In 1453, Constantinople was the center of Eastern Roman Empire. It was a powerful city, with thick walls and large markets, with mothers teaching their sons not to chew with their mouths open, and fathers going to work a little early to beat the morning rush. And in 1453, Constantinople was put to siege by the Ottoman Empire in a battle that would end with the subjugation of the city. As people starved and bled, cried and wept in the midst of this, Christian leaders and scholars gathered together. They did not meet to discuss how to interact with the bedraggled populace. They weren’t coming together to discuss the distribution of church resources to the needy and maimed, or even how they would issue last rites to the countless dying citizens and soldiers. They weren’t encouraging each other to be strong and trust in the Lord as they walked the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
They were gathered to debate and argue. And their focus was not on such silly and paltry topics as life and death. No, they could not be bothered with the mundane and trivial. They had important things to focus on–theological things. Things like: what color were the Virgin Mary’s eyes? If a fly falls into holy water, is the fly sanctified or the holy water defiled?
And so it goes today.
As the world bucks and heaves under our feet, we debate and argue amongst ourselves. After all, those Orthodox don’t have church services with instruments; haven’t they ever read that David worshiped with the harp and lyre? And those Catholics with their icons! How could they? Don’t even get me started on Protestants–who do they think they are?
We argue about teams and miss the point. We spend so much time on rules, that sometimes we forget to play the game; and if we do, it’s just so we can beat the other team. We forget–or neglect–that everybody can win. And it’s all about winning.
We are running a hard race–the type that many don’t finish. Lactic acid and fatigue causes muscles to seize and cramp; narrow, winding desert roads are littered with broken bones and shattered corpses; water is rare and rest even rarer. Why do we try to make it harder for each other?
Should we really use our precious breath screaming about how John Calvin’s worldview is the only one that could possibly work? Are you really going to stop running so you can condemn some pastor in a foreign city who wears a fancy robe and hat, and prays to the same Christ you do?
You know what happens when you stop running in the middle of a long race?–your body starts fighting even harder against you. Muscles and ligaments cool down and become like hard taffy, and that lactic acid that was burning your legs starts to pool up. I’m already hauling 200-some pounds of unwilling flesh and blood through life; I’m not looking to make it any harder on myself.
That doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to be prudent and efficient. If someone is lugging around a sack full of cement, or gold, or fancy books, slowing down to encourage them to drop their burden isn’t wrong–it’s loving your family well. But when we pounce on other runners and try to tear their clothes off–because, well, they’re just foolish and wrong and they should wear the same shoes and shirt and socks that I do, and then they can run just like me–we are crippling them; more tragically, we are crippling ourselves.
Instead of dogma and rhetoric, maybe we should just look at what other runners did well. Mother Theresa wore sandals signed with the blood of Christ’s love; maybe I should try to get a pair of those. Saint Francis knew you have to dress light for a long race, so he threw off everything encumbering him so he could be faster.
And then there are those rare souls who run and sing–folks like Rich Mullins. In the midst of their own pain and struggle, they sing and praise and exhort those around them. Sometimes they encourage, sometimes they single out things that are slowing other folks down, but they were always running, always pointing their gaze down the road. Maybe I could try to be more like that.
After all, everybody can win.
Why wouldn’t I try to help?