Tight Fists or Open Hands?
CrossOver reflection for Week Zero • Beginning November 25, 2018
by Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
The Church is of God and will be preserved to the end of time.
Reception of Members, The Methodist Hymnal, 1935
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing…
Isaiah 43: 18-19
Well, which is it? Is God enduring, unchanging, immovable, like a mountain? Or is God an innovator, creating new, unimaginable things, twisting and turning and even changing course like a river?
Does God call us to hold fast, dig in, preserve what we have inherited from the past? Or does God call us to engage the changes that surprise us, peer into an uncertain future, and then move beyond what we thought we knew, stretching, evolving, adapting?
Is God bound by these conflicting opinions? Or, might both be true in their own way?
What if God holds some eternal, immutable values that are true in every time and place, AND what if God expects us to recognize that these values may look very differently as they come to life in the changing circumstances we encounter in the real lives of people? What if, throughout our lives, God continues to call us to explore what is not familiar – what is strange or foreign, and to bring the eternal values of God’s love and justice, to situations that are new and challenging?
Clint and I met Robert when I was a seminary student. He was a hard-living, damaged soul in middle age. He drifted in and out of the reality I knew. Heard voices I couldn’t hear. Muttered under his breath to people I couldn’t see. Old West Church had become a safe place for him. On a sunny afternoon, you might find Robert sitting in the parlor emptying the tobacco into a pie pan from butts foraged in gutters and rolling it into fresh cigarette papers. Or, he might be setting the loose tobacco on fire right in the pan. Cigarettes were life to him. He lived from smoke to smoke. Bummed them off people on the street. When it came time to say good-bye after three years, I wanted Robert to understand that I really knew him and cared for him. So, on my last day at Old West, I walked to the corner store and did something I had never done before or since. I bought a carton of Kool menthol cigarettes – Robert’s favorites. Love came wrapped as a carton of cigarettes that one day in the spring of 1981.
Love is constant, like a mountain. Our neighbors change from time to time, necessitating that we keep fluid, like a river.
Our challenge is to know what is constant, and what is changing; to hold tight to God’s eternal values, and also to open our hands to put them to work in every situation we encounter in the world, and in the lives of the people around us. If we greet every change with a fist grasping the past, we’ll never even notice, let alone embrace, the new things God is doing.
Brian McLaren says, “You are ‘in the making.’ You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change, and grow. You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, constrict, and lose your way. Which road will you take?”
As we are Crossing Over to Life, I’ll meet you on the road, where “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Elaine JW Stanovsky serves as the resident bishop of the Greater Northwest Area including the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
I read your question, “Is God enduring, unchanging, immovable, like a mountain? Or is God an innovator, creating new, unimaginable things, twisting and turning and even changing course like a river?” and I thought, “What if both are true?”
And you also had that thought, and expressed it so beautifully. Thank you for this.
Yes, God is enduring, unchanging and immovable like a mountain.
The Bible says “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today and forever.
He is not a designer god.
God does call us to “dig in”, “hold fast” to His truth to withstand the devil.
The Bible says “Put on the whole armor of God and stand”
I’m so glad you bought him a carton of cigarettes. In the ’60’s and ’70’s, a lot of mental hospitals used cigarettes as a reward for good behavior. Take your meds and get a cigarette. take a bath and get a cigarette, etc. Patients who spent a long time in the mental hospital learned to equate cigarettes with praise, with “I did something right,” and even with love. You opened your hands and gave Robert a LOT of love, even though a carton of cigarettes doesn’t seem like love. In this case, I think it was.
Thank you for your message. What I like the most is you met Robert on his own level to communicate with him, make the connection, and then watched him grow in understanding. Bless you for your kindness.