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

A Visible Reality

 

“A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for itself.  They are disembodied entities. They are heard, learned, and apprehended, and that is all.  But, the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears or hearts, but living people who will follow him.  That is why he called his disciples into a literal, bodily following, and thus made his fellowship with them a visible reality.”                                                      Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The daily practice of incarnation–of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of the flesh–is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels.  Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper?  With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone.  Instead, he gave them concrete things to do–specific ways of being together in their bodies–that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.

After he was gone, they would still have God’s Word, but that Word had some new flesh. The disciples were going to need something warm and near that they could bump into on  a regular basis, something so real that they would not be able to intellectualize it and so essentially untidy that there was no way they could ever gain control over it.  So Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on, things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another. In the case of the meal, he gave them things they could smell and taste and swallow and share. In the case of the feet, he gave them things to wash that were attached to real human beings, so that they could not bend over them without being drawn into one another’s lives.”                          Barbara Brown Taylor

“Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.”  Romans 12:27

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body.” Ephesians 4:2-4

Dear Momma

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Dear Momma,

 

You died. A year ago today I was holding your dead hand. For hours I sat with your body as it blanched, as it grew cold. Your fingers were starting to not look like your fingers. I couldn’t stop crying. They came for you, to take you and I wailed. Because I knew I would never see your body again. Never feel the way your skin was so light, so soft, so loosely lovely on you, like petals.   Your hair was still warm where it was nestled in the pillows so I buried my face there for a long time. The panic was rising and I was trying to keep it down but I knew they were on their way, strangers coming to take you.

 

You died. I know you know that. I don’t know what you know, but I can’t keep going unless I think that you know now, know more than you were able to before. You are not here and I miss you. Like an ache, like a bruise, like a break—somewhere in my body, everywhere in my body. Momma, you were my mommy. You were all that a child looks to. You held my hand, you brushed my hair.  You stomped your foot when I did cause it just made you so mad. You listened when I told you I was scared. You held my head in your lap on the night you told me you would die, soon.

When I was 7 you told me to find a picture that made me peaceful and hold that in my mind when the scary thoughts wouldn’t go away. I thought of clouds in the sky floating by and I have always gone back to that place when I am afraid.

You told me your dreams and I told you mine. Once we had an almost identical dream on the same night about violence against someone we knew. Turns out that person was mugged that night. Strange, so strange, but that was us. Both of us knew things before we knew them. That was from you. You grew and you grew and you grew as I grew. You were a different person when I was 37 than when I was 14. I loved you then and now. You made me so mad sometimes. Remember the time I refused to eat dinner with you because you made me so mad? I think I was 20. I was such a ….. I was it all, wasn’t I?

 

You died, momma. You aren’t here. I think I’m just starting to let that sink in. It takes me awhile. It didn’t feel real for a long time. But you aren’t here. I’ve had so many things to tell you. E is doing so good this year. She’s still E but, mom, you would be so proud. She has settled into her little self – we found out more about how her little (big) brain works. It explains a lot. We started listening to her more and she started listening right back. Funny how that happens. And little e, she’s had a harder year. She cries all the time about things not being right, about how she can’t go back in time and make things “true” once they’ve already happened in a way she didn’t want. I am at a loss about this. I don’t know how to help her. She’s strong but she’s also sad sometimes. I know you see her. I know you see her more than I do. They love you so much. They talk about you. They miss you. Both of them cried in Moana when her Grandma comes back to remind Moana of who she really is. Both of them told me that’s what you do. Keep reminding them. Keep reminding them of who they are and always have been. Its hard for me to remember sometimes because they are…well, they are really loud. Remind me too.

 

The girls are like you. I am like you. I’m speaking now more. Using the voice that is so much like yours. I preached at church. Preached. I was so scared that I almost threw up in the car. But then I also loved it.   It’s the weirdest thing. I have no idea where that leaves me, but I get to keep doing it and that’s good. I wish you were there. It was such a big moment for me. Sometimes I felt like you wished you could do the things I got to do – study, talk, help make decisions at church. Do this with me? This preaching thing? This studying, reading, praying, writing, exhorting, teaching, encouraging, pointing in a way that helps clear the fog, maybe, thing. In so many ways it’s a culmination of everything my life has been about so far—its blowing my mind a bit. But then its just preaching – its just talking in front of a small group of people I know about what I know and mostly what I don’t know about Jesus. But I’m a woman. And I’m preaching. I wish you were here. Sometimes I want to stick it to the men who told you to be quiet so bad. But I know I have to move forward past that too – they are just little humans after all. But I’ll keep preaching and pointing beyond myself, out past my own arm, and that will be our answer.

