I know a chapel recently vacated by a group of nuns, who took with them the large cross which had been nailed on the wall behind the altar for many years. Although the cross has now gone, it is still possible to see the outline of where it used to be, which reminds me that even where the cross has been removed, its shadow remains. This can lead us to mistakenly believe that the cross is at the centre of our lives, when actually we are looking at its shadow. Where is the cross missing in our lives and communities, even though its shadow remains?
If we do not return continually to the cross, and remind ourselves of our complete need for that one moment in time when Jesus dealt with the price for our shortcomings and excesses, and realign our lives to live out the impact of that great cosmic event, we can end up with an empty outline of Christianity which may appear structurally, liturgically and ethically Christian but lacks the authenticity of a truly redeemed lifestyle.
And this lifestyle starts with how we treat others.
In Europe today we are seeing the rise of intolerance. Some groups are feeling threatened by other groups. Some think their needs are being marginalised. Some fear a loss of their cultural identity. As a result, these people express themselves vocally, sometimes violently, against those they perceive to be different. Similar fears can arise in missions teams around the world too, where one particular group or culture becomes dominant. Others can easily feel marginalised and overlooked.
For example, singles can feel their needs are not addressed where those of families are prioritised (or vice versa). Or where teams operate using English as their common language, those who don’t speak it well can feel they don’t have the ability to express themselves. In other circumstances people who come from a culture where it is courteous to wait to be invited to speak often have no opportunity for their voice to be heard if others are accustomed to speaking their mind loudly and frankly.
Fortunately these issues seldom boil over into rioting! But they can lead to an undercurrent of discontent and add to stress and attrition. Which is why we need to make sure that the cross isn’t absent from our missionary communities. The shadow of it may be there, but sometimes the reality of it can be startlingly absent, particularly in the way in which we treat one another.
The New Testament is full of counter-cultural teaching on relationships. Some examples are:
- Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39)
- Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34)
- Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:13)
- Submit to one another in Christ (Ephesians 5:21)
- If God so loved us, we ought to love each other (1 John 4:11)
It might be a good idea for us to start our meetings with readings of such scriptures, and reflect on how we can live out those commandments, in order to remind ourselves to “Be excellent to each other.” (William S Preston, Esq.)