Unexplored Territory

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By The Rev. Paul Graves 

For many people, June is Graduation Month. A favorite gift seems to be Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.” In its wonderfully light-hearted pictures and poetry, it emphasizes the importance of dreaming and working toward fulfilling those dreams.

It’s a favorite gift for some people, the dreamers and those free to explore the curiosities of both the world outside and the world inside. For other recent graduates, their dreams are not very big. They carry a wide variety of baggage that weighs down personal dreams and curiosities.

Rev. Paul Graves

Our spiritual journeys can reflect a similar range of possibilities. Some persons seem to be over-the-top free spirits, exploring their own spirits without consciously dragging their past along with them. Other persons are content in their routines or maybe fearful of stepping beyond.

One result is how we speak and think in extremes: “It’s my way or the highway!” My parents never gave me that ultimatum, but I know many people who often heard it yelled at them.

The next time I hear someone say that, I plan to firmly say, “You know, I’ve discovered there is a whole lot of unexplored territory between your way and the highway. Care to join me in exploring it?” I’ll either get shut down, or an interesting conversation might start.

We live in extreme times politically, religiously, socially, economically. It seems no one blabbing out one position or another is willing to consider the territory between those extremes.

A current example is the horrendous situation of immigrant children being separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border. I simply cannot understand how any person thinks it’s right or moral to separate those children from parents — especially people who claim to be Christian.

Some people don’t see it my way. Yet we are called to welcome strangers and protect children, even as we try to obey “laws of the land”.

Sometimes “laws of the land” are wrong completely, or parts of them are wrong. That “land” may be our country, our denominations, our community, even our families.  We can’t break even unjust laws…can we?

Ask Jesus that question, and he might remind you of what happened when he confronted the Pharisees about laws that restricted people from living life with hope. He came not to abolish, but fulfill, the Jewish laws. He knew unconditional love is the unexplored territory between those laws and the deeper meaning of those laws.

In Matthew 5, Jesus finds the deeper, more loving meaning in six different long-standing Jewish laws. All of these laws deeply impact relationship behaviors — fearful thinking toward others, adultery, divorce, vows to tell the truth, revenge, and love of neighbor and enemy.

Each law is introduced with Jesus’ challenge, “You have heard it said of old…but I say to you…” He frustrated the religious leaders with a deeper, more expansive truth than they had settled for, and then invited them into unexplored territory.

It appears by their later plot to kill him, that Jesus was unsuccessful in getting them into that territory. But he kept inviting them anyway. If we say we are followers of this man, his challenge is to us also!

When we settle for “my way,” or are confronted with another who stands firmly for “my way,” Jesus continues to call us into the unexplored territory we call our spirit, our soul, to seek deeper meaning and courage.

But that inner journey then calls us to step into whatever outer part of the world we inhabit, to work for and even invite others to join us in that unexplored territory.


The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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