Once There Was A Girl….

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So, the rumors are true – this girl is getting ordained!  It seems like a pretty simple sentence but behind it is a lifetime or two of wading through what it means to be a woman of faith, intellect, spirit and questioning.  And it’s at once a hard and good story.   But for now I think its just good to acknowledge that I have found myself amongst some of the clearest, most loving, down-to-earth-real-people Christians and have found my home.   I have found myself amongst women and men who see no issue with being thoughtful, considered, reasoned, informed, passionate about the state of our theology and our world.   These are people who at the same time are deeply prayerful, trusting, seeking, receptive, responsive and open to the Everywhere Presence of God and the proclamation of a good news Kingdom.   I am in a place where being a woman is in no way a liability or an indulgence.   I am in a place where Jesus is pointed to with wonder.   I am home.   This is a home that has good bones and I have been wandering slowly into it, spreading out my stuff, wondering how to best let this little corner of it reflect the reconciling spirit of Christ that dwells within me and within all of us in this community.    Again, that’s a sentence that doesn’t quite portray the depth and challenge those words hold.  But I am here.

 

ANYHOO,  This is a good news story and an unexpected one. A year ago I did not have a CLUE that this was on the horizon.   My mom had just passed away and I was deeply hurting, although there was also present a sense of “enough of this” and I was starting to pray about how I might start teaching and leading more intentionally.  And then the way the opportunity opened up had some pain , some conflict, present in it’s circumstances.   That’s not lost on me – this enterprise of “church” is deeply grooved with our brokenness as much as it is deeply held by God’s faithfulness.

 

So, for those who aren’t familiar,  the CRC takes its theology very seriously (a good thing, really, believe me).  And so they take the examinations of their pastors very seriously.   I was examined on a stage by dozens of men and a few women, and asked questions that I sometimes had the answers to but also sometimes I couldn’t get my own self across to my knowledge and wisdom in that excruciating  moment.  It was hard, humiliating and had all the potential in the world to sow a deep rift of distrust of myself and of others.  But in that, and through the affirmation of a whole slew of mentors in this church,  I realized that even there, even in an examination to determine if I was truly called to this life, church and calling, it wasn’t about me and my abilities to wow anyone, or to prove myself.  It was about He who calls us, me,  into being.     And so even there, God made his “letting go” path, the actual calling we are all called to, known in a deeply visceral and ultimately redemptive way.    Again, it’s a long story….a good one I think though.  And again, this is not lost on me.

 

So this Sunday, November 26 I will officially be ordained in my church, The Road Church.  We will meet in our little chapel, bringing our bagels with us.  People I know well and some I hardly know will be there.  We will sing some songs and someone will talk for a bit about this way of Jesus.  There will be words and prayers.   There will be coffee and I will go home and celebrate with wine.    And it will be a good, normal day.

I have no idea what this means in some ways.  I still am a bit in the “well, huh!” phase of this.  But I do know this–that it is God who works within us to will and to do according to his good purpose – not to create a world of people afraid of other people, not to create a world of us and them, not to create a world where we are afraid of beauty, fun, needs, difference, or people who challenge our understandings of the way we think things are but to create a world in which HIS WAY of life, that which was intended from the beginning and carried out into completion is OUR WAY.  The way of love, mercy, justice, humility,  reconciliation, redemption.  It is the way of being seen and being known.  It is the way of sacrifice and covenant and is a whole earth life long.  It is the way of wholeness and shalom – of the flourishing of all of creation, not just some of us.   It is the way of INCARNATION—the way of Him who let go of all power to enter into real life with real love.  Not one inch of this creation is not loved, known, brought in close.

 

More than a couple people have mentioned to me “You seem happier this year.”  And I think that’s because I get to talk about and even practice these things that have been building in me for years –  And when I talk I get to point to Jesus who is “bringing unity to all things in heaven and earth.”  (Ephesians 1:10) and hopefully draw people up to the table with love and care and mercy and good laughter–and it will be my kids causing the ruckus in the corner.   I am full and I am happy and I am busy and scattered and unsure too.  I am, as they say, #allthefeels

But… to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than anything I could ever ask for or imagine, I am looking.  And so here I am getting ordained to minister and pastor and teach and lead and mostly follow, follow, follow – God help me.

And now that they have me, they won’t get rid of me.

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The Exhaustion or Good Freaking God! or How I’m responding to the inter webs this week.

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There is an exhaustion creeping over us who care.  Do you feel it?  I read the news, and then I read the comments and then I see the drivers and then I see hear the casual but in the end dehumanizing dismissals of those who think politically different than us.

 

There is an exhaustion creeping over us who think that it should be expected that not once in a life should a woman have to defend her body and her heart from others who would just take it for themselves.  Make no mistake- our bodies which include our sexuality, do have everything to do with our souls – we do not divorce one from the other.  When one is taken from us, manipulated from us, violently stolen or just assumed it’s not important to us, or important to the world – this is an attack on our souls and its wrong.

 

I’m tired of having to say it and having to speak up though.

 

I am not a Christian because I think people like me are right.  I am a Christian because I read these old words about Jesus and somehow they make my heart leap—they, in a miracle of mystery and call, affirm my whole self.  And these old words were the actions and words and orientation of Jesus to this world –to this good world that he is dedicated to the point of death to restoring, redeeming, reconciling.  Even me – a sensitive girl who grew up loved, and also sometimes confused, who is kind to others but also sometimes am not and who cannot, for the life of me, live in every way I think I should.  And to this “even me” and to this “even you” has a home been given in His words.  For there we are held, known and thought of so highly that even the life and love and every creative force of this universe is committed to making us whole.

 

““Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.”

Dorothy Sayers…..Thank you Jesus for her.  You better believe she fought it all and she kept stubbornly believing that Jesus even thought she too was a full human.

 

The multitudes of women who are typing “Me Too” onto their facebook feeds this morning….they are doing this out of a deeply horrifying experience of power asserting over their bodies, lying to them about their worth.  They are writing to somehow combat the truth that a raped body will require less jail time than stolen goods. Good Freaking GOD!  What have we misread about the gospel of Jesus that this has been status quo in our “Christian” society and is still ok in our time?  Let us re-read it now – let your sisters re-read it to you now!

