15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
I’ve started wearing my face mask inside the house, now…
It’s not because of the virus, it’s to stop eating so much!
We’ve each found good – and not so good – ways of coping in these months of pandemic. We have adapted our living, found new ways of showing love, and tried to make the best of a bad situation. And in the time between now when I went on vacation, I was hoping that things would become clearer (in September). (They haven’t.)
Do we open and risk community spread (such as those in a church in northeast Calgary) or do we stay closed and risk losing connection with those who need it most? As a parent, I can’t tell you how much agony we’ve been in as to whether or not we send our kids to school. But I trust the teachers, I pray for them, and their students, and the school boards trying to do what’s right, I pray that we all might full of the patience needed to get through this. I pray for those keeping kids home – and the difficult choices connected with that decision – I pray for everyone in between – because the one thing this virus has done is reminded us how truly interconnected our lives are.
I miss the connections I used to take for granted. The act of sharing communion embodied for me, the reality that ‘where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there among us.’ I miss the non-virtual ways that made this reality easier to perceive. For it wasn’t long ago that through one broken loaf of bread, and one jug of juice poured out – as we shared communion, we were reminded of our interdependence, and our shared strength in Jesus. We have oneness in God that the act of communion reminds us of. In spite of our judgements of one another, and the missed opportunities to better know one another, we are one in God. No matter how divided we can be as creation, the rituals we practice challenge us to build a house where all are welcome. For crumbs of bread lead us home to God.
If the last few months of being at home have taught us anything, is that we miss gathering with two or three. We miss even the fights and interactions that this text from Matthew describe. And without getting too deep into the text, and the implications they describe (especially if we imagine the horrific scene of a victim confronting their accuser “when the two of you are alone…”)…there’s one phrase that’s been challenging me:
whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)
What we do here matters to God. Our acts of connection. Our interactions with one another. Our disagreements, and the times of unity. While I’ve often used this text for ‘warm feeling’ of where two or three gathered…this text described the ethics and behaviours of Jesus’ community regardless of whether or not he was physically present. In communion that presence is described, assumed, and felt. But outside of the church, Jesus’ followers were meant to practice that same presence between them. Everything mattered to Jesus. Every interaction regardless of its insignificance. Even moments in the dollar store.
So we were in the middle of Dollarama this week when we heard shouting from the checkout area. As we got closer, we learned that the altercation was between a young mother in a hijab and an older woman. The young mother’s hijab had been used as her mask, and it had fallen. The older woman took that moment to remind the mother of the bylaw. (Now as an aside, I’ve seen plenty of people in businesses that have not enforced the bylaw, plenty of people with reasons why they “cannot” wear a mask or forgotten them at home/in their car/etc).
What erupted between them was a racially fuelled, ageism laced angry battle that lasted long after one of them had left the store. Neither were in the right. And there was no chance that they were going to find a place alone to discuss the sin between them. I found myself unsure of how to react.
I mourn that this was not the first experience of racism in this young mother’s life. I mourn the disdain experienced in fighting for protection that the older woman was asserting for herself and others. I mourn my own (and others’) inability to confront this gathering of two or three which left no one thankful for that interaction. But it reminded me what I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of months. I’ve been trying to practice an assumption that everyone is trying their best.
In six months, we’ve had to relearn our social interactions. We’ve had to keep up with science we don’t understand. We’ve had to listen to politicians we don’t like. We’ve had to give up time and trips and experiences and visits crucial to our mental health and wellbeing. And just going out of the house is enough to spike anxiety, fear, and mistrust. Because our systems are on overdrive we are more prone to jump all over one another for someone else’s faults – and it’s so easy to judge – to assume we know all about what it means to parent in the middle of Dollarama, or how much of a risk the older woman was at just going outside her home.
As common wisdom states ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’
Through that wisdom, I’ve been trying to practice the assumption that everyone is trying their best. And I’ll tell you – it’s been freeing. The weight of judgment I was carrying from one interaction to another was killing me. Every time I found myself like the older woman, critical of others’ use of masks was painful. Every time that someone pointed out how I had failed (either by shaking hands, or offering a hug, or singing at a funeral) were embarrassing. Every interaction with the outside world became terrifying. Which is not as God intended. If all of this matters to God – if Jesus was meant to be present between us, if what we bind and loose here matters to ‘heaven’ then our interactions, even the ones internally, matter to God. How we treat ourselves was just as important as how we treat others.
So the spiritual practice I’ve been working on is ‘assuming that everyone is trying their best.’ And I invite you into that same practice, as it begins to unmask the fears and faults hiding within us and between us. To help, I’ve been praying a prayer written by our moderator, the Rt. Rev. Richard Bott (and I’ve slightly modified his words):
Creator, as I prepare to go into the world,
help me to see the sacrament in the wearing of this cloth –
let it be “an outward sign of an inward grace” –
a tangible and visible way of living love for my neighbours, as I love myself.
Christ, since my lips will be covered, uncover my heart,
that people would see my smile in the crinkles around my eyes.
Since my voice may be muffled, help me to speak clearly,
not only with my words, but with my actions.
Holy Spirit, as the elastic touches my ears, remind me to listen carefully – and full of care – to all those I meet.
May this simple piece of cloth be shield and banner,
and each breath that it holds, be filled with your love,
and may it save me from judgment as I meet others,
masked and unmasked, for it may not look it,
but we are each trying our best.
In your Name and in that love,
I pray. May it be so. May it be so. Amen