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Sunday, June 3, 2018

To Embrace or Not to Embrace

The “Wisdom Tradition” of the Bible has different forms. Wisdom speaks in different voices.

There is the self-assured voice of the Book of Proverbs which says that if we live responsibly and well we will be rewarded, and if we live irresponsibly and badly we will suffer. Much of the time, that is true.

But it is not always true. Sometimes life is more complicated and harder to understand.
So, Scripture also includes the questioning voice of the Book of Job, for example, or Ecclesiastes. These writings are attuned to the perplexing and paradoxical side of life. The canon of the Bible makes room for both because both describe human experience, including the experience of faith.

At the Annual Meeting of Hamilton Conference, May 25-27, I invited delegates to reflect on
three of the fourteen pairs of opposites in Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 which says that “to everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

In my last post, I described delegates’ responses to “a time to scatter stones, and a time to gather stones together.”

On the second day of our meeting, I invited folks to complete one of these sentences:

“I believe we are in a time for EMBRACING because …”


“I believe we are in a time to RERAIN FROM EMBRACING because …”

The word “embrace” means to “encircle,” to “enfold in one’s arms,” to “clasp to oneself.” In the Book of Genesis, we read that Esau ran to his estranged brother Jacob, “embraced him, fell on his neck and kissed him.” Embracing is a sign of affection, intimacy and communion – and in the case of Jacob and Esau – reconciliation.

So, what’s not to like about embracing? Isn’t embracing always a good thing? When would it not be a time for embracing?

My granddaughter is three-and-a-half. She loves to be with other kids and whenever she meets someone new, she wants to hug them. Her parents are always saying, “Nina, you need to ask people if it’s OK before you give them a hug.” But when we are with her and it’s time to go, she won’t hug us because that means it’s time to leave.

Nina is still sorting out when it’s appropriate to embrace and when it’s not.

We talk about embracing metaphorically – as in, “embracing change.” But not all change is
good. Is it the right time to embrace change? Or not yet the right time? There is wisdom involved in discerning these things.

All of these angles were reflected in the responses that people gave.  

One hundred and twenty-three people thought we are in a time for embracing. Their responses clustered around some key themes:
We need to “embrace” because people need community. We are becoming more isolated and less connected. Key words that surfaced in these responses were “support,” “reassurance,” “comfort,” “connecting,” “hugs,” “the Body of Christ.”

·         Another key theme was that change is inevitable, so we need to embrace it, whether we like it or not. Otherwise, we’ll be left behind.
·         Others said we need to “embrace” change, both in the church and in culture. Many referred to the need to adapt to changing church structures and to being open to new ideas.

·         Some took what I would call a “Carpe diem” (“Seize the day”) approach. God is on the move, the wind of the Spirit is blowing, it’s time to take risks and “swing for the fences.”  These folks saw change as an opportunity to be embraced, rather than a threat to be avoided.

·         A few focused on the specific need to embrace justice and reconciliation.

Sixty-one people said we are in a time to refrain from embracing.
Their reasons:

·         We need to let go of our fears and the inertia of the status quo. These folks viewed embracing as holding on to things that we need to relinquish.
·         We shouldn’t try to embrace others before we do the hard work of repenting and reconciling. People who responded in this way came at the question from the angle of respecting boundaries and gaining consent.
·         It’s too soon to embrace the changes that are happening. We’re in a time of too much uncertainty. What is called for is discerning, waiting, listening, contemplating, keeping our options open. There is such a thing as embracing prematurely.

It was fascinating to me to see the different ways in which people interpreted the question, and the common themes that emerged from their responses.

In my next post, I’ll look at “A Time to Speak” and “A Time to Keep Silent.”  

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