Reading Romans after Watching “The Giver”

Lectio: Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Meditatio: “Members One Of Another”

The Giver (2014) PosterMy wife and I went to see “The Giver” this past weekend. My junior high education was incomplete, as I had not read this book in 7th grade, and so I spent all last week reading it beforehand, and found that I liked it far more than I thought I would. I anticipated being bored, mostly because the dystopia genre is getting pretty tired. But this turned out to be a pretty fascinating story, told simply and honestly.

As I read and reread Paul’s letter to the Romans, I am reminded of what should have been a utopia in Lois Lowry’s book. The community has a real sense of its unity and interdependence, and each person’s role is clearly understood to foster unity, rather than threaten it. But in the end, utopia sours for Jonas (the protagonist, assigned the role of “Receiver of Memory”), as he discovers — remembers? — that their unity is really “Sameness,” and all major differences (races, religions, colors, languages, expressions, even climates) had to be sacrificed to achieve this unity.

The community was made to conform in order to preserve “Sameness.” Paul has in mind a unity far more costly and far more precious than mere sameness, when he calls the Romans to “be transformed” into “members one of another.” It can be tempting to hide away in like-minded enclaves, in a world so fragmented. We go to those places or churches or internet sites where we know we can find people like us, who like what we like, who like us. We avoid or ignore the “other,” in order to feel secure. Paul, and Lowry, challenge this cheap, easy understanding of “unity.” A unity without differences is not unity, after all, but only “sameness,” and is somehow hollow and colorless.

It’s hard work to be “members one of another” with those who are different: with people who have more or less money than you do; with people who pursue different ideas of “the good life” than you do; with people who grew up — and raise their children — to have different values than you do; with people who look or think or act or love differently than you do. This is hard work, and often feels impossible. There are few places anymore where we naturally come near such differences, in a world so fragmented. But the hard work is made easier when we hear Paul’s invitation: “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). We are not called to become like others, or make others like us. We are not called to sameness. We are called to Christ-likeness. Renewing our minds, being transformed, following after Christ, all point us away from the dividing lines we so often fixate on. This is hard work, but all the heavy lifting is done by the Holy Spirit, once we start looking the right way.

Oratio: “Unity, Purity, and Peace”

At the end of The Giver (at least, the film adaptation), Jonas leaves the community, in order that they remember the memories they have been hiding in their “Receivers of Memory,” “back and back and back.” Jonas, no longer a member of his community, finds home. Christmas carols drift from the warmly lit cabin. It’s a pretty hopeful ending. Jonas discovers over the course of the film that feeling and experiencing and giving love is worth all the pain and conflict that such vulnerability has come with.

I attended my friend’s installation into the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament this afternoon, and the congregation he will be serving promised “to labor together in obedience to the gospel for the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ, the unity, purity, and peace of the church, and the welfare of the whole world?” This is an echo of the promise they — and everyone in my denomination — make individually when they publicly become members of the local church. How are we laboring together for “the unity, purity, and peace of the church”? The recent fervor for “missional churches,” or “communities on mission,” or whatever jargon your church is using to get people to do more, is all well and good, but if it comes at the cost of training people in righteousness to live together in unity and peace, then it misses the mark. How are we working toward answering the prayer Jesus prayed?

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23).

Contemplatio

Lord, make us one, as you and the Father and the Spirit are one. Grant us peace in the midst of all the changes and transitions and differences and conflicts that plague your world. Draw us to seek the deep purity that comes from hearing and obeying your Word, rather than the cheap purity that comes from sameness. Let the world see moments when we bear each others’ burdens and forgive each other and give grace easily, and see you alive on earth again. And bring us home again in your kingdom, where love and grace and hope thrive and flourish, and create new life every morning. Amen.

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2 thoughts on “Reading Romans after Watching “The Giver”

  1. You know my heart is right with your comments! Doing more before we know who we are in Christ just makes matters worse – especially when we are wounded but not healed, which makes unity and peace impossible

  2. Becoming ‘members one of another’ with those who are different is a greater challenge once you leave school. For most of us, at least some level of ‘sameness’ was part of our discernment on where God was calling us. Even though we are all different than our congregations and communities, we are drawn to churches where we ‘fit.’ While there is greater opportunity to encounter difference in the digital world, there may be even more pressure to find our closed, insular group of like-minded people. The power and danger of association is incredible. All the more reason for us to pursue the costly path Paul lays out for us, the path of Christ. Thank you for this beautiful and thoughtful reflection. Ma God lead you and your people into greater unity, purity, and peace.

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