If there is one thing we know about following Jesus – its that it’s a following into powerlessness.  Where power is extolled and lived out to the point of taking what you think you deserve – that is nowhere CLOSE to what it means to follow Jesus.   Make no mistake – what you see at “voter values” summits has almost nothing to do with the covenantal redemption story of this whole cosmos we follow Jesus down to in these Scriptures.   Some words might be the same, but if it’s not a shedding and yielding of power, it misses the point.

 

When you decide to be on the side of the women whose bodies have been assumed to be less than their own and less than God’s good creation, you will decide on a shedding of your power to have and to control.  This is the Jesus way and is truly the only way to follow him to the kingdom he is building.

 

I am tired of pulling against the current of our culture that’s mistaken “Christian” for clout, power, right and that’s mistaken success for God’s blessing.   The life of Jesus is one of letting go of our power which is no power really – it all is God’s and it is all for The Other.   This is connected to our race relations, it is connected to sexual assault and violence.  Because you better believe that those whose power and humanity has been dismissed for centuries know what it is to follow Jesus to restoration.  Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek and powerless—they will get it, this kingdom business.   What we read every day over the interwebs is connected to whether we diminish this world God created or whether we participate in the work to reconcile it, bring it into unity and follow to the dark streets this Light that doesn’t blink twice at emptying its self for the sake of the other.

 

The funny thing is, even when we are exhausted, when we follow that power-emptied Jesus down into his full humanity, we will be given back ourselves—we will be given back a creative, spirit-filled life that knows no bounds but continually rejoices when truth is manifested.  It’s a miracle but I’d stake my life on this truth.  The truth that Jesus, the downward path of this Son of Man who doesn’t blink at my femaleness or any other form of otherness, is for us, with us and is busy doing His work of restoration.  Look for that, in your exhaustion.  Look for that reconciliation and rejoice in that.  That is the value we can vote for.  That is His business, His economy, His world He’s not given up on yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Encounter

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Let me say that humans are so strange.  I know this because I’ve been one my whole life and I’ve lived with them my whole life.  Even this week, I looked at my husband, who I really truly adore, and he looked at me, who obviously he adores, and  we both thought – “huh?”  He looks at me and wonders why in the world I am not able to put the shoes away in such a way that we can functionally use the closet.  And I look at him and wonder why in the world it is beyond this wonderful man’s capacity to put the dishtowel onto the oven handle instead of bunched up on the counter!   And these are the smallest of the small issues—truly—but they show what is the crux, the meat, of every relationship.

So just track with me–Each of us grows up in a different body.  We are each enfleshed in such a way that no one else ever will have the same body, the same influences, the same words and pictures in our heads.  Each one of us is so incredibly unique in our make-up and thus our perspective on the world.    So someone who stands over here on the left, will see a slightly different reality than someone who stands over here on the right.  Our eyes do this right?  One sees this side, and one sees the other side and when we put them together, we see something much closer to the truth of the object.  By the nature of our bodies and minds being separate and located on a specific place on this earth that no one else can exactly inhabit, we will have different understandings of reality, different points of view, different ideas of what’s important, different ways of making sense and of working through the world.

And this might blow your mind but THIS  is how it was designed to be!  We were built in this way, by a God who made us in the image of His own very flourishing life.  So we were built then to encounter each other over distance—geographical, physical distance and also emotional, intellectual distance – we were made in such a way that we have to communicate and to dialogue with each other in the space between us.

 

And this is pretty amazing.

As the poet John O’Donohue puts it,

“Its just incredible that we can make any sounds that can reach over and across to each other at all…The beauty of being human is that we are incredibly, intimately near each other; we know all about each other but  yet we do not know, nor ever can know, what it is like inside another person…(The truth about the world full of individuals is) that the world is always larger, more intense, stranger than our best individual thought could ever reach.”

 

 

And having different points of view then, its not a sin.   Misunderstanding, miscommunication can happen though.   And the refusal to listen to the other and the possibility for the dominance of one point of view over the other  is where sin can come in though.  That’s where the  potential for damage to each other and outselves can happen.  That’s where the potential of any person or institution with power, like say, a church, can hurt others when it doesn’t listen and dialogue well.  Was it Jonathan swift who said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make us love one another”?

But how we choose to respond, to  listen to our differences and to dialogue with other points of view is a point of invitation from an incarnated Jesus to us.  I can listen to why Brad thinks its so important that the shoes be lined up, why its important to his understanding of the world, for how he functions.  And He can listen to why I understand the world to be better when the dishcloth is hung up on the oven rack.  We can listen, hear, and respond to each other and take each other’s view seriously, work to find a solution and contribute to a flourishing relationship.

 

So the key words here then are “listening” and “responding.”   And its no small thing that the Hebrew word for obedience is actually rooted in the word for “listen”  – listen and obey—obey is not just do what I say because I said so, but for grown ups, to obey is to listen and then respond to what is being said.  Listen and respond to your mother’s point of view.  To your your son’s point of view, to your neighbors point of view.  Listen and respond so those who have experienced something you have not and who have knowledge you do not– and then to respond with your life and your knowledge.  Listen and respond to God, to his voice and his way—to God’s point of view.

Being made for relationship means listening and responding to this Word.

 

What we are finding in this meditation on relationships can be described as ENCOUNTER.  At the heart of relationship is the space in between us where we “encounter”, where we touch, where we listen to words, to bodies, to hearts.  Where we speak words back and forth, where we dialogue, we learn, we grow – so imperfectly but we keep doing it.  This is the echo that calls us towards God.

 

Our lives are encounter.

Our faith is encounter. Story after story of encounter.  Here’s one:

 

To set the scene…In the gospels Jesus is different than other prophets and other preachers.  The drama of Roman occupation and the tensions of religious, communal life created many men who travelled and taught, but there is nothing like Jesus in the literature of the time.  While there is a lot of history about other prophets and their teachings, their speeches, their precepts,  what’s unique to the gospel accounts is how they recorded the small stops between the speeches and teachings of Jesus.  They recorded the interruptions in the “grand ministry” the constant encounters are remembered, not just the concepts, precepts, new rules for living. Its telling us something that those moments are what was recorded.   And even more telling is the fact that the encounters recorded are with rich people, with poor people, with sick people, with powerful people, with powerless people.  Jesus’ ministry, and the importance of his ministry to those who followed him  was definitively rooted in HIS encounters.  These totally unexpected encounters are really the meat of his work.  This fact alone in the life of Jesus should startle us – even a little bit.  There is not one bit of human reality, not one bit of human life that is an impediment to his message, work, love-there is not one encounter that distracts him from this work.  The God of the universe is incarnated in every encounter – encountering others is his work.

