Breathing Exercises

Refuge and Prospect

The church is a community of outsiders

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For all the years I’ve helped in church communities, and gotten to know people who hang around at the edges, I’ve met people who believe they are guests at someone else’s dinner party.
 
It’s remarkable to hear so many people who share the same room, express the opinion that they alone are the ones who don’t belong … who aren’t comfortable in the room, who aren’t as spiritually fulfilled and connected and qualified as everyone else. I think I’m qualified to say that this belief was not true. The majority of people (even the ones closer to the center) feel this way some or all of the time. We all belong to the same community of outsiders.
 
When it comes to our community project, I’d say to anyone feeling disconnected: “You belong here. And not only that, but you are part of what gives shape to events, no matter if this is your first time or if you are part of the founders’ circle. Whatever you feel about being here, you’re here, and there is something about that that is important.” These words become more significant in a community that takes its design cues from a gazebo, a building with a purpose that varies, given shape by the different people that fill it at different times, and different purposes that form along the way. In a gazebo, you might have a wedding on one week, a brass band the next, and a variety of folks wandering through during the week to reflect on their lives, scribbling journal entries, sketches, and poetry in notebooks.
 
When people recognize that they are welcome in such a setting and settle in, and then are invited to share their questions or thoughts, there is another common self-doubt that kicks in. They ask, “Is my spiritual reading, my insight, my question good for the whole community? Maybe it’s only for me!” To this I reply that it’s good for the community in the same way that a new pair of shoes is good for your elbows. In a body (which is my favorite metaphor for church), new shoes aren’t for elbows, but happy feet make for a happy body. Benefits experienced by one part trickle down (or up, in this case) to the whole. When I share a thought, a reading, a question, or a finding with the group, it is valuable at a minimum because it tells people about me–if I’m glad for what I’m learning, then the group can share the good times; if I’m not glad, the group shares my burdens; if I’m confused, the community becomes a place to sort stuff out.
 
I’m not saying anything original. People who report on the comings and goings in God’s church have been saying the same things for thousands — thousands — of years. People like to talk about the qualifications that get you “in” the club. But God’s been bringing unqualified outsiders in for ever. A few decades ago, some missionary-theologians were fond of saying that God didn’t worry so much about the boundaries we needed to cross to be “in”, but more about the direction we were traveling. The argument said that the church was about being centered on the right stuff, and that everyone, near or far, that was pointed to the center, like, toward Jesus, was in. That’s a nicer picture of God’s grace than the old-skool boundary idea, in which you had to fulfill some requirement (memorize a creed, become a member, get cleaned up … cross a boundary) to be in.
 
But God does our bounded- vs. centered-set theology one better, chasing after the outsiders, even when we’re running in the opposite direction. God is an inviter, and if you’ve gotten an invitation, you’re in.
 

 

Psa. 139

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
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Written by dmaddalena

2013/09/22 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

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