There’s been a great deal of discussion over the past couple of years online, in teaching, leading, and writing, about the the distinction between a “Yes, and” and a “Yes, but,” culture and approach. This morning it hit me, that I feel called to serve a “Yes, and” Church, and not a “Yes, but” Church.
I believe I am part of a “Yes, and” church as a whole. However, I also believe that the “Yes, but” is a more common tendency and reaction within the system that is the church and congregations within it. I have heard a lot of “Yes, but” lately, for example in the congregation I serve. I don’t blame anyone for this, but at the same time, it tells me how far we have to go to really get to a day when the church gets out of it’s own way to do and proclaim the promises and work of God.
The church I know and love is a “Yes, and” church. It is a church where the Good News of the Gospel is proclaimed, but that Good News is not left there for each individual to solely make meaning of it alone. It is then connected and responded to in the world and larger community. The gospel is not something static, but living. It is a challenging Good News, full of promise but also challenging and prophetic calls. Too often I fear, Lutheran congregations end up on this spectrum on one side or another, when in reality, I would hope it is a “both, and.”
The gospel as I understand it, is highly political. By this I mean, Jesus Christ was proclaiming promises, but also challenging the systems and statuses that got in the way of abundant life. Where there was division or barriers, Jesus always seemingly appeared on the “other” side, or perhaps more accurately on the side of the “other.” Because of this, when I hear congregations and leaders say, “we aren’t an issues church,” I really hear that “we are a church that isn’t actively engaged in the world.”
On the other hand, when a congregation is seemingly always engaged with every single issue, it more than likely could miss the deeper meaning of its existence, and why it feels uniquely called to be engaged in the world, responding to the perceived issues and challenges. If the church is so focused on the doing, it might miss the chance to make the connection to the deeper Gospel call which leads to the response of doing.
Within the context of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the denomination that I am a part of), I believe this is why the Social Statements that are compiled by the church are so important. They reflect deep thinking and discernment, and are meant to ponder the meaning of the Gospel in light of today’s contexts and challenges. They are hardly perfect. I think everyone would agree that they take too long to write and approve, but they are also an honest effort for the church to spur thinking, and to proclaim the Good News in response to the brokenness of systems, the prevalence of barriers, and all those who might say, “but.”
I want to be a part of a church that can talk like it did last week about “The Good Samaritan,” and how Jesus comes near in the unexpected, and between the unexpected.
I want to be a church that this weekend can talk about Martha and Mary, and how perhaps it’s not so much of a dichotomy that Jesus is explaining between their different approaches, and perhaps, more of a spectrum.
And I want to be a part of church that after talking and proclaiming, actively acts on those messages in the local and larger community.
This might mean a number of things- walking in solidarity in a pride march, joining a peaceful but powerful Black Lives Matter march or protest, sharing cookies and appreciative notes with the local police office, collecting and then distributing food to the hungry…
All of this is important. None of it is possible though when a church says that it is “not an issues” church. When that claim is made, I deeply believe that the congregation sacrifices its ability to be a prophetic voice and presence. It sacrifices its ability to be a “church in the public square.”
I want to be a “Yes, and” church. I want to be a part of that in my Word & Service capacities, and feel called to that. My wife wants to be a part of that in the Word & Sacraments capacity, and feels called to that.
Perhaps it sounds as if I am offering another “yes, but” perspective. So let me try to put this another way.
I want to be a part of a church that says, “You are a beloved Child of God. You are enough. And though grace you have been saved through Christ.” That’s Good News. It’s a pure gift, not dependent upon us at all.
I want to also be a part of a church that then asks (like Mary Oliver), “In response to this Good News, what will you do with your one wild and precious life? What stories and experiences will you have? And where will God show up? Where might God be leading you and calling you?” And then, after thinking about that individually (like Frederick Buechner) ask, “In response to this Good News of Abundant Life, how are we called and sent together out into the world, meeting its great needs?”
I want to be a part of a church where vocation is something embraced. Where identity grounded in the promises, creativity, and flowing waters of baptism is proclaimed weekly. Where identity across time and space, is connected to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ through communion, and the promise that “Christ is for you.” Where the people within the congregation understand themselves to be: a Child of God, a Steward of God’s Love, a Disciple, a Christian, (in my case… a Lutheran), and someone who is uniquely created and loved just for who they are, and also someone who is entrusted with unique questions, ideas, stories, and gifts. And these are holy things not to be shunned, but embraced.
I want to be a “yes, and” church, where someone of faith who feels a deep passion to respond to it in some way in the world, is affirmed and supported, not questioned and doubted.
Will there be times where people will come up short, of course. We are people. We are sinners. We inevitability will sin and come up short. But I suspect, more times than not, if we really create a church where dreaming and passion are central, that the work of the Holy Spirit will really be set loose in ways we cannot yet even imagine.
What might a “Yes, and” Church look like to you?