 

In Mark 5 is a story of encounter like this.   Jesus and his friends enter a village in Galilee—rural, fishing, backwater, no name town- maybe 500 people, maybe less.   By this time Jesus was a bit of a celebrity, however reluctant, and there have been rumors in the air – at the markets, over fences, there has been talk of this prophet out of Nazareth who teaches with authority and who heals – not with magic and incantation and payment but with a word or two and with his presence, his proximity-maybe a touch.  This sort of celebrity news does in this village what it still does in us – it makes them hopeful, it makes them talk, it makes them want to see it – out of curiousity and out of an unspoken hunger to harness something that  will work for them, maybe somehow it will make them bigger, better by them experiencing it.  Maybe it will heal them?  Maybe it will give them what they’ve always wanted?  We still respond to celebrity and trends and “buzz” like that.

 

Jesus comes to this no name town and he is met by the synagogue leader or ruler – he is a powerful person in this small town, but he comes with a direct and desperate request.   His daughter is sick, to the point of death, would Jesus please come.   Jesus stops for this encounter – and says, yes, I’ll come with you.

 

The crowd, which would have been mostly men in that segregated culture, surged around Jesus here in this village commons.  They were eager to watch the action, eager to see the local celebrity at work—ooooh something’s going to happen, oh I heard about this.  Shouts, laughter, excitement, servants, disciples, energy, heat from the sun, heat from the bodies, a whole scene making its way towards Jairus’ house.  And then suddenly Jesus stops.  The whole procession jostles – those on the outskirts of the action keep talking, laughing, awareness that something is going on is slow to reach them.  Jesus stops suddenly and says, “Who touched me?”  Who touched me?  Who reached out across the distance between us and touched me and took some of my power?”  And the disciples, maybe with a  patronizing side-eye, said “um, look around you.  Everybody is touching you.”  But Jesus looks around again and looks at the faces….  And he sees one. One who absolutely should not be there.  He looks at her for indeed, it is a her, a woman who dared to reach out and I wonder if he asked again, “Who touched me?”  “Who are you who touched me?  Who are you who has touched me and taken some of my power?” he is saying right to her.  Jesus knows something significant has happened in this encounter- he felt it.   And she makes a small movement forward and says “ I did – I thought if I grasped you, even just a bit of you, I would be healed.” And in that moment, she also knows that she was.

 

Imagine now the crowd’s response.  This is a small town, these are the men of this village here to see with a mixture of hopeful and greedy hunger the Jesus who everyone is talking about and they’re on their way to a miracle.  Then  Jesus draws attention away from the immediate need happening to a woman who is on her knees, in the midst of them, not looking up. They know who she is.  Immediately a ripple of revulsion shivers through this crowd.   This nameless woman has been bleeding, hemmoraging, for 12 years.  She has been experiencing menstrual bleeding for 12 years.  And in both the religious and roman culture of this village, that is a relationship death sentence.

 

Because in this culture—the broader roman cultures and the jewish culture within it, we know that when a woman was menstruating, she was regarded with wariness or even downright hostility and derision.   Pliny the elder, a Roman writer and historian writing in this area around this time writes that contact with a woman who is having her monthly flow, through a dress, or through touch would make “new wine sour, makes crops wither, kills skin grafts, dries seeds in  gardens, causes the fruit of trees to fall off, dims the bright surface of mirrors, dulls the edge of steel, kills bees, rusts iron and bronze.  Dogs that come near a bleeding woman become insane and their bites poisonous.”  I’m not joking.  This is the world and culture that determined encounter and the relationships of real people, in the place of the world God came to live with us.

 

 

You put that general, in-the-air culture together with the religious culture of this small jewish towns.  For hundreds of years, generation after generation, God’s chosen people, the Jews, they have been telling themselves, “We have been occupied and dominated because we did not fully live by God’s laws.”  So you better believe that those purity laws were being taken very seriously.  And within jewish purity laws, when a woman is bleeding, or even if you touched a dead body, or a dead animal on the road, you are unclean and therefore cannot be touched so as not to make anyone else unclean.  And being unclean is a big deal because an unclean person cannot experience God, you cannot go to the temple, cannot make sacrifices, you cannot enter God’s presence and experience God so it was important that you avoided someone who was unclean.

So its within this culture and religious life that this woman dared to be encountered.

Everyone in this town and every man in this crowd knows that this woman has been bleeding and is unclean and therefore  has been beyond the realm of touch and encounter for 12 years.  She has not had a moment in the last 12 years where she has been touched or where she has touched.  She has not known any form of contact let alone a hug, or even a welcome—“Oh I’m glad to see you here”  no one said that in 12 years.  Depending on how strict this town and synagogue was, She might not have even been able to touch a piece of furniture that someone else might touch.  No one is welcoming her to their house.  How many subsequent years then, has she been without dialogue, without conversation? How many have been without eye contact?  How many people remember her name.  Maybe some people feel pity.  Maybe people left food out for her.  All her money, every resource she has, has been spent on doctors the text says.  But after a while, how many people start to think she must have done something wrong – this must somehow be her own fault.   And we do, even now, to somehow reassure ourselves that something this horrible won’t happen to us.  How long was it until they all start avoiding her gaze? And once that’s done that its easy forget that she has a heart and a voice and an experience, parents, a background, a perspective – she is just a body to be avoided.  She has been reduced to this one thing of which she cannot do a thing about.

 

 

This woman, crouched unseen, and she risked making every man there unclean.    Moreover, she dared to make the celebrity in their midst unclean. The prophet they eagerly hoped would do something they could gossip about for weeks.  The honored guest and the prophet who at this moment was on his way to Jairus’ house – argueably the most powerful man in town’s house to heal his daughter.  Imagine Jairus’ jaw dropping in the moment that crowd cleared to reveal her and the horror of what’s going on dawns on him.  His hope for his daughter’s life is in one moment of touch doomed – Jesus can’t touch her now.  Jesus can’t even come into his house now for Jesus is unclean.  His daughter is as good as dead and indeed a servant shoulders up to him in this moment and says – its too late my lord, she is gone.  Grief and rage probably don’t even begin to start to describe what is erupting in this man, this crowd at the sight of this woman daring everything for encounter.

