“Five Feet” of Flexibility, Please!

Burj-KhalifaA friend of mine talks about her daughter’s work in Dubai, United Arab.
Her daughter lives where the tallest building in the world resides. It reaches up 2,722 ft. with 58 elevators, 900 apartment homes, 304 hotel rooms and 2,957 parking spaces. I read it was based on a design by Wisconsin’s own Frank Lloyd Wright design for Chicago that was never built and constructed by a South Korea company.

The interesting thing that she told me though is that the building has a movement, either way, of some five feet because you see a building that huge needs some room to stretch and maneuver in order to stand and withstand its height. Rigid and firm does not make it for structures and it does not make for us humans as well.

Today we honor two “pillars” of the Christian church, Peter and Paul (or is it Paul and Peter?). Note the word “pillar.” Strong and secure, pillars are meant to last forever.

But like the heat and strong winds of Dubai, this steel structure needs some room to bend, buoy and manage itself. Five feet, in both directions, is quite a stretch for a structure that size, don’t you think?

In our strong and true opinions, how do we secure ourselves? We think to ourselves, “If I talk the loudest, then they will hear me and listen,” or “I can’t compromise on anything or else my cause will be lost.”

Like a steel structure thousand of miles away to us in our small Chapel – something is about to crack and not be able to sustain itself…unless we give at least “five feet” to each other.

The current social issues are always before us and we quickly take our corners with our ultimate and absolute truth. (Often times based on what we hear from friends without doing our own homework but that’s a different sermon.) We hold firm, “never give an inch” because that would be mean weakness, compromise, “selling out” or misrepresenting, in our case, the Catholic Church.

Those “pillars” we honor today, Peter and Paul (or is it Paul and Peter?) held firm beliefs for our Christian Church. Please note that I did not say “Catholic” because they are pillars of Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Methodist and how many other Christian churches.

Paul knew the Christ (in other words he knew the “faith” of Jesus but not the man. Peter knew the “man” Jesus and was learning the “faith”.) Both had the gifts of inclusion and negotiation. Both knew that the “steel structure” of their faith needed at least five feet, give or take.

Paul learned that lesson through his amazing story of killing before teaching; traveling from town to town and working with hundreds of different views and opinions and perceptions and experiences; and all the time trying to piece them together. That’s at least “five feet.”

Peter learned that lesson through his words, he brilliantly acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God and then tells Jesus he may want to back off a bit because of the risks involved. He does the same by the fire with the Roman guards. Jesus asks Peter three times for his love and for each of those times Peter denies he knows him to the guards. That’s “five feet” the other way.

Both learned that the words “absolute” and “truth” do not always go together. There is always that grey (in religion) and that five feet (huge, big steel buildings.)

The beauty of this day is not in its solution but its challenge to each of us. The certainty of our beliefs needs a little breathing room in order for us to live among those who do not believe what we believe. The quest for “truth” is always and at least “five feet” to the right and then “five feet” to the left.

That’s not political, that’s practical. That’s the feast we honor today, Peter and Paul or it is Paul and Peter?

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About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). www.Salvatorians.com. He is associate pastor of partnering parishes, Christ King and St. Bernard parishes in Wauwatosa, WI.
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