Talking of inclusivity, offence and rejection

Earlier this week it was suggested to me that in ‘my rush to be inclusive’  I may not have thought through the supposed negative consequences of ‘inclusivity.’

I still don’t know quite how I feel about this observation and am unclear whether the criticism implied that a) I haven’t given much, if any, serious theological thought to transgender (and other) issues, before coming to a conclusion or b) that, although I may have sought to think things through, my thought processes were deeply and structurally flawed.

I suspect that many of us (me included) like to play the ‘you haven’t really thought things through’ card when it appears that events have moved, or are moving, in a direction we find uncomfortable. It’s a fairly easy card to play, and in some ways I am happy to cede the point; I am not as thoughtful as I would like to be. I need to keep reflecting, thinking and praying about inclusivity for inclusivity, or a commitment to inclusivity, is about process, growth and pilgrimage.

The inclusive journey is a pilgrimage whose final destination is affirmation of the beloved other as a sacramental friend. Along the way I hope we / I may learn to jettison the less than fulsome and decidedly unfriendly offers of mere accommodation and luke-warm tolerance from our ruck sacks.

I think that I would also like to suggest that my journey towards whatever level of commitment I now possess to inclusivity has been slow, grinding, sometimes tortured, and forged in the hard reality of everyday family and communal life. It’s been incarnational and there has genuinely been no rush. For me it has been a case of real and diverse people dismantling the bricks and mortar of innate preference, prejudice, unwarranted fear and tribal loyalty.

And yet now I feel a sense of urgency.  I also feel compelled to contradict those who say ‘slow down’ and ‘the timings not quite right,’ for in reality the timing will never be perfectly right. To those who say that to act too quickly is to undermine the unity of the church, I would want to say that justice must always precede peace in unity.

In fact I would go further and say that any peace in unity worth having must always be built on justice; justice for the beloved other, where justice means an open invitation to sit, listen, converse and eat at the same sacramental table, and bathe in the same the same sacramental waters, on equal terms, as friends ‘in Christ.’ 

This Wednesday I was deeply challenged by the lectionary readings for the Eucharist (Hebrews 12, 4-7 & 11-15 and Mark 6, 1-6). In the gospel reading we find and, must allow ourselves to be challenged, by the following words:

‘This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too are they not here with us? And they would not accept him,’ (The Jerusalem Bible – in the NRSV we are told ‘they took offence at him.’)

Jesus was rejected because the good people, the decent people, the morally upright people, found him offensive. That’s the truth of the matter.

But, why did they find him so offensive that they would not, or could not, accept him? Was it just jealously or could there have been other reasons: reasons so shocking that Mark can only hint at them?

Could it have been that Jesus’ family was just a bit too common? Or, is it possible that there may have been something truly different, or other, about James, Joset, Jude, Simon or one of his unnamed sisters?

The answer is we don’t know, but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t respond to Mark’s narrative with our imaginations. What if Jesus’ commitment to justice and inclusivity was forged through the messy experience of his own family life? It’s a thought and perhaps one worth playing with, as the Magnificat puts it, in the imagination of ‘our hearts.’

The reading from the letter to the Hebrews is no less challenging:

‘Always be wanting peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord. Be careful that no one is deprived of the grace of God.’

The notion of peace, shalom (seeing and willing the good in and for the beloved yet intrinsically different  other) is directly equated with holiness and, frighteningly, salvation. Now, that is a sobering thought!

Jesus, the offensive Jesus, was not accepted, in fact he was rejected, whilst the scribe to the Hebrews insists that we, the Christian community, should ‘be careful that no one is deprived of the grace of God.’ In all honesty these are lessons I have been slow to learn, and am still slow in learning, and yet I urgently want to belong to a church which ensures that no one is deprived of the grace of God;’ a church where all are given a place at the same sacramental table, and in the same sacramental waters, on equal terms, as friends.

p.s. I have unashamedly ‘borrowed’ several ideas from Bishop Paul Bayes wonderful new book ‘The Table.’ Paul I hope you don’t mind?









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