24 Feb 2018

Community: the Body of Christ

Some rights reserved (CC BY 2.0) by John Fowler
Sourced from Flickr
            Part of being community is acknowledging that we are part of the whole. Just as community is never made of one entity, we are never intended to be individually the whole corpus of the church.
            A colleague's induction sermon recently reminded the congregation that the church needs all of us; we all have a part to play in being the body of Christ. The body is meant to be built, and continually go through phases of growth and healing; the church is never just one person or one ministry or one time. None of us can be all things to all people, and still be authentic in our ministry. Nor should we try to be all things to all people, or consider our ministries more important than someone else's. 
            Like the biological body, how we connect to one another, in times of strength and in times of weakness, is important. We must be vulnerable to one another: "Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection." (BrenĂ© Brown)  It takes times of sharing leadership, of handing ministries to new members, of trying new things, of evaluating existing traditions, of mentoring and encouraging and supporting one another, of celebrating new gifts and skills as they are offered and discerned, of accepting the inevitability of change. 
            The body of Christ, like any other body, is in constant change. Changes in people, changes in ministries, changes in neighbourhoods, changes in finances, changes in opportunities. As community, as the body, we are called to do our best to adapt in the healthiest possible way.
            In the parish I serve, we witnessed an inspiring example of the healing of the body, as a demonstration of the health of the community. Last summer, one of our beloved was in an accident that left her with 2 broken legs. As her body struggled to heal, the body of Christ supported that health: through prayers, visits, gifts, transportation, shopping assistance - whatever it took.  We all celebrated as she continued to make - and meet - physical goals striving towards full restoration of health.
            We were shocked when, last month, she died unexpectedly. It was a part of our community, our body, torn from us.  Yet through our grief, we continued to minister to and with one another, supporting and encouraging and praying.  We knew that we had to continue being the body of Christ, and used her inspiration towards healing as a community.

            In community, as community, we are the body: we together grieve our losses, we together celebrate new life, we together mend when we are broken, we together strive towards health and wholeness. The body in all its complexities orients itself towards full health in the present: it does not live in the past, nor does it fret for the future. The body of Christ is our body, breaking and healing, giving and receiving, supporting and being supported; of being in vulnerable communion with God and one another. 

10 Feb 2018

Jesus in Community

            Having successfully dug out from last week's snowstorm, I continue to reflect on community.  
            As my colleague Kyle states, " I think we would do well in the church to fully claim the radical, and counter-cultural, notion of common life and common faith."
            So how do we DO that?
            I think we have to live the faith. Truly live it: not just with people we like or from our comfortable pew. But to go out into the world and engage with the difficult realities of today's individualistic society.
            Any group of people can build community in any number of ways: engage all ages, be honest about needs and values, support local initiatives, keep buildings maintained (cared-for external presentation suggests vibrancy inside!), don't be burdened by the past, don't fall into 'good enough' mentalities, and own your presence.
            These are good starting points. In the church, we are called even further, because community is part of our vocation.
            Imagine if we truly engaged the world around us as Jesus would do: because Jesus was radical and counter-cultural. He physically and emotionally touched so many people that had been longing for touch for so long.
            Where culture rejected the diseased, Jesus gave health. Where society abandoned the widows and orphans, Jesus found them homes. The down-on-their-luck, he encouraged. The outcasts he welcomed, the unclean he embraced, the hungry he fed, the untouchable he embraced.
            Jesus did not do this alone: he engaged his followers to this reality. He called for the people - the ordinary, everyday people, like us - to see the opportunity to love: despite the politically correct boundaries and barriers, the promulgation of fear, the absurdly false theology of scarcity, or any other pathetic reason.
            Jesus called his followers, then and now, to seek those who society would refuse to see. To see another's needs, and find ways that those needs might be met - the immediate need, and the underlying cause; then to meet those without question, without judgement, and without criticism.
            To see another's needs, of course, means to see another person: to look beyond ourselves; to see the presence of Christ in everyone we encounter.
            Community means shifting our focus away from ourselves, away from our personal desires, and turning it on to someone we share this time and space with, searching for ways to live our baptismal faith to support and encourage a fellow child of God.
            It's not easy, it's not popular, it's not common: but neither was Jesus. And when we embrace that reality, our relationships flourish and we all benefit.

