We Who Are Many

“You remind me of this book I just read,” my therapist said.

This was at a visit in the wake of my father’s death this summer. Melanie, my therapist recommended Susan Cane’s Bittersweet: How sorrow and longing make us whole. It was an amazing read. I recommend it.

Susan starts the book by highlighting that the ancient Greek Philosophers had 4 temperaments: happy, assertive, calm, and melancholy. Four personality types that people are just born with: happy, assertive, calm, and melancholy.

Happy is the joyful temperament. The cheerful folk. Those who can fall in a mud puddle and laugh. They smile a lot. Even when they are in a bad mood, they are still extremely pleasant to be around, and they can talk with anyone. Anyone here have this temperament?

Assertive folks are those who get things done. They are in constant motion. A blur of activity. The movers and the shakers, the big personalities. These folk take charge and lead naturally.  Anyone with this temperament?

The calm temperaments never seem to get too mad or too happy. They run the middle route. The narrow way of dealing with emotions. When the Chicken Littles are running around saying the sky is falling, they calmly step outside and look up. Anyone with this temperament?

And the melancholy. Those who have a bittersweet nature. The bent of the poets and the artists and philosophers. They think deeply and have compassion, but even their joy has a bit of reserve baked into it. There’s a reluctance and a sadness around their words. Anyone have this temperament?

If these are still unclear, let’s use Winnie the Pooh Characters. Winnie the Pooh would be happy. Even when things go wrong, he just says, “Oh bother.” And chuckles. Rabbit would be Assertive. He has a vision for his garden, and everyone else is just messing it up. Christopher Robin would be Calm. The voice of reason amidst the chaos of his animal friends. Melancholy would be Eeyore. Eeyore who is glum, but also kind and generous.

Paul would not know Winnie the Pooh of course. Being a Roman citizen and educated, Paul would have known the Greek temperaments.  He alludes to them in this section of the letter to the Romans, but he is more focused on spiritual gifts and not temperaments. Maybe it’s the Bittersweet book talking, but I see those today in his list. The ministry of ministering would be the calm folk. Christopher Robin is always checking in and talking with folks. Rabbit is full of diligence. Winnie the Pooh is cheerful and compassionate. Eeyore recognizes his need for grace and often teaches everyone a good lesson.

Paul writes to a church struggling with diversity. The church in Rome seems to be Jewish Christians struggling to accept and include Gentiles into their congregation. Paul writes of the stunning diversity God gives us. The point of the entire letter is how amazing God’s grace is. There is grace for all. We all miss the mark and fall short, Jew and Gentile alike. God is doing a new thing in Christ and old tribal lines are erased. Then as now, when we gather as the church, temperaments, family systems and cultural clashes are bound to happen. Paul’s advice is to stay curious and rely on God’s grace shown through Jesus Christ.

I love the Letter of Paul to the Romans. A church struggling to deal with its diversity. Paul is lamenting that this church in Rome is messing it up. Paul gives good, logical reasons why they need grace and to embrace diversity. I think he does this because he’s of the melancholy temperament himself. Maybe I’m projecting that onto Paul, since I can be a bit of an Eeyore.

In the amazingly good news of Jesus, Paul has a sense that we’re messing it up. Paul has a thorn in his side as he goes about being the apostle to the Gentiles. He knows he needs grace. God’s grace that surpasses all understanding and reaches every person and temperament. He talks about Israel being a tree. God is doing something unnatural. God is grafting the wild shoot of the Gentiles onto the family tree of Israel. Paul is trying to widen the church’s view on who is in and who is out. He boldly writes that salvation is for all. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same lord is the lord of all and is generous to all.”

If only Paul would write a Letter to the Americans. In our culture, we seem to value only two temperaments. We value happy and assertive. We like people who smile. Internationally, we have what is known as the American Smile. Kate first heard this when she studied abroad in Denmark, and I confirmed it on my study abroad to Germany. Taylor Swift sings about her “American Smile” in her song London Boy. We smile with our teeth. We smile all the time. Some other cultures are put off by all this smiling. They don’t trust it. It’s not a temperament their culture values as much as our culture does.

