to drive them
farther and farther apart.
Whatever the field of conflict may be, little ground appears to be reserved
or tolerated on which genuine conversation and attempts to understand one
another better can occur. Dialogue is often reviled, rather than pursued as
a possible path to uncoerced conclusions that offer the greatest good for
all parties. Angry rhetoric fuels angrier responses from opposing forces,
and the division widens and becomes more difficult to heal. Harsh words hit
like a clenched fist.

I was saddened to learn that two churches that had worked
together for several years on a significant mission project would not
continue their shared mission. It seems that leaders of one group decided
that they could not participate in any mission supported by a national group
with whom the other church identified. No matter that the partnership had
been doing work together in Jesus’ name for several years, or that many
lives had been touched with the grace of Christ through the shared project.
Each church will be involved in mission actions, but they will not be seen
by the world working together demonstrating the bond of love they have found
as followers of Jesus.

Such polarization certainly is not the way of living demonstrated by Jesus.
Rather than finding justification for parting ways, followers of Jesus
should continually show hospitality toward brothers and sisters in Christ
and also to those who have yet to respond to Jesus in faith. At every level
of interaction – international, political, denominational, among family and
friends -Christians have a clear example from our Lord to offer grace and
inclusion even to those whose words and actions are the most hurtful to us.

I was reminded of the transforming grace of extending Jesus’ kind of
acceptance to others across lines of division by a story related in a book
by a Seminary classmate, and by remembering a life-long favorite poem. The
story powerfully illustrates redrawing the lines that can divide fellow
believers:
During World War II, some French soldiers took one of their slain friends to
a French cemetery located in a Catholic churchyard, hoping to bury him with
some dignity. The priest in charge of the cemetery told them he must inquire
whether their friend was Catholic. When they said they did not know, the
priest said he was very sorry, but only members of the Catholic Church could
be buried in the cemetery. Dejectedly, the soldiers buried their friend just
outside the fence of the cemetery.
The next day they returned to pay their final respects and were startled
because they couldn’t find the grave. Just as they were about to leave,
thoroughly bewildered by their inability to find any trace of the grave, the
priest came out to see them.
He told them that he had been so troubled by the rule against burying the
soldier’s body in the cemetery, that early in the morning he had dug up the
cemetery fence and moved it to include the body of the soldier who had died
for France.
(From Our Christian Heritage: Hundreds of Ways to Add Christian History to
Teaching, Preaching, and Writing, C. Douglas Weaver, ed., Smythe-Helwys,
2009)

That story called to mind a quatrain I committed to memory shortly after I
first heard it. The poem, “Outwitted,” by Edwin Markham was written sometime
early last century. Markham was a teenager in California when reports of
fierce battles of the Civil War were reported from the states back East. He
was middle-aged when World War I raged in Europe. Mankind’s propensity for
drawing battle lines between people disturbed him greatly. His life gave no
evidence that he was a Christian, although his brief poem captures an
essential quality that the New Testament commends to all followers of Jesus:

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
(“Outwitted,” Edwin Markham, 1852-1940)

Each of these expressions points toward a Christian response to
polarization. We must ask ourselves whether we will be constrained by the
circles drawn by other people, or whether we will let Jesus guide our hands
to redraw the lines. Paul says that redrawing the lines is precisely what
Jesus did in his life, death, and resurrection, and it is the example for
believers to follow with one another and with everyone for whom Christ died
– and that’s everyone! In what may be Paul’s earliest, most basic letter he
wrote: “So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. {27}
And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him.
{28} There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For
you are all Christians–you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28
NLT) In his most systematic theological letter, Romans, Paul repeated his
instructions, based on emulating Jesus: “May God . allow you to live in
harmony with each other by following the example of Christ Jesus. {6} Then,
having the same goal, you will praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ. {7} Therefore, accept each other in the same way that Christ
accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God.” (Romans 15:5-7 GWT)
Instead of finding new excuses for excluding others, we are to accept others
within the circles we draw that closely resemble Christ-drawn circles.

What circles do you live within? Who drew your circles? Are you
chafing over someone excluding you from theirs? Can you get up early one
morning and move the fence that stands between you, extending the grace of
Christ even to one who thinks that you are the enemy? Jesus submitted to a
cross and burst from a tomb to get it done. Draw your own circles!

– J. Edward Culpepper