“Stop stirring.”

stephanie02 (1)It’s one of those phrases that takes me right back to childhood.  I hear it clearly in my mind, in my mother’s voice.  As a younger sister who was very interested in my older sister’s doings, and who wanted to be sure that my parents were adequately informed, stirring was one of my favorite pastimes.  I had quite the impressive streak of melodrama, and I took great childish pleasure in turning a relatively peaceful household into a bubbling mess.  Sometimes it worked.  More often I just got that look and a quick phrase: “Stop stirring.”  Stop stirring up trouble.  Stop stirring the pot.

Now, it often feels as though the bubbling mess is everywhere, and I so wish that there were some magical wand to wave that would bring about a more peaceful world.  I wish I could un-stir the pot.

The truth of the matter, though, is that sometimes things need to get stirred up so that we don’t forget they are there.  The desire to return to some mythical “good old days” is a desire to return to a time when issues of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality were locked down – when anyone who was different from the perceived and celebrated norm was supposed to settle quietly to the bottom of the pot.  This needed to be stirred.

So then, if the stirring is necessary, what is the responsibility of a Christian who is holding the spoon?  My belief is that our central responsibility here lies in taking our calling to partner with God in bringing about God’s kingdom very, very seriously.  I suggest four ways of checking ourselves in this, before we make a grab for the spoon:

  • When we get a chance with the spoon, do we handle it with integrity? Integrity is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but at its root it is about wholeness and unity: a person with integrity is who they say they are.  Their actions match their words.  Their character matches their claims.  We say we are followers of Christ, and that we want to become more like Christ.  Do our actions demonstrate this?  When we loosen the cords of our own self-righteousness (an affliction that touches most of us to some degree) and stand vulnerably before our God, can we still claim that we are doing our best to live and love like Jesus?  Can we still claim that the first guidance that we seek is that of the Spirit?
  • When the spotlight is on us, do we reflect the light of truth? When we write, when we speak, when we share Facebook posts and forward emails, do we check our words for truth?  Truth can be such a tricky concept in a world where we all see things and understand things differently, and where our own individual experiences shape our understanding of what is true.  However, we can take responsibility to check the facts of what we say and what we pass along, and we can take responsibility not to misrepresent or, worse, demonize those who see a situation or issue differently than we do.  We also, as Christians, can do our best to reflect the truth of God: the truth of God’s love for all the world, and the truth of God’s image stamped on all people.  When we have the opportunity to speak, write, or share, we can honor God by keeping those truths in mind.
  • Do our words demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit? I feel sometimes as though this should go without saying.  Perhaps it should.  But at least in my own life and my own interactions, I find that it is good and necessary to pause and ask myself these questions.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul suggests that if we are working in the Spirit, then the fruit of that labor will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22, NRSV).  Are our words fruitful in that respect?  Do our words increase the good in the world?
  • When we stir, do we stir up grace? It may be that stirring is inevitable.  It may even be that stirring is part of our calling.  But when we stir the pot, are we stirring up trouble for the sake of trouble, or are we stirring up trouble alongside grace?  God is in the business of troubling the waters, and so, therefore, are we – but God’s troubling the waters is about bringing grace, healing, and wholeness.  When we stir it up, are we making the waters safe for people to wade in and find that grace?  Are we creating spaces for healing and reconciling, looking to a time when we will remember that we all are made in the image of God, that we all carry that stamp of sacredness, of holiness?  And when we (inevitably) make mistakes – when we do use hurtful or untruthful words, when we do lash out in quick, angry reactions, are we restoring grace by returning to the situation with humility, and by asking forgiveness from those we have harmed?

We are already blessed.  We are already grace-filled.  We are already beloved.  May we remember that about ourselves and others, and may our holy stirring glorify God.

*Stephanie McLeskey is the University Chaplain at Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, North Carolina, where she has served for five years.  She is currently working on a DMin in Justice and Peacemaking at McAfee School of Theology.