Does God Require More Then Tolerance?

Would you consider yourself to be a tolerant person? What does that mean? To you? To others?   I’m not sure when it was or how it came to pass, but at some point in our fairly recent history, as a culture, the word “tolerance” and its derivatives rose to the level of the sacred in our national vocabulary.   A word expressing either who we are as a people or who we hope to become, it may be a word with secular roots yet religious overtones given its often lofty connotations. “We are a tolerant society” is now a familiar Canadian phrase.  “In the name of tolerance” is another.  So too “we should be tolerant of other faiths.”

Recently a church member asked me, “Is Rundle UC a tolerant church?” After a few days of reflection on the question, I came up with this answer: in my estimation Rundle Memorial United Church is tolerant, as any decent congregation ought to be, of the usual foibles, idiosyncrasies, habits, beliefs, and even moods its members exhibit, preach, or express through email on any given Sunday morning or any other day for that matter. And yet RMUC is even better than that, again in my estimation, and goes much, much further than tolerance.

I’ve checked my 5-lb., voluminous Bible Concordance more than once to try and find the word “tolerance” and I can’t find it. It’s not in there, which means it’s not in the Bible.  More importantly, Jesus never used the word nor hinted through his use of other words that tolerance was a key to the kingdom.  This is a fundamental Christological point, friends. Jesus never talked tolerance because Jesus preferred a more radical notion – acceptance.  And what a huge difference there is in those two words!

One of my favourite stand-up comics is Lewis Black – a 65 year-old angry Jewish guy whose shows verge on rants.   One of his “bits” I think demonstrates the limits, if there are any, of tolerance.   He was talking about the new trends in baby names – the changing ways of new parents these days when it comes to naming their kids. Lewis reminded the audience that Germaine Jackson, brother of 80’s Pop king Michael, had named his child “Germajesty”. Then he said he could handle that, could tolerate the bizarre choice Germaine had made.  Then Lewis shared that some anonymous parents in Los Angeles had named their child “ABCDE”. He commented that these parents just couldn’t be bothered to use their imaginations or were bored or something, and just settled on ABCDE (try to pronounce it – it actually works!).  But for Lewis this was too much, could not be tolerated, and warranted, from his sarcastic perspective, the city officials being given the power to say no to these pathetic (not my term) parents!   You decide for yourself.

I think this gets at the heart of the matter.  The word tolerance it seems to me is not one that should find an elevated place in our Christian vocabulary because it’s simply not enough!  Not what Scripture calls forth from us!  Not what Jesus proclaims!   Our calling is to seek a higher virtue, a higher goal in living out our discipleship.  Not tolerance but acceptance.

Tolerance.  To be tolerant.  To tolerate something. Doesn’t it always sound as if in essence one is forcing oneself to put up with something one doesn’t like. For example, I was tolerant a few weeks back of the crying infant mysteriously present at a Calgary movie theatre showing of the latest Batman flick “The Dark Knight Rises”. I was tolerant because crying is what babies are programmed to do.  It disturbed my enjoyment of the movie (until the young mother acted appropriately and left) but I endured it, tolerated it. Another example. For a couple of days this week we tolerated the driving and parking hassles on Beaver Street created by a neighboring church renting out space for a movie production…. (long pause)…  Actually, that’s a great way to raise funds and make a splash in the community.  Why aren’t we doing that?!

More seriously, when the Rev. Dr. Gary Patterson was elected as our Moderator last week, an openly-gay minister in the Church (and when are we going to drop that word “openly”), the media may have interpreted it as an act of tolerance but to me it was a decision of acceptance, of affirmation, and celebration!   Nothing to be tolerated here, only to be praised and affirmed.

As Christians are we about tolerance or acceptance?   Putting up with someone we don’t like or actively seeking to affirm the holiness of the one disliked?   Holding our nose at the increasingly diverse mosaic that is Canadian culture (certainly not my own inclination) or embracing the diversity, the richness, the new Canadian ethos?

What did Jesus teach?   Samaritans, for example, were misunderstood, disliked, even hated by “full-blooded” Jews.  Jesus didn’t tolerate Samaritans, he elevated them.  He made a Samaritan the star of one of his parables – The Good Samaritan – the title alone an abomination in the eyes of a faithful Jew.   Tax collectors were traitors to the people, collecting taxes for the occupiers, earning their living from the Roman oppressors.  Jesus didn’t tolerate them, he affirmed them.  Within earshot of all the town gossips he singled out Zacchaeus and invited himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’ home.