The Van in the Ditch

The first 6 inches
            This week I continue my reflections on community and individualism. Where I live is experiencing a blizzard, which is dropping more snow than the area is accustomed to. As a result, the roads are not presently examples of 'ideal driving conditions'.
            Last evening, glancing out the window, I noticed a van in the ditch across the street. I could have ignored it, but out I went, bundled up, to start pushing - as did a few others, including one man who was driving past, and one neighbour from the next block who brought his truck and used the hitch was able to pull the stranded van out of said ditch.
            As this was happening, another car had come up the street, and realising he couldn't get past, rolled down his window to shout out a few unkind assessments of the van's driver's abilities and capacities, before dramatically spinning his wheels to reverse down the street.
            The driver of the van had not, obviously, chosen to go into the ditch. He was a stranger to the neighbourhood. I noted the extreme difference in reaction to this man's need for help.
            For those of us willing to push, we got no benefit from it. We just knew that someone needed help, and we did what we could to provide it. We trusted that if we were in the same situation, someone else would help us as well.
            For the vocal commentator, however, his vehement response suggested that this inconvenience was an intentional slight against him and his plans.
Snow pretty!
There's a driveway under there...
            In less extreme examples (one hopes!), in the church we can see similar behaviours and reactions. We all come to God in need; we all come to God with God-given gifts. As community, we are called to reach out to everyone around us, celebrating their gifts and supporting their needs - and to know that we are likewise being celebrated and supported.
            It takes effort and intentionality to put our own needs and preferences aside in order to help someone else - yet that is how we build community. At any given time, someone in our midst, in our pews, may bear a tortured soul or hurting spirit - their emotional van is inadvertently in a ditch. They could benefit from the love of God being extended to them, whether they ask for help or not.
            This is what we are called to do as Christians, as community: to love one another as God has loved us. To reach out the helping hand as we are able. To provide what we can, as what we have has been given to us. I hope we consider, in our own churches and lives, how we might live this Christian community, and overcome the scourge of individualism.


3 Feb 2018

Are we a community or collection of individuals?

A day at the beach, summer 2016
            The folks in my neighbourhood have often described this as a 'dog friendly community'. Which is great, as I have 2 big dogs who like to walk - a lot!
            Lately, however, I've had a bit of a challenge when we walk: an increasing number of neighbours are choosing to keep their dogs off-leash. When that happens it inhibits my opportunity to walk wherever the leash-less dogs are. (Some have charged and chased, in the extreme a neighbour's dog was attacked while in her own yard, etc.) It's a problem: I should not have to stop my walk or change my route out of fear of these loose animals.
            I am not shy about asking the correlated humans to leash their dogs. And, if this truly were a dog-friendly community, the dogs would be immediately restrained.
            Unfortunately, many responses lately has been negative. "Why should I?" and "Oh *dog's name* is fine" have become common replies. It's disheartening, as it shows disrespect and disregard for everyone else. Contravention of by-laws notwithstanding, this shows that some people are only concerned with their own preference, rather than with the safety and order of others in the neighbourhood.
            Put another way: individualism trumps community.
            Obviously, this is not the case with everyone; but it's prevalent enough to recognize a trend. I think it sad that some people think about themselves as the be-all and end-all of any and every circumstance. Yet this mindset seems to be permeating all aspects of society.
            The church is not exempt: if we are not careful, we can end up being a group of folks who are seeking only to be self-satisfied: "The church isn't meeting my needs" is a common criticism. Yet, if we're open and honest in our self-reflection, that's not what the purpose of church is meant to be. Church is not about what we can personally attain; it's about how we can come together and contribute to the world.
            We are called to be "a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects" (as Thomas Berry states in "Evening Thoughts", p. 17). We are intended to be the body of Christ (as Paul writes in 1Cor 12 and Eph 4). As such, we are called to act in ways that will be of benefit to the greater community, to continue to build up the whole body of Christ, not just ourselves. To do this we must maintain and celebrate the ways in which we can be community, looking out for the welfare of others and trusting that they will look out for the welfare of us. We may not always get our own way, but when the community improves, we all improve.

            So from leashing a dog to praying for one another to engaging in justice ministries to *enter your activity here*, let us intentionally be the collective church: a community of Christ-followers, loving and serving God through service to the world.