 

“Who are you who touched me?  Who are you who took my power, who made me unclean and took some of my power of life and authority for living for themselves?  Who?” the word who reaches over the distance says to this woman.  I wonder if she told him her name.  I wonder how long it had been since she had told someone her name.

 

 

 

This is the power of this echo, this longing which is a call for each of us to know encounter, to know relationship, to know the truth that we are made for each other.  And THIS is where it intersects with Jesus.  We were made to work through what it means that we have to encounter other human beings.  We are not disembodied souls destined to transcend it all in a cloud of holiness, we are bodies, hearts, minds, and souls made to reach out and meet in the middle.  And its hard and we are weird creatures and it requires work, effort, humility, listening, speaking up and forgiveness and maybe a willingness to get unclean.  But this is the echo.

Then the words, “You are healed. You are made whole. Your faith has saved you. Go live.”

 

Every human is made for relationship.  This unnamed woman was made for relationship and it was her need for encounter, relationship that drew her to Jesus.

For her, “being saved” by Jesus was not to come to some intellectual or even moral conclusion about him.

Her salvation came when Jesus showed up in her town and she dared to think that even she might be made whole  and therefore be able to enter the fullness of her birthright as a daughter of God made for relationship.  And that’s what God intended all along for her, that is why Jesus, stopped EVERYTHING, reached back to her across that space and this is exactly what he does for every one of us.

 

 

 

Jesus, this Jesus we sing about, he didn’t stop there though.  He and his complete disregard for what others thought made him unclean then went to JAirus’ house, and he dismissed the people there that day who would gossip and hang around to see what would happen, and for the sake of that daughter and those parents he healed her-without the crowd, without the fanfare, he just did what this encounter asked of him.

2 women, one old and one young, being made whole and entering a new life of relationships, of knowing and being known.

 

 

 

 

So….questions then.

Where are the encounters in your life – where at work, where in your home?

Who is it that is reaching across the space and reaching out?

How can you listen to what’s being said from another perspective?  How can we do that as a church?

 

Who are you that is longing to reach out?  Are you ready to answer and say your name and what you need?  Are we all ready to hear and welcome another’s name, another’s story.

 

And what indeed is in the space between us—A better question is WHO is in that space between us?    Well, its Jesus, the Lord, the one whose presence, without payment, magic or incantation, can indeed restore us to him, to ourselves, to each other.   To what our hearts truly long for.

Lets pray.

 

 

 

After Charlottesville: Unequivocal, Repentant, Listening, Re-formed

 

There is a phrase that’s thrown around churches like mine: “Reformed and always reforming.”  Depending on who you talk to this refers to either the personal response of individuals (We have re-formed our theology now we need our hearts, minds, morals and outer lives to be re-formed as well) or the modus operandi of the reformer in the world at large – (Our theology and church and lives are always being re-formed by our engagement with scripture, creation and each other).   People argue about this, I guess.

 

I was reminded of this phrase when I read the article by Jemar Tisby in the Washington Post on Sunday (and more of the work at RAAN- Reformed African American Network).   In the Post Mr. Tisby wrote these words, “After Charlottesville, Will White Pastors Finally Take Racism Seriously?”   Will I?   We are asked if white pastors NOW realize that so much of the Christian life is expressed as though White-ness, the benefit and understanding of the world you have when you are white, is considered the explicit and implicit goal and best outcome of our life together as Christians?”  “Will you, White pastors, realize this and see what it does to your brothers and sisters?” Mr. Tisby is asking in this article.  This cannot be unseen once you see it – our culture and our church were born out of this very assumption.  What we saw in the states this weekend was the vile, end-of –the-spectrum outcome of assuming white culture, history, church history, theological and institutional conclusions were the norm and the goal.  The vile outcome of this implicit way of walking in the world manifests in the degradation and utility of anyone not white for the purposes of a culture that benefits white skin and ideas alone.  North America was founded on this and all the good we enjoy was built within this method.  This is not in dispute.  White Christian’s understanding of themselves and the blessing of God is rooted in this – this is also not in dispute. It is.  It is.  It is a fact.   Now we can absolutely not be racist in theory or wish ill on the immediate people around us, but we can also absolutely benefit from the legacy of the degradation and utility of other human beings, and we do. And that has to be reckoned with.  Because race and the habit of not seeing others who are not like you, plays out in economics and in opportunity.  After 100’s of years, it is of course still embedded throughout North American culture that economic factors, capital, and opportunity factors, social capital, are unequal between the races.  And when we talk about white privilege it is this:  Can we look away from other people’s hurt, harm, words of protest, and in no way have our economic or physical lives threatened?  Can we live our lives without being affected by this?  Is OUR norm completely fine?   That is our privilege which is a race privilege and a class-economic privilege.  Now I’m not saying we all have to become full-time justice activists.  But what our brothers and sisters are asking is that we do not look away from the evil of racism woven throughout our institutions because we simply can and our daily lives of good abundance and our lives with Jesus would not be affected (but of course, it will be).

 

What Mr. Tisby is calling for is for the church at large to accept the diagnosis which our brothers and sisters of colour are giving us all.

The human flourishing which God intended and incarnates at all points when God walks among his creation, (and that is a reformed, biblical, beautiful concept if ever there was one) is being held back by a refusal to acknowledge this deeply rooted brokenness, SIN of systemic racism.

The flourishing which God intended in his Kingdom is being held back when we do not listen to what’s being said.  Its being impeded when we do not ask questions about, repent from, turn around, and finally see Jesus as the one who holds EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.

The flourishing of God’s creation is being impeded, by us, when we do not listen and obey, act, think, and interpret the world differently, with humility, with total, unequivocal mercy and grace.

