United or Untied?

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. However, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"                                                                  -1 Corinthians 12: 12, 18-19, 21
When I was in college there was a required class simply entitled "Intro to Fine Arts." The intention of the class was to provide an overview of the arts focusing on four main areas: architecture, art, theatre, and music. Most students assumed it would be their "easy class" for the semester when they discovered the class would include field trips to the art museum, buildings in downtown St. Louis, an opera, plays and the symphony. However, they quickly (me included) realized that the class might be their most challenging of the semester.
In the architecture section, you had to be able to quickly identify things like the difference between Ionic, Doric and Corinthian columns. In the art section, you would quickly have to name styles like pointillism, surrealism, and impressionism as well as the artists and pieces of work that reflected those styles. In the theatre section of the semester, you had to describe the differences between overtures, acts, and arias. Yet, when we finally got to the music section of the semester, well that is where I thought I was home free.
In high school, I had been in marching band, orchestra, and symphonic band. I knew how to read music. I knew music history. I knew music theory. I also thought I knew what instruments sounded like and what role they played. I had been a first chair flutist. I was arrogant.
So when we got to the unit of musical listening, I thought it would be breeze. How hard could it be to sit in the library carrel, put some headphones on, listen to music, and write down all of the instruments you heard? Well, let me tell you, it was hard! I spent more hours than I care to admit in those library carrels trying to listen for all the instruments that were featured in those assigned pieces of music.
Now keep in mind, I was a flute player. That meant in symphonic band and orchestra, I got to sit up front center, very close to the conductor mind you. Not only did I get to sit up front, but also I got to play the melody.
And in all the years of playing the melody, having the opportunity to have solos and to have face to face interaction with conductors, I had arrogantly convinced myself I didn't need the rest of the instruments, the rest of the players. I could play the melody. I could carry the tune all by myself. I had no need of the trombones. I had no need of the drummers or the xylophone players.
Friends, let me tell you this is what privilege and entitlement looks and sounds like.
You get the best parts.
You have the best seat.
You get direct assess to the leader of the band.
If you have not come to this conclusion on your own, or you are just too polite to think it--I will say it for you...I had a flutist's privilege. I needed an attitude adjustment that could only come through two important things: education and a willingness to truly listen to others.
Thank goodness for my wonderful professor. He taught me the role and the importance of each instruments and encouraged me to do deep listening.
Suddenly I heard things I had never heard.
I heard the sweet low and high sounds of the strings.
I heard the breadth of the melody in the beauty of the woodwinds.
I heard the crisp riffs of the brass.
I heard the smooth, rich harmonies of trombones and tubas.
I heard the color and dramatics of the percussion section.
When you are able to truly listen to music and hear the different instruments, it gives you an appreciation for all music. I believe this is exactly the message that the apostle Paul was trying to convey in utilizing the metaphor of the human body being likened to the body of Christ.
When we say, I have no need of you. We are essentially saying we have no need of your song, your voice-what you can contribute to the music of life. When we say I have no need of you, we limit ourselves to learning, growing and expanding our repertoire.
The truth is we have need of each other. There is no one we can claim we have no need of. We cannot fully and wholly exist and live into what God has designed and planned for you without each other. Why? Because each of us make up the musical masterpiece of our churches, our communities, our Conference, the wider Church and the world.
We are called to be United...not Untied.
Now mind you, unity is not to be confused with uniformity.
Unity is working together to make sure the melody, harmony, and rhythm come together seamlessly to produce a beautiful, inspiring body of work.
It will take practice.
It will take education.
And it will take truly listening to one another and appreciating each other's roles and gifts to the whole.
It is truly an art to work towards unity.
Yet, the result is awe-inspiring.
My hope and prayer for the churches in this Conference is that you always remember the importance of saying and believing, "I NEED YOU!" It will make us stronger when we work together, when we play together and when we learn from each other.
Together we can compose our own unique Unity Symphony of the Church of Jesus Christ--offering up the gift of love, grace, kindness, compassion, and justice to all people who need to hear it, see it and receive it.
The world is listening...

Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister