Hunter: ‘We need to find people who irritate us, who won’t always agree with us’

The Rev. Joel Hunter delivers his sermon, titled “Searching for Complements.” Hunter is senior pastor at Northland, A Church Distributed, in Central Florida, and Week Nine chaplain-in-residence. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Column by Mary Lee Talbot.

“It was my first day at the insane asylum. I was just 25, and I was working on my doctorate and signed up for a year of clinical pastoral education,” began The Rev. Joel Hunter, Week Nine chaplain at Chautauqua.

Hunter is the senior pastor at Northland, A Church Distributed, in Central Florida. His title was “Searching for Complements,” and his text was Genesis 2:15, 18-23.

“It was in Indianapolis and a place for the criminally insane. It was all ancient brick and it felt like every Alfred Hitchcock movie I had ever watched. I was overwhelmed. As I went looking for the administration building, I passed a parade of attendants leading some of the patients.

“I went to the wrong building and was given directions to the right one. On my way there, I passed a bush, and a woman jumped out from behind it. She had been in the line, and she said to me, ‘I know who you are, and I know what you are saying about me, and I will kill you.’”

Hunter said: “There was no PTSD then. You just went home and changed your pants and thought about it. As I thought about it, I came to a definition of insanity that has held true for 40 years. You are trapped in yourself believing the voices you are interpreting are from the outside, but they are only from the inside.”

Hunter described Adam’s search for a helper.

“God is a God of relationship, and God said it was not good for Adam to be alone. In Genesis 2, God brought the animals for Adam to name, and we think that Adam was just exercising dominion over creation. He was looking for a date — honestly! He was calling out, but not finding anyone who could answer back. He could not find one who was enough like him so they could be intimate but different enough to be necessary.”

God put Adam to sleep while he created woman and then brought her to him like a father bringing his daughter as a bride.

“She is coming from a different place and perspective. She has something he needs, a different way of seeing things,” he said.

Hunter said: “We spend a lot of time looking for compliments with an ‘i.’ We look for someone to agree with us. We have affinity groups that like to gather together to encourage each other, but they are lousy for growth. If you only have someone around you who agrees with you, one of you is not necessary.”

People who complement us are enough like us to be intimate but different enough to be necessary. Hunter used the example of chemical elements. Hydrogen and oxygen can be dangerous alone, but together they make water. Sodium and chloride are dangerous alone, but they form the salt that is necessary to balance the water in our system so we are healthy.

“My wife is a biologist, and she taught me something about pollination. There are two kinds of pollination,” he said. “Self-pollination is the ability of a plant to fertilize itself. It is the most convenient form of pollination. The other is cross-pollination, where a bird, or bee or wind is necessary for pollination. These are plants that are alike enough to be intimate and different enough to be necessary.”

“Self pollination is great as long as the world stays the same,” Hunter said. “When conditions change, self-pollinators end up in an evolutionary cul-de-sac. Cross-pollinators survive and thrive much better. The same is true in all of life. Our chances for growth and intellectual accuracy are improved by different perspectives.

“I don’t like that we have so many channels and yet people listen to only one. That makes us insane. If we don’t listen to others, we stunt our growth. God has given us the ability to come to a sweet spot where we can encounter others in conversation.”

Hunter said that his youngest son is an eye surgeon who performs microsurgery. Hunter had eye surgery to correct his vision.

“In blended vision, the eye that sees better close up sees more accurately with help from the eye that sees better for distance,” he said. “And the same works with the far eye and the eye that sees better more closely. You end up with a confluence of perspectives, and your brain is retrained to see.”

He asserted that when people advocate issues such as nuclear disarmament or anti-torture, they should do so from relationships with multiple perspectives.

“I do not go by myself. I got with my friend who is a Roman Catholic bishop, and my friend who is a rabbi and my friend who is an imam,” Hunter said. “We reinforce the point of view we share and give a more comprehensive understanding of the issue.

“We need to find people who irritate us, who won’t always agree with us. That is what makes life fuller and more effective. Compromise is not watering down what is fundamental to us, but proceeding together even if we don’t agree on every detail. We see people who disagree with us as enemies rather than another part of what we need to remember.”

Hunter said he will be speaking the rest of the week about the odd couples that God had put together.

“We may find them strange, but God will always lead us,” he said. “Find someone you disagree with but with whom you want to be in relationship. You will need God even more. Let go of control, and walk in faith, and see if God is really running things. We do our best, and we can trust God with the rest.”

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion, presided. Lynn Heinzerling Stinson read the scripture. Stinson is a professional photographer, and her family represents three generations at Chautauqua. She lives in Bloomfield, Mich., and is a deacon at Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church. The Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund provides support for this week’s services.

The Chautauqua Choir was under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. The responsorial Psalm, based on Psalm 100, was “We Are God’s People,” with setting by David Haas. Paul Roberts and Pati Piper served as cantors. The hymn-anthem was “Too Splendid for Speech but Ripe for A Song,” with words by Thomas H. Troeger and setting by Frederick Swann. The anthem was commissioned for Jared Jacobsen on his fifth anniversary as Chautauqua’s organist. The offertory anthem was “Christ, Our Lord, Is Risen Again.” Catherine Winkworth translated the words by Michael Weisse. The tune “Christ ist erstanden” is from a 12th century German Easter carol published in Joseph Klug’s Geistliche Lieder. The choral setting is by Gilbert M. Martin.