Every day during Lent, members of Oconee Street UMC will write a Lenten devotional and share with the congregation.
ALL I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN THE CHURCH
by Sally Curtis AsKew
March 13, 2014
(With apologies to Robert Fulghum, author of All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten)
For most of us growing up in a small central Georgia town in the 1940s and 1950s, the focus of our lives was school and church. For me the church early became a large part of my life. My grandmother was at the Methodist Church every time the doors opened, and my sister and I grew up playing “missionary society” when other children played school. There were two small churches in our town, Methodist and Baptist. No animosity existed between them, and we joined in many of the activities at both churches. It was out of that kind of cooperative, loving environment that I grew in my understanding of the church and what it means to be a Christian.
For a small, traditional Georgia town we were blessed to have wonderful ministers at both the Baptist and Methodist churches who understood the need for cooperation. As I look back on those ministers, they along with my grandmother helped me on my journey of learning to live with those whose opinions differ from mine and to listen to them. Those ministers and my grandmother were the first to raise my awareness of the chasm between the white and black communities in our town and to nudge me toward working to overcome that chasm. I learned that even though we loved the woman who cooked and cleaned for us, that there was a huge divide between her and her family and us. I struggled with my own relationships with black persons as well as with white persons who lived and believed differently from the way my family did. It was the church and my involvement in M.Y.F. which threw me into the boycott of the swimming pool at Lake Junaluska in the mid-1950s as I shared a suite with black teenagers from Birmingham. I learned to stand up and say that I thought the disparate treatment of blacks and whites was wrong.
Those first steps I took in learning to disagree with others without being disagreeable and severing relationships were important as I continued to grow through my years at LaGrange College, working for the Woman’s Division of Christian Service Summer Service program in the summers, marrying a preacher, moving from place to place in the North Georgia Conference, becoming a mother, and gradually finding my place in an adult world.
As a young adult I struggled to deepen my own spiritual life through participation in small groups of sharing and praying. It was out of a group where we dealt for more than a year with a book on the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew that my concern for civil rights for all persons grew and grew. I found I had to speak out in places where my words were not welcome. However, I felt my deepening Christian commitment required me to speak out. Then, in the 1970s I found myself again having to speak out when I really didn’t always want to on issues like equal rights for women, sexist language, abortion, sexuality, the rights of workers to organize, welfare rights, poverty, and globalization. Even though as a human being, I knew that only God had the final and complete answers, I felt I must speak out of the desire to follow the command to do justice and love my neighbor as myself.
In 1990 I was introduced to a book Unity and Diversity in the New Testament by James D.G. Dunn. It was a forbidding looking tome, hundreds of pages long and scholarly. The more I read, the more excited I became. In a book by book examination of the New Testament Professor Dunn guided readers to the conclusion that there is only one common thread to the entire New Testament, only one thing that all the authors agree on: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
As much as I have raved and ranted in my mind against others who think differently from me in the 20 years since my first encounter with Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, I find myself unable to do that publicly. I find that I cannot tear down those with whom I disagree, but I must talk in a civil manner with them and try to find those places where we may agree and to agree to disagree on others. We need to learn to talk about issues of war, peace, poverty, security, sexuality, abortion, and so many others and, most importantly, to learn to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to take heart from the lessons Professor Dunn teaches: to spread the word that Jesus is the Christ does not imply or require that we agree on every issue before us today. It only requires that we follow the leading of the Jesus Christ who continues to be revealed to each of us as we grow and learn to disagree without being disagreeable. This is just one of the lessons I learned from the church, and it is a lesson all of us need to learn and relearn throughout our lives.