Generous spaciousness is a posture that is needed more than ever. In a world of instant communication where people can react and respond within seconds, perhaps without taking time for reflection or prayer and with the convenient protection of anonymity, harsh polemic is more often the norm than is generosity. It is easy to be black and white, self-righteous, arrogantly certain, and loud with your judgments when you don’t have to put your name to your opinions. When there is little to no chance of accountability, you can throw out statements without really thinking through how they might affect others.
Generous spaciousness invites a different kind of discipline. It seeks to intentionally make room for the reality of multiple perspectives. It seeks to extend the benefit of the doubt that different conclusions are held on the basis of convictions that have been thought through and prayerfully reflected upon. This of course is not always the case. Sometimes people hold opinions that they’ve never risked questioning or challenging. But generous spaciousness at least wants to expect the best of people and encourage an environment in which people will be invited to risk internal critique and challenge their own assumptions and attitudes.
Jesus, himself, recognized that people could study the Scriptures and miss how they revealed him. In John 5 he says, “The Father who sent me, confirmed me. And you missed it. You never heard his voice, you never saw his appearance. There is nothing left in your memory of his Message because you do not take his Messenger seriously. You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren't willing to receive from me the life you say you want. I'm not interested in crowd approval. And do you know why? Because I know you and your crowds. I know that love, especially God's love, is not on your working agenda. I came with the authority of my Father, and you either dismiss me or avoid me.”
We see this again in the story of Jesus walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. He goes back to the Scriptures and reveals himself to them – Scriptures that they knew inside out and backwards and yet had never seen how they pointed to a Messiah who would suffer, be killed and then be raised from the dead.
People read the Bible all the time and see what they want to see or see only what they’ve been taught. We are prone to this kind of tunnel vision. The apostle Paul says, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
That’s why we need to engage with Scripture from the starting point of Jesus Christ. Any interpretation of Scripture that isn’t Christ-like ought to be questioned and deconstructed. Generous spaciousness seeks to be Christ-centered. It is meant to be a posture that nurtures a Christ-like ethos. That’s why it is more important to us to call people to come to know Jesus more deeply than it is to argue about six or seven texts that address same-sex sexual behavior. If we look at those texts without knowing the person and character of Christ, we can think we are being very wise and intelligent from a human point of view – and still be missing the heart of Christ for gay people. Our best wisdom may indeed be foolishness.
Jesus responded particularly and uniquely in each personal situation he encountered. In this we see a generosity that meets people where they’re at, acknowledges that different people need different kinds of space and time, instruction and direction, invitation or challenge. Jesus, himself, embodies paradox and tension. He both challenges the status quo and upholds the ancient tradition. He used Scripture in a way no one had ever encountered before – and while some believed and marveled at his wisdom and power, others were offended, angry and refused to acknowledge his teaching. Jesus, in response, wept over the city of Jerusalem and expressed his care by saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” And at his crucifixion, Jesus implored, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He embodied a profound sense of generous spaciousness in extending care, grace, and forgiveness without coercing or demanding that people accept and follow his teaching.
Jesus embraced children and affirmed child-like faith. He warned anyone who would be a barrier to such faith that it would be better if they put a millstone around their neck and threw themselves into the sea. Jesus, it is well known, had dinner with the wrong kind of people, touched the wrong kind of people, had conversation with the wrong kind of people, went to the wrong places, triggered and exposed social taboos, broke dividing walls, and announced a new kind of level playing field. The apostle Paul summarized this way of Jesus by saying, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
My friends, I implore you, on Christ’s behalf, to be kind and compassionate to one another when this topic of homosexuality comes up. Extend grace and forgive one another. Walk in the way of love. Be willing to give up your right to be right for one another. Give one another room and space to engage with Scripture, to encounter Christ, and to receive his love. Because as hard as it may be for you to accept, people who know and love Jesus and care about the Scriptures may come to a very different conclusion than you do – and either one of you could be wrong.
I recently suggested three breath prayers to an individual who had developed a very strong sense of self-sufficiency. This individual had endured a lot of pain and brokenness in his journey and in response had built a very strong coping system. But his coping system essentially could make no room for generous spaciousness. It was a system that both helped him and yet limited him in experiencing the healing and rest of God.
The first breath prayer was, “I am the Beloved child of God”. This prayer invited the person into a posture of receptivity. When we are strong and confident in our own abilities, our own intellect, our own strength, or our capacity and competence, it is very difficult to receive all that God wants to give us. So it is important that we learn new ways of being and new ways to be receptive.
The second breath prayer was, “Be still and know that I am God”. This prayer invited the person into a posture of reprieve or rest. Many of us who have built elaborate strategies to cope with the challenging realities of our lives maintain very high levels of vigilance. Our minds are always at work. It can be very difficult to find a reprieve from the scripts that run in our heads. This breath prayer invites us to focus on our breathing and becoming still and resting in the confidence that God is God and we are not.
The final breath prayer was, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner”. This is a shortened version of a very well-known prayer from the desert fathers. This prayer invites a person into a posture of relinquishment. When we are willing to acknowledge that we are in need of mercy because we fall short of fully relying, trusting and depending on God, we relinquish the pride, fear, and striving that so often mark our attempts at navigating our own lives. Relinquishment can lead to deeper faith.
Receptivity, reprieve, and relinquishment all invite us to enter a sense of rest. Many of us are weary in the arguments and attitudes that surround the debates around homosexuality. Some of us are weary of trying to figure out for ourselves what we believe and how to best be faithful in response to the question of gay relationships for Christians. Some are confused and threatened by the many different opinions and strong positions held by different people. Our hearts can feel battered and bruised. We may find it difficult to know how to best love ourselves and others. In the midst of this tumult, we need generous spaciousness. We need receptivity, reprieve and relinquishment to help us to enter a deeper rest.
It is our desire, through the work of New Direction to nurture this kind of space – a space to find the rest of God, to rest in his love, to rest in his grace and mercy and to extend that rest to others.