This week, pastor Ben continued on in our series on Washington Cathedral’s core values. He talked about how Washington Cathedral is a place where everyone is valued, regardless of your church background or religious status.
Whenever we step into a new place, there are all sorts of signs – both visible and invisible – that help us feel welcomed or make us stand out. When it comes to church, this is no exception. But Jesus and the authors of the bible teach a very different way of interacting with people of diverse spiritual backgrounds. One of Christianity’s founders, the apostle Paul, wrote a letter to one of his churches where he tries to help them understand this sort of interaction.
In the middle of this letter, he writes discussing people’s dietary habits, how they dress in Christian gatherings, and how the rich and poor interact with one another. In pastor Ben’s sermon, he discussed the first section, on eating (check out his thoughts on the second passage, dress, on his personal blog). In this passage, Paul advises the people in his church to be willing to step out of their comfort zones and into someone else’s world as a way to show love and caring.
In the city of Corinth, there was a practice of offering animals as sacrifices to the gods of the Roman empire. After that, the priests in the temples would sell that meat at discount. The issue that the Corinthian Christians dealt with was whether this meat was to be considered safe to eat. In eating it, they might be saying that they submit to the Roman gods; in abstaining, they might be saying that they are against the reigning Imperial government and it’s gods. They were in a lose – lose situation.
But Paul says that, because of Jesus’ life and teachings, we no longer need to live in that lose – lose situation. Instead, we can live with a radical love and empathy for everyone, while also holding firmly to what we believe.
Being willing to step into a new world is difficult. Psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz says it this way:
Research has shown, again and again, that when we do move, we follow old habits. We don’t trust emergency exits. We almost always try to exit a room through the same door we entered. Forensic reconstruction after a famous restaurant fire in the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Kentucky confirmed that many of the victims sought to pay before leaving, and so died in a queue.
After twenty-five years as a psychoanalyst, I can’t say that this surprises me. We resist change. Committing ourselves to a small change, even one that is unmistakably in our best interest, is often more frightening than ignoring a dangerous situation.
We don’t want an exit if we don’t know exactly where it is going to take us, even – or perhaps especially – in an emergency.
We are vehemently faithful to our own view of the world, our story. We want to know what new story we’re stepping into before we exit the old one. We don’t want an exit if we don’t know exactly where it is going to take us, even – or perhaps especially – in an emergency.
Radical empathy is a value that Washington Cathedral tries to live out. Over the past 28 years, it has become one of our core values and we do it in a lot of ways. We have created a “Meta church” which accepts congregations from every kind of ethnic background. That is why we have a vibrant Brazilian congregation, a Korean congregation, and many others. We also have a variety of recovery and support groups.
This is a place where everyone is valued, but that means that everyone has to be willing to step out. If you’ve never been to church, Jesus has a plan for your life and calls you to step out and experience faith along with us here at Washington Cathedral; if you’ve been in church your entire life, Jesus calls us to step out and share our lives with everyone around us.