The flourishing of God’s kingdom is stopped and then perverted when we do not take the response-ability to be re-formed, as it were, in regards to The Other.  When we do not respond to grace a life like Jesus’.   When we refuse to let light into this area, we are refusing to have our lives taken over by the ONE  that is bringing all things together into unity, into wholeness,  that is destroying the wall that divides us and is creating in himself one new humanity out of the divisions. (see Ephesians…all of it).

 

In Canada, in the Canadian Church, we do not have the cultural legacy of slavery, but we have a legacy of assuming white culture is God’s norm.  We do.  The white church thought it was right to damage and demean a whole culture of God’s creation to force it into whiteness, which they assumed was God’s truth.   And it has decimated real humans, our indigenous brethren, in ways that are still being realized.   If we are going to have reconciliation with anyone, we have to start there.  The obvious and empirical evidence is this: God’s world is not defined by white culture (which was European and colonial culture and is now also North American and capitalist culture).   The beautiful truth of God so loving this world got worded as, “you have to think, be and live exactly in this way, OUR white way, to understand God’s love.”  And that is not the truth.  Just travel and find out. Just listen to voices long silenced and find out.   God’s world, and God’s word, empirically we can tell by using our eyes, is more than our own understanding of it.  It is more than our own interpretation of it.  So as re-formed pastors, theologians, lay people, how do we understand God and interpret Jesus and these incredible scriptures knowing that our interpretation of them is rooted in a white cultural bias and is rooted in a cultural bias that puts the power of interpretation into the hands of a few who fit the bill?

 

What gives me hope is that Jesus got this “reformed and always reforming” thing and I think in both senses of the phrase.  He understood his role as a prophet, calling the interpretation of God’s works in the world back into an original light, back into a wholeness, a love, a relationship of meaning, wonder and created covenant.  But he also called into question the interpretation 100’s and 1000’s of years of that call that a specific culture had.  He did not mind breaking Sabbath laws if they helped God’s creation heal and become whole, over and over.  He did not mind breaking social taboos of associating with women, men of disrepute, over and over–it healed them and they became whole.  He re-formed a cultural understanding of the work of God in service of each person’s restoration into loving communion.  He re-formed the culture’s understanding of God and its theology – that it wasn’t by our work that we come into relationship with HIM – it is by His work and His grace.   And then He charged everyone to take that lived truth of grace and offer it back to God through the very shape, action and motivation of their hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.   Love this God, love this neighbour, love this self.

 

And in the ultimate “the medium IS the message” moment, the incarnation of God’s self in Jesus offers us the truth of how God is.  He is with us, over and over, in all cultures, in all races.  In all various broken and incomplete understandings, He is with us.  Andrew Walls, the missiologist, talks about how the very fact of the incarnation leads to a broader, fuller, truer, more whole understanding of the gospel with every new people group it encounters.   It does this because the incarnation is a translation itself.  A translation of God’s life force into the context of one culture.  And as each group encounters the gospel, something new is made known about the presence of that God.  And then that translation is translated again into another culture and then into another, with the truth being the kernel of “with us”, “for us,” “unto us” in every context and sola Christo (Christ alone) being the diamond waiting to be revealed with every generation.

 

To the church of North America, if I may, letting God translate Jesus into a context of diversity IS what IS happening now.  We are not a whole bunch of worlds separate from each other.  We are one world, one big-small world.   This is the truth that He is revealing through His creation.  And submitting to God’s work of opening our eyes to His diversity is the first step.  Followed closely by an examination of how we don’t do this systemically, at large, and from the front.  In practical, daily terms: Step number 1 – LISTEN TO OTHER VOICES.  Ask for discernment, ask for courage, ask for humility.  Read other stories.  Listen to experiences, and understandings of our good God.    Step number 2 – TALK TO OTHER VOICES.  Talk, see, ask questions, under-stand – that is, stand literally under their experience until you get it.   Step number 3 – TALK ABOUT IT.  Talk about race, how it is experienced in your specific context, engage with stories from YOUR city and the world.  To your kids, to your spouses, to your parents.  In your classrooms, in your churches.    Step number 4 – LISTEN, READ, TALK with the Spirit of the Living God, with all the honesty you are capable of and ask Him to reveal what’s going on.  Ok, maybe that should be first.  And also maybe that is actually happening as you do steps 1-3.

AND THEN LIVE DIFFERENTLY, in response and in gratitude to this good news of God with us.

 

We affirm that Jesus would have none of this white supremacy garbage.  That really should be easy to affirm.  And now its ok to see where its roots and effects still lay within our every day workings.  Its ok to repent now.  It really is.  Nothing happens until then.  We all know this, don’t we.

 

 

Re-formed, always re-forming.  Inside, yes absolutely, and also outside, with the help of our brothers and sisters who hear things and know things we may not be listening for yet.

 

Wrinkles in Time, 8 year olds, and Truth…all while trying to do the dishes.

A-Wrinkle-In-Time

My husband and I were in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner this week when my 8 year old walked in and asked, “But how can we know what’s true?”  That’s a “pay attention” question if ever there was one.  She went on: “Like with ITIT told Meg and Calvin that it knew what was best and that if they gave in to it, it would bring them peace.  They wouldn’t need to worry or think or stress.  How did they know not to trust it when those words sound like good things?”

 

If you aren’t familiar with the references, they are from Madeleine L’Engle’s 1960’s fantasy A Wrinkle in Time which we had just finished reading together last week.  The 8 year old had been thinking about it apparently.  The main characters, Meg and Charles Wallace along with their friend Calvin were tasked with saving Meg’s father from the powers of darkness, from a blackness that blots out the skies, that’s hard to detect from earth, that’s seductive in its grasp but is very, very real.  Meg’s father was trapped on a planet that had succumbed to the darkness and on that planet it manifested as IT, a huge central brain that did all the thinking for everyone on the planet.  When Meg and the others confronted IT, trying to save her father, IT offered them peace.  IT would say things like: “Why don’t you trust me?  Why don’t you trust me enough to come and find out what I am? I am peace and utter rest.  I am freedom from all responsibility.  To come to me is the last difficult decision you will ever make…..in Camazotz all are equal; everybody is the same as everyone else.”

The 8 year old heard the words which were meant to confuse. She heard the big nasty IT say words that could be good but didn’t feel right.   And so she asked critical questions about truth.  She wanted to know why Meg knew not to believe IT.

