VIEW VIDEO I’ve made no secret of my passion for motorcycling, so you’ll be surprised to learn that this past month I actually gave away two of my motorcycles as gifts to friends, so coincidentally had room for another motorcycle, a 1971 BMW r75/5, that was built in Berlin, Germany when our own Matthias Beier was only four years old and scampering around Germany in lederhosen. When you buy a 50-year-old motorcycle, it comes complete with imperfections. I had to do some cleaning, repairing, and replacing. Whenever I buy a vintage motorcycle, I feel just like Joan must have felt when she married me and knew there would be shortcomings and flaws to address.
The early Quakers, having never owned vintage motorcycles, believed in the possibility of perfection, otherwise Jesus would never have demanded it from his followers as he did in the gospel of Matthew, “Be perfect, therefore, as God is perfect.” Quakers believed that to insist upon perfection indicated its possibility. As much as I admire the early Quakers, I think in this regard they were hopelessly naïve. They also could have benefited from a class in New Testament Greek, where they would have learned the Greek word customarily translated as “perfect” more accurately meant “mature.” Be mature, therefore, as God is mature.
Several years ago, Joan and I bought a little house with nine acres just outside of Danville. The house had been built in 1941 as a farmhouse, back when farm families grew much of their own food, so in one corner of the yard the farmer had planted three apple trees, which, by the time I came along, had stopped producing. I pruned them back, hoping they bear might fruit, but it didn’t work, and I eventually removed them. Even though I had three less trees to trim around, removing them saddened me. It’s always disheartening when something or someone doesn’t achieve what it was designed to achieve. Fruit trees should produce fruit.
When I was a child in the Catholic Church, I had to memorize the Baltimore Catechism, a series of questions and answers addressing the great mysteries of life. One question was, “Why did God make you?,” for which the answer was, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” For years after that, whenever anyone asked me what my goal in life was, I would say, “To love, know, and serve God in this world, and be happy with Him in heaven.”
But these days, I’m content to answer those asking about my goals to simply say, “I want to be whole. I want to achieve what I was designed to achieve.” I wasn’t born into sin and destined for hell. Neither were you. We were born immature and incomplete and need to become whole. We want to become what were designed to become.
Because I lack this wholeness, I yearn for it. Perhaps you do, too. Like me, you’ve recognized in yourself a split-mindedness. In his letter to the Christian community in Rome, Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do; but what I hate, I do.” Today, we would call that a lack of integration, when our actions and passions don’t mesh with our stated values and beliefs. There’s a lack of integration. This split-mindedness is true not just for individuals, but for cultures. We Americans like to boast about freedom and equality, but imprison more of our fellow citizens than any other nation, and persist with systems that leave women and people of color behind. Of the 12,415 people who’ve served in Congress, only 172 have been black, or a little under 1.5%. Women comprise half our population, but only 393 of them have served in Congress, a little over 3%. Only a bit over 1% of Congress has been Hispanic.
There’s this lack of wholeness, this lack of integration, in which our stated values don’t mesh with our actions. What we claim to value, we do not do. What we claim to hate, we do. Paul had us figured out, didn’t he? This is the human struggle. Not original sin we are born with, but accumulated brokenness we refuse to acknowledge and address. When we realize this, then wholeness and healing and integration become our life goals. This is what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus, when his dis-integration was so profound and unsustainable he fell to the ground blind. Isn’t that often the case, that our brokenness reaches a point we can no longer function? Then we either fall completely apart or we become whole.
Paul is taken to Damascus, blind, unable to eat or drink, when the Holy Spirit speaks to Ananias, a disciple of Jesus who lived in Damascus, and told Ananias to go heal Paul.
Ananias said, “You mean the Paul who’s been trying to kill us? That Paul?”
The Holy Spirit said, “Yes, that’s the one. He’s been praying.”
So Ananias goes, not really wanting to, because sometimes helping people become whole and integrated can be a real pain in the ass, but he goes, and he lays his hands on Paul and prays for him, and the scales fall from Paul’s eyes and he can see.
He says to Ananias, “Let’s eat.” Which is the Bible’s way of saying, “There are no differences between us. We are family.” Biblical scholars call that table fellowship and it was a big deal in Paul’s day. It meant you regarded someone as family, someone with whom you were integrated and deeply connected. This is the first sign of wholeness. If there are a long list of folks you won’t associate with, that is not an indication of their brokenness, but of yours.
In the next several weeks, I’m going to invite you to think about the habits of wholeness─those customs, patterns, and behaviors that help us become what we were created to become. I hope, as we Quakers say, that it speaks to your condition, and takes us all further along our journey to wholeness, happiness, and well-being.