Four days ago in London a man climbed onto a bridge to end his life, and passersby gathered around him and held onto him for two hours to keep him safe until help arrived. (Thanks to James Rhodes for sharing this on Twitter.)
Meanwhile, I spent several hours last week reading endless Twitter arguments about whether women bloggers ought to be under ecclesiastical (church) authority. Listen: Those discussions are necessary. Amidst the frustration and vehement disagreement, wise, loving people shared their perspective vulnerably and listened well to each other. But I am afraid that we have mistaken the calling of the church. It’s good to have theological discussions. But they should not be where most of our energy and resources go.
This picture, those arms stretched out through the bars of the railing — this is what church should look like. Study it for a minute. Actually, study it for several minutes. Look at the bodies in the picture. Look at the tension in the muscles, the pain and struggle in the faces, the wrinkles in the clothing. Look at the person whose arms are wrapped around the man’s neck, whose face is so intimately close to his own. Look at the person who squats near the man’s feet, whose arms clutch his legs, whose face we cannot see because he has chosen a position of discomfort and service over one of glory. Who do you identify with in the photo? The man whose desperation led him to climb over the railing of the bridge? See how he is held, how much even these strangers value his life. Do you identify with the helpers? Can you feel the man’s calves under your arms, shaking with the fear of death and the fear of hope?
Now read this passage from Matthew 22:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Who are the people in this passage? Who are the people we are told to love? I have to run off to work now, but I’ll write more about this later this week. (And I do have some things to say about women bloggers and authority, too.) In the meantime, please consider: What does it mean to love God with all your heart and soul and mind? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? What does it mean to love yourself?
P.S. I just realized what the photograph reminded me of: Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son.