And like everyone else, I am watching the news and seeing different takes on reality.  I am watching, in real time, some people say one thing and some people say another, all claiming to be the truth.  Truth is apparently in the eye of whoever can shout the loudest.  Truth is determined by airtime and tweets.  Everyone sees reality according to their own pain and their own benefit.  Truth becomes synonymous with a worldview, not a real world where everybody lives.

Pilate asked the same question of Jesus, the question precipitated by the same circumstances – two takes on a reality that were vastly different.  Some people said He was a healer, a prophet, someone who changed them and knew them and offered life.  Some said He was a dissenter, a dangerous villain who was out to take away a way of life, to strip morals away from people, to ruin the work of God in their land and take power for himself.  Everyone was angry, everyone was shouting, some were crying, some hiding.   But the words of accusation made sense.  Pilate didn’t want an insurgency on his hands, an uprising—he didn’t want a rabble-rouser disquieting the natives, claiming power.  And yet, when he looked at the man before him, he knew to ask the question.  He knew not everything was as it seemed, not everything was as it was being interpreted to him.   So Pilate looked at the small, naked man in front of him and asked, “What is truth?”

 

There is no record of what Jesus answered.  There is only a small, naked man standing there.  Reduced, stripped, completely bare and unarmed. That is the answer to “What is truth?”

 

When my daughter asked the question about truth, she was asking about discernment.  How do we discern what is good; how do we know we can trust it?  How do we discern when the words all sound like good things?

 

This is a question I have been asking myself too.  What happens to truth when reality can be interpreted as far away from facts and physical reality as need be?  When anything makes sense if you talk around it long enough.

 

As my husband and I stood there in the kitchen,  we tried to answer the 8 year old.  Two things came out of that conversation that have struck me as genuine litmus tests for truth.

The first is fruit.  As in, what is the fruit of the claim, the action, that is being discerned.  What is the result.  The 8 year old understood this idea of fruit—there’s a song (or 100) about it.  This is what kids do in Sunday school – sing songs about fruit.   The fruit of the Spirit of God is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.   You can tell a tree by its fruit.  It makes a nice song but take it towards discernment and its powerful in its clarity.

 

Does the outcome of the claim being made on truth result in love?  Love, not admiration, not adoration, not praise, but love.  I love bell hooks’ definition of love.  “LOVE is as love does” she writes; love is when we “openly and honestly express care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment and trust.” (All About Love, bell hooks, 2000).  Does what is being offered express care, affection, responsibility towards, respect of, commitment and covenant over and trust of the people involved.  This kind of love takes seriously the human worth of people– all the people.  We talked about this and it was clear to the 8 year old, IT did not love the people it claimed to be helping.  IT offered them ease but not love for their very own selves, especially not when they advocated for themselves.

 

Does the outcome of the claim being made on truth result in joy?   IT did not offer joy either.  IT offered a version of satiety, but not joy.  Not the swelling of the heart, not the gratitude that verbalized joy, not the color, the taste, the movement and new life that joy creates and recreates continuously.

 

Does the outcome of the claim being made result in peace?  Well, yes, in a way, the 8 year old noticed.  IT offered utter rest, no one had to think, no one had to fight, no one had any say in anything so no one thought they were better than the others.  This is why the 8 year old asked the question!  This is where the kernel of truth lay in IT’s claim.  IT claimed peace but brought it through force.  Was that real peace?

 

We moved on.  But the questions are SO worth asking.

Does the outcome of the claim of truth result in patience?  Does it make people able to stop and step back and listen before speaking? Does is create the capacity for second, third, fourth chances?  How about 70X7 chances?

Does it result in kindness? Does what you are hearing as the reality you should live by result in kindness?  Does it engender kindness?  Kindness to who? You?  People just like you?  Or everyone—even those soooo different from you.

Does it result in goodness?  In flourishing, in harvest, in abundance?  For all of us?

Does is result in gentleness?  Does it result in the ability to step back from rage and see the fragile human in front of you?  Does it give you the capacity to then reach out with intention but care to who is in front of you?  To yourself?  We never talk about gentleness.  But the Spirit does.

Does this truth result in faithfulness?  In covenant?  Does it result in long-term commitments to the good of the other?  Does it help you trust more?  Trust God, trust yourself, trust others?

Does it result in self-control?  Does your truth result in the ability to hold yourself accountable to others, the awareness to hold yourself as living within a whole, not just for yourself and for the immediate?

 

The other thing that came out of our kitchen conversation about A Wrinkle in Time was this question:  Who benefits from this version of truth?  Who loses?  Who gains more and who suffers?  It didn’t take too many years of human stories for my younger daughter to conclude last year, “Bad guys always want money and power, money and power.”  Thank you Disney movies.  Seems simple, but it could be worth asking, “Where is the power (and money and fame) going?”  Meg Murray, her brother and her friend saw that IT was after the power to control, to determine the fates of all the people on that planet.  And IT carved that power by diminishing the humanity of all the people – it no longer saw individuals, but a cause, a system, a truth based on not seeing individual worth.  Want to know why governments, churches and any institution can quickly move from truth to lie?  From good to harm?  Because of this…By no longer seeing individuals but only seeing the cause, when ends justify means, when the power to act tramples the real-live individual its supposed to help.

When we are called upon to make a judgment about truth, where is the power, and the money and fame that give it, going?  Who is benefiting and who is suffering?

 

As Pilate stood there, looking at the naked small man before him, powerless indeed, he asked, “What is truth?”  And the truth stood there naked and small—the truth stood there as basic as each of us on the day of our birth and the day of our death.

What was the fruit of this man, upholding and drawing in the humanity of all of us by just standing there.  He did not have power or money to convince or sway.  But he left in his wake people made more whole.  People seeing themselves for real for the first time.  Was there love?  Joy?  Kindness?  Gentleness?

Who benefited from this man?  The lost, the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the orphan, the widow, the thief, the cheat, the lonely, the sick, the desperate, the questioning, the rich, the confused, the blind, the lame, the selfish, the adamant, the ones who cried out loudly, the ones who couldn’t anymore.  Every individual got to have their own selves given back to them, their dignity, their worth–Everyone who came into his frame, not just those who were just like him.

