“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community (even if their intentions are ever so earnest), but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together
it would take a really long lunch—or an evening at a coffee house—for me to fully describe the last few years of my life viewed through an ecclesiastical lens. a 'church' lens.
from 1993 to 2003 or so, my tidy, conservative evangelical grid was shaken by some amazing Christian artists, thinkers, poets, musicians and philosophers i met via Mars Hill Review, the Trinity Institute, Communiqué Journal, Image Journal, and the like. Great stuff. It was sometime around 2000 that I was handed a cassette of a speaker (he'd later become a friend) talking to a gathering about church in a postmodern context. i had started deconstructing, and looking at the modernist, consumerist trappings of my faith-life through a critical lens.
had you caught me about 2003 or 2004 you would've seen a layman rapidly digesting books on theology and 'doing church'. excited about the possibility of even planting a community of faith that aspired to and embodied much of what i was learning—of embarking on a journey with other imperfect, wounded souls. i had found a conversation partner on the journey who at the time was also conveniently my pastor. he became my best friend, and dreams of this community slowly turned into reality. i felt God was using my talents for his purposes. i felt fulfilled.
in 2005 and 2006 a group of couples committed to a new community of faith. we met regularly for worship and mission, and tried to continue to impart a vision to the community. at some point the euphoric honey-moon was over. the hard work of being community set in.
The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall. [St. Matthew's gospel 7:27]
some churches withstand the rain and floods. idealism. agendas. finances. fragile souls. arguments about leadership and inclusion. ours simply did not. our pastor left the community. at that point it was a matter of weeks. some wanted to be a community of friends, but not a group that was a church. others wanted spiritual formation and mourned the loss of the idea of a sacramental community. some sheep liked not having a shepherd. others craved guidance.
in the last three years i have experienced two kinds of death. the first death was [leaving a large church with its constituent pains] the second was having a partially-realized dream abandoned by our small, fragile, community. the latter death hurt more than the former, and moreover it has left me frequently numb. agmar-barrow-downs-numb. but i would choose to be wounded in this second way a hundred times a hundred again. thank God the numb isn't every day.
now my family and possibly a few others from our community are seeking comfort, solace, worship, and refuge in another community. it's a longer drive, but the kids absolutely love it so far, and there are some constants: lectionary, the occasional taizé chant, time for cultivating silence, and an active sense of mission beyond its own walls. it helps that there are some familiar faces there. and gordon is a pastor without pretense, which i need. but i'm taking the approach more slowly. the way the walking wounded do.
God, protect my uprooted family while we test new soil.
[photo shamelessly appropriated from RLP]
Some quotes lifted from Tall Skinny Kiwi:
In community, "you get hurt more deeply. You laugh harder," says Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way
"It's like a freaking operating room," Brian Ollman says. "It's bloody but it's beautiful. It's scary but it's safe. Everything you think you should be … goes out the window. You're just getting life on life."
"I think we need to raise the bar of what it means to be a Christian so that it includes living in some form of community as normative for Christian life," Tom Sine
"Discipleship involves almost detoxing from the wider culture." Kevin Rains
Within the group, "all the gifts are there and everything that's needed is somehow available for ministry," Andrew Jones
Shane Claiborne: “Many congregations are in love with their mission and vision and rip one another apart in committee meetings trying to attain it. And many social activists I know tear each other up and burn themselves out fighting for a better world while forgetting that the seeds of that world are right next to them.”