Breathing Exercises

Refuge and Prospect

Posts Tagged ‘body

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

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(Sch)ists and (Sch)isms

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While hanging out with the gang last night, Person To My Left says, “I used to think I was a _____ –ist, but I’ve been reading the writings of _____, and now I think I’m a _____ –ist”, and went on to describe a little of what that meant, all of which was a bit-too-steep of an onramp to an unfamiliar way of thinking, which is why I can’t remember how to fill in the blanks above. But I was interested, so I made sure we would be able to hear a longer-than-2-minute story about what it means to be a _____ –ist. Then, the Person To My Right says, “I’m pretty sure I’m a _____ –ist“, which was different than the first –ism, regarding which you will just have to trust me, because I can’t remember what the second –ism was either. Into all of this I interjected, because I am a humor-ist, “Hey, our first split!”, by which I meant our first sch-ism. Ha. But Person To My Right, rightly, said what I believe anyway, which is, no, it’s got to be allright for us to have different ists and isms if we’re going to be in community. Yes, amen.

Homogeneity is unsustainable except in isolation. If I wanted to hang out only with people who saw the world just like I do, then I’d have to give up my dream of being a part of a functional community that could legitimately claim the name of Jesus Christ, who invites all kinds to come and empowers all kinds for the work. A homogeneous community can only grow by working to eliminate contrary perspectives, or by fracturing repeatedly. Of course there are ways that communities align naturally along certain lines, and a community that gathers around the life and leading of Jesus will necessarily come to be aligned in many ways, and choose certain important boundary lines.

But the way that people gather around Jesus has always been unique in the world: the idea is that we people are like parts of a body … hands, legs, ears, eyes, and we become powerful and functional only when we come together – like the way my hands are so much more useful connected to my eyes and feet, to pick a couple helpful others. Our place in the Body of Christ, is as parts which cannot survive alone and which are not very productive when in isolation. In this spiritual body, Jesus holds the honor of being the head and as such is the source from which we take life and leading. But while we have this relationship to the head in common, it’s good that we all have really different ways of engaging the world and different purposes in the body. This may seem a simple truth, but in fact it’s very difficult in practice. What holds the dipsarate parts together? Further, what gets them to work together? How do we learn to accept that people with whom we live might have an entirely different way of seeing and speaking into the world? Instead of seeing different as complimentary, we see it as a rebuke against what we are, and we fight.

I’m counting on the fact that the head has the key to alignment, and I can be somewhat ignorant of how it all works together. I figure one thing I can do is regard the other people in my community with the honor due to someone who is learning how to be loved and led by God. This is part of my current three-way attentiveness model (which I just realized I have): attentiveness to the head, attentive to others-in-my-community, and attentiveness to the surrounding world. Each of these could describe any healthy part of my physical body, and also my whole self, inasmuch as I am a part of the body of Christ.

In recent years I have come to appreciate (and depend on) the complimentary and sometimes contrasting perspectives of friends. If it weren’t for them I’d be more cozy in my perspective but less functional in the world. I am both wary of and excited about the twin facts that as the number of people in my community grows, there will be more complexity and, along with that, there will be more functionality.

Written by dmaddalena

2011/01/08 at 1:20 pm

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The 18-Year Plan

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When a new church is coming into existence, those with experience like to speak in terms of the Two-Year Plan. As in: population growth to a certain number within two years; income of a certain amount within two years; and established ministries of a certain kind and number within two years. I know that this way of thinking is very helpful for some, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

Yet, as crazy as it may sound, I prefer to think in terms of an 18-year plan. If a church is a body and can be thought to have a growth cycle like any complex organism, then rushing growth can have an adverse effect, as it might on a human body. The metaphor of a body is very helpful for me: it requires that we think organically instead of mechanically. What parent would write a two-year plan for their newborn? That is, what parent would do that without the influence of family doctors who are compelled to compare every child to every other in order to insure against a malpractice lawsuit. (Medicine is an amazing blessing, but doctors have been responsible for more anxiety than any other force I know of, in the life of the new parents, because they can see further into the human body than ever before and feel compelled to point out every thing they see, whether they understand it or not, and compare it to what they currently understand to be a normal standard. When you insist on a standard of normality, there is only ever 1% of the population that is normal. This is, for me, a picture of a culture oddly reluctant to let things grow at a natural pace, and we see this in many aspects of our culture, including the making of new churches.)

So, here’s the idea: 18 years to a mature, wise, functional, integrated body that is ready to live in the world without a lot of instruction, and make it’s way with influence. That’s pretty close to the plan I have for my kids: I hope that when they reach 18 that I will be more loved by them, but less needed — that they will be moving through the world as adults; still with much to learn, but knowing who they are and moving and acting with confidence. Just like with people (who are pretty awesome and smart), I think it’s possible that a new church (which is made up of many people, so also awesome, but also more complex) might take that long to get it right. Even if my crazy idea gets measured in dog years and it passes much quicker than I thought, I’m in it for the long haul. I have no interest in slowing down the work of God, not at all. Neither do I want to treat the church like a child when it is called to maturity. But as an antidote to the quick-to-market approach of our commodity culture, how about not speeding it up for a change? How about not despising childlikeness or a non-standard development curve? Along the way, I think I will enjoy this young, growing community as much as I enjoy my more-amazing-every-day kids. Much will be accomplished at every stage. There are few limits: I expect to be surprised.

But I do think the first year or two of a community should be simple, and nurturing.  No worrying about the chart on the doctor’s wall (Oh No! Junior’s in the 49th percentile for walking! He’s behind!), no rushing to educate, or develop programs, as with parents who stress about their kids’ academic progress and prospects (If we don’t get her onto the waiting list at the local pre(p)-school, she’ll never get into a good university!).

If the community is a body that is unique in the world, led by Jesus in a specific time and place, then he will reveal the work and the way that we have in front of us, and will guide us according to our own rhythms of growth. We will walk when we’re ready. And if we’re allowed to walk when we’re ready, we’ll walk far, I think.

Written by dmaddalena

2011/01/04 at 3:03 pm

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Roll Call

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Who’s in the room when people gather? Specifically, who’s present when a community gathers in Jesus’ name?

1. A bunch of individuals, each with their own histories, hopes, dreams, and each also uniquely inspired by God

2. A community of people (a different entity than the individuals); that is, a body, directed in some mysterious way by Jesus Christ (who is called the Head of the Body), composed of people, and having the potential to hear, speak, and act as one.

3. The Spirit of God, present to awaken us to the immediately pertinent details of the divine perspective, and to speak through and to us on behalf of the Father and Son.

If these thing seem obvious (because it sounds familiar, because you’ve been to church), ask yourself, “How does this actually work?”. Who are we actually paying attention to in a worship gathering, most of the time? If we learn anything from our school experiences, if we learn anything from the architecture of church, we tend to focus our attention on the people in the front of the room — who tend to be the expert and the talented. This is, at least, normal.

How, in contrast to this, could we honor the above realities? I dream of each of these things being true in a way that sends a shiver down your spine. Really. That we leave each other’s company having really experienced one another as inspired, gifted, people (not just talked about it), having grown in awareness of the mysterious body which is being formed and guided by Christ (not just described it), and having experienced the real presence of the Holy Spirit (not just prayed and asked for things). If just saying something aloud doesn’t necessarily make it real for us, how will we engage in these realities so that every-one is aware of every other one in the room?

Written by dmaddalena

2010/11/07 at 1:48 pm

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