 

The God who gave.  Who poured out.  Who decided and intentionally emptied out for the benefit of the losers of the world, emptied out until his own death. Because he saw each of them?  And served them?  Touched their dirtiness?  And loved them?   Is that truth?  Is this how we discern truth these days?

The answer of truth, again and again with this Jesus, is no answer we can defend with swords and power or even with well-crafted words, initiatives, or programs, but truth?  Here, before Pilate and the powers of this world, truth is a person, fully alive.

 

Meg Murray…I keep coming back to her.  As she faced IT in the end, she was powerless to stand firm from its pulsing control.  She could not defeat IT through her will power, through her ability to think through the issues.  She could not defeat IT through any of her gifts, her strengths.  They were no match for its all encompassing lies that made complete sense.  But she held out for one thing – love.  Love for her brother, her baby brother who knew her, who saw her, who was cut from the same cloth she was, the one thing she could remember even in the face of the most peaceful lie of utter security, the lie of hardship ceasing.  Love for one person, for one individual in that moment, was the only thing that inoculated her from the lie that would not serve them, but take from them their power to be truly alive.

 

Love did it.  Somehow.  Over and over again, we read this in books–the really old ones and the really weird ones.  And 8 year olds the world over start to ask themselves the question, What is truth?

Is it any wonder the book was banned?

 

“A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”  Madeleine L’Engle quoting astronomer Fred Hoyle in her Newbury Medal acceptance speech, 1963.

 

Conflict

Another excerpt from Jean Vanier

 

“Communities need tensions if they are to grow and deepen.  Tensions come from conflicts within each person–conflicts born out of a refusal of personal and community growth, conflicts between individual egoisms, conflicts arising from a diminishing gratuite (giving freely generously of oneself), from a clash of temperaments, and from individual psychological difficulties.  These are natural tensions.  Anguish is the normal reaction to being brought up against our own limitations and darkness, to the discovery of our own deep wound.  Tension is the normal reaction to responsibilities we find hard because they make us feel insecure. We all weep and grieve inwardly at the successive deaths of our own interests.  It is normal for us to rebel, to be frightened and feel tense when we are faced with difficult people who are not yet free from their own fears and aggression.  It is normal that our own reserves of gratuite run low from time to time, because we are tired or are going through personal tensions or sufferings.  There are a thousand reasons for tension.

And each of them brings the whole community, as well as each individual member of it, face to face with its own poverty, inability to cope, weariness, aggression, and depression.  These can be important times if we realize that the treasure of the community is in danger. When everything is going well, when the community feels it is living successfully, its members tend to let their energies dissipate, and to listen less carefully to each other.

Tensions bring people back to the reality of their helplessness, obliging them to spend more time in prayer an dialogue, working patiently to overcome the crisis and refind lost unity, and making them understand that the community is more than just a human reality, that it also needs the spirit of God if it is to live and deepen.  Tensions often mark the necessary step toward a greater unity as well, by revealing flaws which demand re-evaluation, reorganization, and a greater humility.  Sometimes the brutal explosion of one tension simply reveals another which is latent.  It is only when tensions come to a head like a boil that we can try to treat the infection at its roots. I am told there is a Chinese word for “crisis” which means “opportunity and danger.”  Every tension, every crisis can become a source of new life if we approach it wisely, or it can bring death and division.”

 

 

Each of the Other

Me: What’s the hardest spiritual thing I’m ever going to have to do?

Old Woman: To see every person as a gift.

Me: What kind of gift?

Old Woman: The best kind.  Based on the way you receive them.

Me: I don’t get it.

Old Woman: I know. But you will.  If you receive others as worthy, lovable, spiritual creations–perfect just the way they are–you get to see the highest possible version of who you are.  You get to be that.  Experience that.  And you become a gift to the world.

Me: Sounds hard.

Old Woman: The longer you think that, the harder it gets.

****

The funny thing is, she was right.

–by Richard Wagamese, from a collection of his writings, “Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations (2017).

As we’ve been talking about community, living in community and the curvy path community creates for us, I am realizing more and more how intertwined our spiritual heart is with our heart towards others.  Of course it is, my brain says, for we were all made, all created, all loved and our wholeness depends on all of our wholeness.  This makes sense.  And yet living it out requires everything  that the life with God requires – TRUST that we don’t have to make it work out, but we just have to do what we are invited to; TURNING from a life focused on one to a life oriented towards the whole, God and the love of his long life which is all of us, all of this of course; RECEIVING the gift of grace that being with others gives us; HUMILITY, we do not make any of this life happen, we receive by turning and trusting and seeing so much more than we could imagine.

And all this in the grocery line, at the exhausting family bbq, at the town halls.  All of this at the PTA meetings, at church, in the Facebook feeds.  All of this happens (or doesn’t happen) in the way we orient ourselves towards our neighbours.  And knowing my own heart and my own ways of dismissing others, this is the biggest opportunity for growth, for change, for transformation into something that starts to hint at the person of Jesus.

 

 

Idealism

Here is another of our community readings, this one from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.  It was originally published in 1939, in Germany, in the midst of the fever rise of Nazism and the Christian Community’s deep lack of response to the manufactured divide of human against human running through their nation.  He’s got a few things to say to a group of people called by love to embody love….

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had spring from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.  But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.  He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.  The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.  A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists on keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.  Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.  He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

“God hates visionary dreaming: it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.  He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds people together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.  When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to pot.  So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, than an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.”

“Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we entered into common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.  We thank God for what he has done for us.  We thank God for giving us brethren who live by his call, by his forgiveness and his promise.  We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he does give us daily.  And is not what has been given us enough: brothers (and sisters) who will go on living with us through brokenness and need under the blessing of his grace?  Is  the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?  Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the hurtful brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ?  Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together–the forgiveness in Jesus.  When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of *actual* Christian fellowship.”

“Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.”

(This excerpt, like a lot of these community readings, was taken from a compilation of writings on community Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, edited by Charles E. Moore.  You can find it at www.plough.com )

Leading Community

I came across this poem by Madeleine L’Engle as I was flipping through my bookshelf this week.  I’d never read it before but I needed it.  You could read it from a number of different circumstances and it could speak to you no matter where you are or how life is changing for you, but for me this week, as I’ve been thinking about community, it spoke to the leader in community – It spoke to what it is to try to guide…or is it listen… or is it lead…. or is it serve….. or is it all those things and you have to hold it so intensely loose.  Here, with Madeleine, Moses is the perfect point to contemplate for those leading community, especially leading through change.

