The Rev. James Luther Adams said that “church is where you practice what it means to be human.” Part of that is learning not just to rely on each other, but how to celebrate and learn from each other. We grow best in our garden when we grow together instead of fighting each other off.
I love that JLA quote. I use it all the time, often to help folks understand that we’re “not that kind of church.” But what often gets glossed over is that JLA uses the word “practice.” That church is where we practice what it means to be human. And, for a recovering perfectionist like me, I’ve spent decades coming to terms with the fact that to practice actually means to fail, over and over again, and that the only things that separates it from utter failure is that we seek, we strive, to learn how to do it better, each time we fail. That without intentional learning, and growing, it’s not becoming a better human, or living into our fullest potential.
When we refuse to learn, when we refuse to listen to those willing to tell us how we’ve failed them, we are turning away from community, from relationship. We are breaking our covenants, and we are a religion based on covenants — on promises.
Life is messy. Community is messy. Relationships are messy. We are, each of us, human beings practicing what it means to be human and that means we are going to mess up.
And, I’m going to be honest with you, our cultural obsession with perfectionism — with looking a certain way, with dressing a certain way, with never ever being wrong — is a legacy of dominant white culture, and of Puritan and Protestant Christianity bleeding over. If we are truly about loving each other, in our differences, then we must be willing to dismantle the systems that oppress us and oppress others. None of us are free until all of us are free.
And here, in this community, is where we get to practice breaking those chains. Here is where we get to practice radical inclusion, radical love, radical hospitality. Here is where we get to try things we’ve never done before, never said before, never sung before, because we are held by our covenants. And sometimes, we’re going to fail at it, each of us. We’re gonna say something terrible, we’re going to make a hurtful choice, we’re gonna react out of fear. Sometimes, we’re gonna be on the other side of that, we’re gonna be the one hurt or disappointed.
Being part of a covenanted community means not leaving the table when that happens. A covenanted community means we find ways to communicate with each other when harm happens, and we give each other the chance to learn and be better.
In gratitude and faith,