We’re also assertive. We win all the gold medals at the Olympics. We have to be the best, the greatest. We take the lead. We are undefeated in world wars. We seem to have drifted from when President Teddy Roosevelt advised us to speak softly yet carry a big stick. We now speak LOUDLY and carry a big stick. Our military budget surpasses the next 9 countries. We spend $801 billion on our military spending compared to $776 billion of the next nine countries, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.[1]

If America were a person, we’d be smiling and saying, “Hi! We’re the best. You better do what we want, or else we will bomb you back to the stone age. We’re smiling, but we’re not joking.”

We’re at a weird time in our society in trying to deal with diversity. Some who are of the happy/aggressive temperament want only the good parts of our history taught in schools. They seek to ban the books that don’t highlight the good parts where we win. We need to learn from our calm and melancholy temperaments. Those temperaments can deal with the hard parts of history. Mostly because these temperaments expect the bad parts of our history and of our nature. Part of me expected a certain letter banning any expression of LGBTQ+ from a denomination this past week. But not so here. Here we welcome, love, and serve all. We’re putting the PROTEST back in Protestant.

If you look at our banner, it says, “In the flow with God and neighbor.” God is smaller than neighbor, because I think God is the easier part. We can connect to God through reading the Bible, prayer and spiritual practices, through yoga and silent retreats, and through taking a hike at our favorite metro park. Often we’re praying and taking a hike to get away from people!

Neighbors, man… that’s where it all goes sideways. We have to put up with people. People who don’t see the world like us. People who have a completely different temperament than we do. She smiles too much. Nothing rattles him, and that really bothers me. They are such a Debbie Downer. They just have to WIN. All the time! If everyone was like me, then that’d solve a host of problems.

We are members of one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another. Each must perform a function. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. If we were all the same, there would be nothing to learn.

Who among us are ministers? Who can minister? Who here has worked in management or human resources? Who here knows processes and systems and keeps things organized and structured? That is a gift. Without you, we would be constantly reinventing the wheel. We need the calm orderly nature that your temperament brings to the body of Christ.

Who among us are teachers? Who here are life-long learners? Who here craves to know? Who are naturally curious and aren’t afraid of new information? That is a gift. Without you teachers, we would never learn. We would still be knocking rocks together in a miserable cave waiting for the next lightning strike for fire. Thanks to teachers, we have air conditioning. And phones! And engineering. And we can fly! Some of you are listening to this in the comfort of your own home thanks to live stream and most of you didn’t have to hitch a horse up to a buggy to get here. You drove here in a climate-controlled chariot of the gods!

Who here is an exhorter? Who here, present company excluded, has no fear of public speaking or encouraging others? Who here can mentor and coach and give really good advice? Who here can even take their own advice? I know a few of you who could do a whole inspiring TED Talk of your life story and what you know.

Who here is generous? Thanks be to God for the givers. The givers who see a need and immediately respond to help. Generous in time, talent, or treasure. You spend the night here with Operation Homes. You sign up and bring food for Garfield. You cook for CUPS Cafe. You sing in the band or choir or play bells. You who show up. All the time.

Who here is a leader? Who is diligent? Quietly courageous, unlocking the gifts within our diversity. Putting those who are gifted in generosity on stewardship or caring. Those who teach on the Discipleship & Education Leadership Team. Those planning worship. Those who minister on the Caring Outreach Connection and Council. We need all types here. For discovering all the various types of people God has created, we are closer to God.

Neighbors are the hardest part. Someone once said that “Hell is other people.” Well… so is heaven. The kingdom of God is populated with all different types of people. Paul writes Romans 15:2, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.” Later in 15:7, he says, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

No matter who you are or what temperament you are, you are welcome here. The church needs you. We are the body and promise of Christ. There are many types of us. It’s hard to figure it all out some days, we can barely figure ourselves out. God gifts us with community to help figure ourselves out as well as the gift of this life and what it means.

In my Leadership Medina County retreat last month, we did a temperament exercise. We divided into the four corners of the room, and it showed the great diversity of temperaments within our group. We learned a lot about ourselves and our neighbors whom we will be learning with. Let’s divide up… Calm, Assertive, Happy, and Melancholy. If you can’t choose, then stand in the middle. Take a look at yourself, church. Know that we have diversity among us at all times. And while we might identify with one temperament or another, it is not the final word.

In some situations, we’ll be happy or calm, and in another assertive or melancholy. This is just a snapshot. But the good news is that we need each other. We hold up mirrors for one another. We are blessed by what God has gifted us with: this life, and each other. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Works Cited

[1] https://ips-dc.org/u-s-still-spends-more-on-military-than-next-nine-countries-combined/

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