 

Moses by Madeleine L’Engle 

Come.

When?

Now. This way. I will guide you.

Wait! Not so fast.

Hurry. You. I said you.

Who am I?

Certainly I will be with thee.

Is nothing, then, what it is? I had rather the rod had

stayed a rod and not become a serpent.

Come. Quickly. While the blast of my breath opens the sea.

Stop. I’m thirsty.

Drink water from this rock.

But the rock moves on before us.

Go with it and drink.

I’m tired. Can’t you stop for a while?

You have already tarried too long.

But if I am to follow you I must know your name.

I will be that I will be.

You have set the mountain on fire.

Come. Climb.

I will be lost in the terror of your cloud.

You are stiff-necked and of a stiff-necked people.

YOUR people, Lord.

Indubitably.

Your wrath waxes hot. I burn.

Thus to become great.

Show me, then, thy glory.

No man may see my face and live. But I will cover you with

my hand while I pass by.

My people turn away and cry because the skin of my

face shines.

Did you not expect this?

I cannot enter the tent of the congregation while your

cloud covers it and your glory fills the tabernacle. Look,

it moves before us again. Can you not stay still?

Come. Follow.

But this river is death. The waters are dark and deep.

Swim.

Now will I see your face? Where are you taking me now?

Up the mountain with me before I die.

But death

Bursts into light.

The death is

What it will be.

These men: They want to keep us here in three tabernacles.

But the cloud moves. The water springs from a rock that journeys on.

You are contained in me.

But how can we contain you in ark or tabernacle or

You cannot.

Where, then?

In your heart. Come.

Still?

I will be with thee.

Who am I?

You are that I will be. Come.

 

Communion

Jean Vanier wrote this next reading which are excerpts from a few different places.  As always they are beautiful and kind and you just want to live within that world they create.  And we can.

“To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together.  Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and their capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside all the pain.  To love someone is not first of al to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful.  You are important.  I trust you.  You can trust yourself.”  We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves.  To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.

To be in communion with someone also means to walk with them.  Those of you who have had the privilege of accompanying people in distress and inner pain know that it is not easy to walk with them, without having any answers to their problems or solutions for their pain. For many people in pain there is no solution: For a mother who has just lost her child or for a woman who has just been abandoned by her husband, there is no answer, there is just the pain. What they need is a friend willing to walk with them in all that pain. They do not need someone to tell them to try to forget the pain, because they won’t.  It is too deep.

But this communion is not fusion. Fusion leads to confusion.  In a relationship of communion, you are you and I am I; I have my identity and you have yours. I must be myself and you must be yourself.  We are called to grow together, each one becoming more fully himself or herself.  Communion, in fact, gives the freedom to grow.  Is is not possessiveness. It entails a deep listening to others, helping them to become more fully themselves…

When I was in the navy, I was taught to give orders to others.  That came quite naturally to me!  All my life I had been taught to climb the ladder, to seek promotion, to compete, to be the best, to win prizes.  This is what society teaches us.  In doing so we lose community and communion.  It was not natural or easy for me to live in communion with people, just to be with them. how much more difficult it was for me to be in communion with people who could hardly speak or had little to seek about.

Communion did not come easily to me. I had to change and to change quite radically.  When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself.  As I began living with people like Raphael and Philippe (two men with intellectual disabilities), I began to see all the harness of my heart.  It is painful to discover the hardness in one’s heart.  Raphael and the others were crying out simply for friendship and I did not quite know how to respond because of the other forces within me, pulling me to go up the ladder.  But over the years, the people I live with in L’Arche have been teaching and healing me.

They have been teaching me that behind the need for me to win, there are my own fears and anguish, the fear of being devalued or pushed aside, the fear of opening up my heart and of being vulnerable or of feeling helpless in front of others in pain; there is the pain and brokenness of my own heart.

I discovered something that I had never confronted before, that there were immense forces of darkness and hatred within my own heart.  At particular moment of fatigue or stress, I saw forces of hate rising up inside me, and the capacity to hurt someone who was weak and was provoking me!  That, I think, was what cause me the most pain:  to discover who I really am, and to realize that maybe I did not want to know who I really was!  I did not want to admit to all the garbage inside me.  And then I had to decide whether I would just continue to pretend that I was okay and throw myself into hyperactivity, projects where I could forget all the garbage and prove to others how good I was.  Elitism is the sickness of us all.  We all want to be on the winning team.  That is at the heart of apartheid and every form of racism.  The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts, not outside.

Communion is very different from collaboration or cooperation.  When people collaborate, they work together toward the same end, in sports, in the navy, or in a commercial venture, for example.  They are brought together by a common goal, but there is not necessarily communion between them.  They are not personally vulnerable one to another.  When there is communion between people, they sometimes work together, but what matters to them is not that they succeed in achieving some target,  but simply that they are together, that they find their joy in one another and care for one another.  Raphael and Philippe really led me into this world of communion.

Looking back, I can see that when I was in the navy I was preoccupied with success and with trying to win the admiration of my superiors.  I loved the spirit and power that came with naval life.  Efficiency, not people, was my first concern. Similarly, when I left the navy, it was not primarily people who interested me. I wanted to devote myself to an ideal of peace and Christian life, and to the study of philosophy and theology.  Certainly, I wanted to follow Jesus, to know him and love him, but more out of idealism than because I wanted to live in communion. It took me some time to discover all my inner brokenness, which provoked difficulties in relationships and a fear of others.  I was happy to command, teach, obey and learn; but entering into communion with others, making myself vulnerable by forming relationships with them, was far more difficult.  I avoided people by throwing my energy into doing good things, praying and studying.  But maybe that was a necessary time of growth for me.  I needed the spiritual and intellectual formation which would gradually give me the inner strength to be able to enter into real relationships, to learn to listen to people and love them, and to become really myself.”

Excerpts from Jean Vanier’s “From Brokenness to Community,”  and “Our Journey Home: Rediscovering our Common Humanity Beyond our Differences.”    Compiled in “Called To Community,” edited by Charles E. Moore, 2016