Let me be clear.  Jesus was not tolerant of injustice, oppression, vengeance, inequality, sin, etc.  He certainly didn’t accept these things, either.  He did, however, seek to shed light on the way God sees those who are sinful, imperfect, and flawed – in other words, all of us.

Is Rundle UC a tolerant place?  I hope you agree with me that in various ways, through a variety of ministries and relationships, the people of Rundle go far beyond tolerance in seeking to shine the light of Christ in the Bow Valley.  We are fundamentally about God’s grace and I’ve seen it demonstrated/shared/lived out countless times by the people of our little congregation.

One final story in this lengthy reflection or “musing” (let it count for two since there won’t be one next week).  Last Monday Miho and I headed to Morraine Lake.  When we arrived it was about 6:00 pm., which was kind of early for us.  Let me explain.  This summer, for the first time, we have been following a routine of going to Morraine at dusk, just before the sun goes down, most Sundays or Mondays.  Parking is easy and there are far fewer people to deal with.  Of course we need to be a bit more aware of bears.  Last Monday we found parking but the hoards of visitors were still there as it was still quite light.  We made our way up the large stone steps to the famous lookout point and meandered about from one corner to another, pausing to soak in the wonder and listen to the languages being spoken all around us.

After a few minutes we saw an open bench and sat down just in time to see a young family struggling to take pictures of perhaps the cutest baby boy we’ve ever seen.  While indeed cute he was a reluctant model.  Miho and I tried not to stare but the scene was so adorable we couldn’t help it, and the more we stared, smiled and chuckled, clearly the more uncomfortable this group of five became, particularly the mother.  So we looked away.  To our surprise the father approached us (actually Miho who is clearly more approachable than I).  In broken English he asked if Miho would take the entire family’s photo, then another.  This broke the ice and we started talking.  Sajid and his wife (sorry, I forget her name) and their three kids live in Edmonton but are from Pakistan.  They’ve been in Canada about a year and this was their first time to Morraine Lake.

The details of our conversation aren’t important but I think the warmth we all felt during our ten-minute encounter is.  A Muslim family from Pakistan and a Christian/Buddhist couple from Banff.  Tolerance wasn’t the first thing on our minds, or even the second.  Openness and kindness were the only matters of importance.  It was a special meeting and at the end Sajid promised he’d send us a photo, by email.  That he did, with the subject title “friends”.  I’m attaching it to this email (sadly without Sajid).  We’ll likely never worship together – it’s not necessary in order to accept each other.  We have our different beliefs, different tenets.  We respect and accept that, clearly, and that’s enough.  I don’t know if we’ll have any more contact.  I hope so.  We are friends.

I don’t always find the spiritual centering to be as I think Jesus would have me be, in fact perhaps I rarely do.  On this occasion, if I may be so bold to say it, I think the Spirit and my spirituality were as one, at least for a few minutes.  Not tolerance but acceptance amongst we fellow children of God.

One of my favourite hymns from “Songs for a Gospel People” (do we have that great hymn book in our shelves?)  is “God of Many Names” (words: Brian Wren; music William Rowan).   I offer the words as a closing prayer:

God of many Names, gathered into One, in your glory come and meet us, Moving, endlessly Becoming;
God of Hovering Wings, Womb and Birth of time, joyfully we sing your praises, Breath of life in every people —
Hush, hush, hallelujah, hallelujah!  Shout, shout, hallelujah, hallelujah!  Sing, sing, hallelujah, hallelujah! Sing God is love, God is love!
God of Jewish faith, exodus and law, in your glory come and meet us, joy of Miriam and Moses;
God of Jesus Christ, Rabbi of the poor, joyfully we sing your praises, crucified, alive forever —
Hush, hush, hallelujah, hallelujah!  Shout, shout, hallelujah, hallelujah!  Sing, sing, hallelujah, hallelujah! Sing God is love, God is love!
God of Wounded Hands, Web and Loom of love, in your glory come and meet us, Carpenter of new creation;
God of many Names, gathered into One,  joyfully we sing your praises, Moving, endlessly Becoming  —
Hush, hush, hallelujah, hallelujah!  Shout, shout, hallelujah, hallelujah!  Sing, sing, hallelujah, hallelujah! Sing God is love, God is love!


Rev. Dave Crawford is the minister at one of the Banff churches, Rundle Memorial United. Learn more about our current activities, our Thrift Shop, and how to get married in Banff.