And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts.
-1 Peter 4:10
The Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland is a breathtaking world of rugged beauty and island isolation. And with only a 3,000 person populace over 340 square miles, people get to know one another pretty well. I've never been there, but it's compelling enough to be on my bucket list.
There's a unique feature about the island roads on Mull. Nearly all the roads have only one narrow lane. They pass through mountains and along rocky coastlines, weaving their way in and out of towns. About every 500 yards is a small pullover, big enough for one car. When cars meet, someone has to pull over. And sometimes, someone has to do a little backing up to make way for their approaching neighbor. That requires some real skill.
That means that all movement on Mull is a constant negotiation between people. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who loves to travel to Mull, makes an observation about this need for what he calls "cooperative trust". Because of the narrow roads, island life is a constant give-and-take. He says that if you stay on the island for long, you begin to realize that the people all have a sense of each other's strengths and weaknesses, because they have learned to negotiate well for years with each other. They know when to move forward and when to back up.
Hauerwas also points out that this "cooperative trust" is the exact thing that we have attempted to eliminate from our American lives. We don't want to slow down and pull over for others. And we don't want to have to be humbly grateful for someone else pulling over on our behalf to let us pass. We'd rather each have our own paved lanes and live productively at fast speeds, without needing cooperative relationships.
And yet this is so much of the core of what makes us human, and the core of what it means to live as disciples of Jesus. Learning to trust one another and make space for one another is one way that love becomes tangible in our world. A life deeply formed in Christ sees another not as a nuisance or an asset to our own movement, but as a fellow image-bearer of God who gives me an opportunity to learn love simply by being with me. Perhaps my friend likes to talk a little too much. Jesus can teach me to be a more patient listener. Perhaps I have the tendency to talk too much. Jesus can teach me to ask good questions and put my friend's needs before my own. Perhaps my friend has a unique gift that I don't. I can ask for their assistance and freely offer mine in areas that I'm capable. And cooperative trust emerges.
Within the church, cooperative trust like this is beautiful. I begin to make space for you and learn what your needs and strengths are, as you learn mine. Sometimes it will work beautifully together, and sometimes we'll meet head to head and we have to learn how to back up a little bit so that we don't block the way for each other. Cooperation is humility, because we realize that we are sharing this road. And we did not build this road, nor do we own it. We inherited it, and it will last after we are gone. So we we joyfully and willingly encourage each other's travels, knowing that it is a gift to be able to move slowly sometimes, because Jesus is with us on the journey and at the destination. And life with Jesus is the goal, so there is no need to rush past each other or run one another over. It's quite the opposite.
But that may be easier on Mull, where everything has to be slower. For most of us today, a life of slow, cooperative community will feel out of place in a fast paced world. Asking one another for help will feel out of place in a fiercely independent world. Pulling over to care for someone else will feel radical in an efficiency-and-achievement obsessed world.
But Jesus pulled over time and time again. Jesus saw the people in front of him and made space. Sometimes he challenged, sometimes he was gentle. But he was always seeking to help them keep moving, often at great cost to himself. May it be so in our own hearts today as well.
Jesus, give me discernment about when to move forward, and when to pull over for the sake of my brothers and sisters. Teach me to build cooperative trust in my relationships.