TOBI BENTON

That They May Be One

That They May Be One

That They May Be One

I have always wondered why so many Christians are compelled to teach other Christians who practice different expressions of our faith the “error” of their ways.

I grew up with my feet in the mighty river of the catholic Church, catholic meaning universal. I spent a few formative years attending a small Presbyterian church across from Austin College with my parents and older siblings, though truthfully I’m not certain how often we attended or how often our parents were with us. The family rule meant we children attended church until we were 16, my older siblings completing our Grand Ave Presbyterian time with Godspell and heading off to college.

Prepare ye, the way of the Lord, (long live God, long live God)

Prepare ye, the way of the Lord, (long live God, long live God)

Prepare ye, the way of the Lord, (long live God, long live God)

By third grade I was trying out different denominations or running (literally) across the highway to the independent Baptist church if I didn’t get out of bed in time to make it downtown. I’m not sure how I even knew to try First Baptist Church? Or Grace Methodist, Parkview Church of Christ, Central Christian Church, Covenant Presbyterian. Maybe it was my brief stint on the Red Hots softball team or the handful of times I went to Brownies?

I lived outside the city limits and my exposure to other practicing protestant Christian families was limited. I attended St. Mary’s Catholic School. Though I was aware of my non-Catholic status, I loved participating in mass and catechism, resisted my friends’ concerns I wouldn’t be with God if I died because I had not been baptized, and knew with absolute certainty I was welcome at the communion table because of Jesus, even if I didn’t meet the doctrinal requirements. I loved those years at that tiny school. 30 students in each grade, Sisters Alice, Mary Charles, Bernadette, and my favorite Sister Marion Celeste, and a personal security of rhythms of prayer and order that made St. Mary’s a childhood sanctuary.

It is interesting though. Being one of two or three non-Catholics in school did cultivate a sense of being an outsider. As a child, searching on Sunday’s for a place to belong in the Protestant church affirmed there are no easy paths to belonging. Actually, my observations from ages nine to thirteen of the Church sharing the evangelistic message of the truly Good News are pretty bleak. I answered questions in Sunday School classes that didn’t fit the “Jesus” answer. I can’t picture teachers faces, but the feelings of embarrassment and aloneness aren’t difficult to remember. I hid out in bathrooms quite a bit to cover the time between drop-off and pick-up.

I remember moving to the balcony for church, finding places to be less visible, and thinking the grown-ups who were passing around vacation pictures during worship had it wrong.

I remember the feeling of being judged by adults because I was there without parents.

I remember thinking disagreements about music in worship and disagreements about the true testing of my salvation being marked by an ability to speak in tongues (which I cannot) and disagreements about what kind of baptism made you clean, and all the many other ways I was being told were right or wrong about loving Jesus, were grown ups refusing to be softened in their hearts by the kind of love I had personally known from Jesus since I was at least four years old.

I remember as an adult being told by other believers they’d been praying for me to leave a particular denomination for years. No matter how much you love the Lord, that is a bold posture before him, and more than a little righteous arrogance.

I did finally find my way into a church that had the first feelings of “home,” interestingly arriving back at Grand Ave as a teenager, and a space where one adult took the time to see me, listen to me, and help equip me to head off to college. The pastor took seriously his job to shepherd, the people took seriously their jobs to walk alongside one another, the strong took seriously the role of lifting up the weak.

Prepare ye, the way of the Lord, (Long live God, long live God)

Truthfully, it’s been a nomadic life all my life when it comes to Church and community, with our constant moving in the military. Before the internet it often took 6 months for military families to find a church. Since then, checking out online messages, ministries, and outreach on church websites is helpful. I do have days when I wonder what it will be like if God ever allows me to stop, set up a permanent place to dwell, and if I’ll even be good at doing my part of letting roots grow deep.

I am grateful for this way of God raising me up in his Church. His Church has a rich, long history, with many traditions, renewals, and dimensions of the spiritual life. 

I have experienced the expansiveness of God’s love. The freedom his rule brings. And the poverty of spirit we display as his followers when we believe our sight can completely encompass knowledge of him. The judgement and grief we cause one another in this family with our enforcement of institutional definitions of doctrine and personal preferences. Unity by enforcement or we’ll pack up and leave. Picking family fights in the cause of Jesus. That must look more than a little crazy when neighbors peer through our family window.

You know what Jesus prayed for us, Church?

John 17.

We participate with Jesus when we actively listen to his prayers and I am humbled to my knees, for here he is praying for me. To be one with you. Six times if you need emphasis.

Father, just as you 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me.    John 17:22-23

There is so much more, and I’ll continue with this conversation, but the posture God has grown me up with was spoken in his own words and what I try to remember especially when I’m angry with other’s narrowness of mind and shallowness of heart –

That all of them may be one.

If I really want to follow Jesus, this is the prayer of my heart. May it be so for us all, Favored One.

4 thoughts on “That They May Be One

  1. Beth Athey

    Well said! So much truth here!
    As an aside, Grand Ave. came to mind the other day. I was reminded of God’s grace in teaching me a thing or two about his people and how those lessons are still with me today. I am so thankful for my time there!
    Love ya,
    Beth

  2. Shirl Benton Graf

    Beautifiully said Tobi. Though I have always gone to the Catholic Church and am comfortable there I have also always believed that God was with me wherever I was. From the time I was able to think I knew that God loved me unconditionally and blessed me with an experience at the age of 8 that has forever let me know I was His child no matter the circumstances of my earthly location, in church, in a field, by a river, in the quietness of night. Your blogs are always wonderful! Love you, Aunt Shirl

    1. tobibenton Post author

      It is such a gift to have a life-long understanding of God’s love. So many people work so hard to please him and follow the rules of being “good,” all while living with an orphan spirit. I’m glad to be writing again and really appreciate your encouragement. Love you, too!

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