upper room daily devotions

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Toward a Culture of Trust

This title is an unusual title - as far as titles go these days. We are much more accustomed to titles about broken trust written in tasteless puns, titles flavored with a spice of sarcasm. I enjoy the sarcastic jab as much as the next person, but I think that it belies our real yearning for trust.

Today Diana Butler Bass spoke to United Methodists in the Pacific Northwest. In her presentations, she talked about the "terrible decade" - the decade from which we are emerging. In 2001, the terrorist attacks on American soil shook not only our country but the whole world. Six months later, accounts of clergy abuse began to rattle the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church, a challenge which Diana Butler Bass ranks more significant than the Reformation. Then, in 2004, the Religious Right's campaign to become the deciding factor in an American presidential campaign came to fruition, in effect changing both American politics and evangelical Christianity in the United States. And, the Episcopal Church elected an out gay bishop. Taken together, these events show how religion has become synonymous with violence, broken trust/abuse, single party politics, and "inelegant" decisions and processes.

I know that these events writ large are echoed all throughout our culture. All around us lay the detritus left behind by broken trust and a shaken confidence in the institutions which used to serve as society's bedrock.

Tonight I had occasion to hear some folks talking about broken trust in the church. Not an unusual topic, for sure. Frequently, when someone asks what I do and I tell them that I am a pastor, I hear, "I don't believe in religion. It's full of hypocrites." What is unusual about tonight's conversation is that it took place among clergy - clergy who struggle with trusting the very institution and set of relationships to which they have entrusted their lives, their families, their finances, their...everything.

This is something I've struggled with as well. Clergy aren't exempt from struggling with one another or the church. As a matter of fact, our proximity to the workings of church makes us more sensitive to its failings. We love the church, and it is very upsetting when it fails to embody the grace, love, compassion, and justice of Jesus.

One of the wonderful things about being United Methodist clergy is that I belong to an order. Despite this identity, few Methodists, including clergy, understand what this means. To me, it means something very profound. I have pledged my life to men and women all around the world. I promise to pray for them, to work with them, to be held accountable by them...for life. I entered into this order aware that I would need to submit to the leadership of others even when their leadership falls short. I entered this order as a way to prioritize my life. Belonging to an order is an act of trust in a trust challenged world. It is counter-intuitive to trust people one doesn't know; it is sometimes even more challenging to trust those whom one does know. It is this challenge which I think can lead us toward a culture of trust that extends beyond our clerical life and into our greater society, a society which is crying out for a way to connect, believe, love, and trust.

I don't think we arrive at a culture of trust through study, better exegesis, more statements of faith, or correct theology. We arrive at a culture of trust through the act of trusting and being trustworthy. Trust is by definition relational. It is not ideological. It is not theoretical. It is practical; that is, it is found in praxis. And, it is relational. One does not trust on one's one.

The church could have a wonderful word of hope for our culture if we could find our way out of the terrible decade by showing the world that we know something about trust. After all, being followers of Jesus, living as disciples of Jesus, and extending ourself as the body of Christ in the world - these are all about trust and relationship. We have too frequently focused on institutional preservation, correct theology, dogma and doctrine to the detriment of trust and relationship. I wonder how we might be different if we started each day praying earnestly for one another, offering ourselves humbly in service to one another, and seeking the best for one another. This would go a long way in building trust. Just putting the other before ourselves - what Jesus said to do - this would help us forgive a little more easily when disappointed, would help us ask for forgiveness, would help us want the best for one another, would help us think beyond ourselves, would help us resist the lure of cynicism.

I feel privileged to be part of an order - a set aside relational structure, bound for life with an odd assortment of people who give themselves, like I do, to a silly vision of a trustworthy world. When I pray the hours every day, I hold my brother and sister Elders in my heart. I do not take this relationship lightly or for granted. It is a deep joy to live in this ongoing experiment of trust.

For the times I fail to be trustworthy, I seek forgiveness. For the times I cannot forgive, I ask for grace. For the times I can model trustworthiness, I give thanks. For the moments in which we live in mutual trust, I praise God.

Our world wants to think that trust is possible. I also think that it seems an impossible dream. Until the rest of the world can believe (another word for "trust") in this dream, let those of us privileged to be part of trusting relationships hold that dream before the world, modeling as best we can what it means to move toward a culture of trust.

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