Ruckus: it’s a friendly word. Fills the mouth nicely, rolls right off the tongue. Sounds oddly Northern, which makes it obviously better. It sounds pleasant.

The problem is, what it means is far from pleasant. It means commotion (1). But it trivialises that commotion too. It makes it look like it’s much a do about, ultimately nothing. It focuses the attention on the actual disruption, and away from what gets people to cause the ruckus.


Picture in the public domain – source: Wikimedia

Imagine those headlines on a church bulletin:

  • the new floral arrangement caused a ruckus.
  • ruckus after the sofa is moved to another area of the chaplaincy.
  • choir leads ruckus after they are asked to sing Shine, Jesus shine and Be thou my vision in 4:4.

Laughable, right? How about this, then:

  • slight wording change leads to massive ruckus in Christianity.

History has taught us that the ruckus, in this case, was far bigger than in any of the previous cases. The filioque clause, the addition of one single word (!) to the Nicene Creed, led to the first significant schism in the history of the Church. But what makes this different to the other cases, other than the scale of the consequences? What makes the rejection of this one word – or, not to take sides in the debate, the desperate clinging on to it – less ridiculous than the dispute over the time signature of Be thou my vision?

The answer is simple: it just means that we look past the cause. It is widely commented that the schism was the culmination of tensions running far deeper. This does not detract the importance of the actual point as to whether the Spirit also proceeds from the Son; but it makes that point – from a human perspective – the symptom of a pastoral crisis, not just an argued point where one side is right and the other just has to accept it and move on.

The new floral arrangement may not be important in itself, but the change that it represents might be for some parishioners, because it may represent the end of an era and the start of something that is both scary and daunting. The movement of the sofa might be mistakenly read as a rejection. Some of them we may not understand: I sure can’t think why people wouldn’t want to sing Shine Jesus shine, even if it’s been played every single week before. But for these, our pastoral duty is to read into these situations, to probe and to listen (rather than making up our own interpretation!), and, yes, sometimes, to give in and wait before putting in a new floral arrangement. Because, even though it is nothing more than a symptom, when you run a temperature, you try to keep it down as well as trying to get rid of whatever’s causing the temperature.

Now, not every dispute is a ruckus. There are some things which are just plain wrong (like, for instance, offering coffee after church). But I’m sure that most are just that: so here’s two things I’d like you to take away from this.

  • Don’t be quick to dismiss a ruckus as over-the-top. That counts whether you’re in a position of leadership or not. Listen, support, and love as much as you can, and try to see behind the symptom.
  • Don’t cause a ruckus. Make sure that what you’re angry about is actually what you’re angry about. And then seek support.

Fun fact about the word ruckus: even though it sounds like raucous and means something quite as disruptive/noisy/unpleasant; the two words are unrelated! In fact, ruckus comes from ruction and rumpus. And Northern though it sounds, it appears to be an American word. Which is the perfect opportunity to say hello to my friends and readers in the colonies ;-)