The Big Tent

They were a group of people who never should have ended up together. They didn’t get along, didn’t have the same values, didn’t respect each other’s personal space, didn’t go the same direction. They were such a mess the Army sent a psychiatrist to see whether they should be broken up, and even though this group tried to fool him, they couldn’t. Then, the choppers with the wounded started coming in, and MASH 4077 showed they could work together when there was trouble. The screwed up in reverse, and they were left together. The good thing was they were all loyal to the most important goal: saving lives.

I know it’s a TV series that went off the air a long time ago, but there have been groups as disjunct as that in real life that survived. I’ve been part of one or two. Community isn’t something that we always choose to be part of, it isn’t a social club or a gathering a friends all the time.  At times, it seems community chooses us, which is how a lot of TV series start.  What calls us together brings us together and bonds us. It’s about people we’re bonded to over time, especially when that bond is something very profound.

There was much in Pope Francis’ interview last week that encouraged me, and one passage I think definitely illustrates the role of the Church: “. . .that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. . .In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.”

A problem we face today is a contraction of what community means. In our polarized society, there are friends we must support unconditionally and enemies we must oppose unconditionally, and many voices in many churches have echoed attitude. The main line of dispute is chosen, trenches are dug on either side, and the firing begins. Community means people we agree with, people who are fighting for the same things we are. If we disagree with our co-belligerents about an issue, we need to keep it submerged while the shooting continues. Anyone who disagrees can’t be part of that unless they renounce their errors. The idea that community includes people from the other side is unthinkable.

However I don’t think community means only people we agree with or people who oppose the same things we do. Community is about being under a big tent: there no Us/Them, there’s just Us. Just as MASH 4077, we’re stuck together for the sake of each other’s healing. Pope Francis made an interesting comment later in his interview: “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow.”

So mending the wounds of the World is more about cultivation of the Good than the destruction of Evil, about finding God in the life of the other and working to build on that. Healing isn’t about what we can destroy, because Evil always leaves a mark that won’t go away, like Christ’s wounds stayed after His Resurrection. It’s about living with the mark, and transcending it.

What is Christian community? In one way, it’s about mismatched healers under a big tent. There’s disputes about methods and techniques, there’s personalities that don’t quite click. But it’s what we have in common and our commitment to the common goal, the common purpose, that brings us together and helps us transcend our selfishness. If we enthusiastically embrace Christ’s mission of healing the world, the other stuff tends to lose its importance and more things become possible.

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