 

We miss you like we would miss our legs, like we would miss our eyes, like we would miss food – there’s never a minute we are not aware of it. Dad misses you. I can’t even speak to that – it hurts on a whole other level. I’ll let Dad write to you. But you were the love of his life. I know you knew that. The whole world saw it. What happens to that kind of love when it’s sawn in two. Where does it go?

 

C misses you. He’s a good brother, he calls me to check in. Oh and guess what? He’s getting married. Him and J got engaged in Greece. You would have been sufficiently jealous and happy, in that way you could be both. Who am I kidding, me too. We love J. She sat with me and you when your body was cooling. She came in, no hesitation and sat across the bed from me and watched you. She’s not afraid of being-with and she’s not selfish and it’s a good thing. She’s good for C. She reads a lot and pushes him and rolls her eyes while laughing in all the right ways at him. Her and B love sci-fi shows and books, not in the nerdy way but in the this-is-actually-deeply-true-way and she’s got it together.   I think C will be fine. Stevie is still the cutest dog.

 

Ok, that reminds me – Henry. He cried all morning, that morning one year ago. We were getting all your stuff ready to go to hospice and Henry was whining all morning and trotting between your bed and us as we moved around the house. Then you left and he knew it. He stayed close. He did growl at Stevie later that day when she came into your room, but we let it go that once. Henry has been good for Dad. Gives him a push to look up maybe. Henry has been good for us. He lets the girls pet him and doesn’t bark at everyone who walks in the door—who would have ever thought?

Oh, and also, we got a bunny. I know, I know! You’re horrified. They don’t smell quite as much as you used to always say. Maybe I’m just used to it….But he’s litter trained! And he jumps so cute! And he’s so incredibly soft and I needed something small to love. I think you’d love him deep down. He’s black with tiny bits of silver – like you! Heh heh heh heh…The whole thing makes me laugh and feel quite pleased with myself.

 

We are all good, even now in the midst of it all. In some ways the roads our lives are on opened up for us. Maybe because living became clearer when death was forced into it. There’s not a lot of room left to dink around and be afraid. What’s the point? Maybe…. Still wish with my whole heart you were here to talk to about it all.

 

 

This past week has felt like I was reliving last year. I was reliving what it was like to hear the news about how radiation didn’t work. Your resignation, dad’s lost and quiet voice. Reliving what it was like to have it suggested that you go to hospice right away. Reliving shifting you in your bed, reliving walking around the oxygen cord. Reliving what it was like to be in the grocery store and have dad call me to come right away – you were in a coma. You were winding down. Your life – all that life you had– closing in on itself, like a flower shuttering for the night. Shuttering down only to be opened by something it didn’t even know could be possible – more than you could even imagine. Reliving the hours of holding your hand, crushing all that morphine into yogurt, reliving holding you in the washroom, reliving you waking up, smiling at me for the last time with your eyes when you couldn’t move anything else. Green, gray – solid eyes. Perfectly sculpted brows I was always jealous of. Lines like living lace around your eyes. Your freckles showing. You were so beautiful and I’m not sure you ever let yourself in on that truth. But you were. And you saw me, one year ago, your girl.

 

I relived it all this week. It made me so tired. I could barely move the day we put the rest of you in the ground on Friday. I hope nobody thought I was rude – I could barely move.

 

And all this has made me so sad about other losses that I would have shrugged off. Grief is good. It makes us actually account for the life in our hands. Friendships that have shifted and are changing are making me cry. Which means they were meaningful, which means I was living, which is what God calls good, right? It hurts though. Sometimes I don’t know how we all keep living, us humans. All this hurt. It doesn’t surprise me all that much that people lash out against other people. I hate it but I’m not surprised any more. You should see what is going on in the world right now. Oh mom, its incredible. The pain is intolerable and we are just making it worse.

But.

But.

And yet….. I’ve taught myself to say.

 

The gift of death, if you choose to call it that, is the woke-ness to life. If you let it be, I suppose. I suppose there is always the choice. But here, in your house, the house of us that you built, momma, there is a woke-ness. We are trying to honor death and what it does to us while at the same time honoring life, living life. Today I wept at your grave, like a baby, lying in the grass. I needed to be close to dirt and earth and what is left of you here. And then I had to go watch little e get her preschool certificate and sing a song about a slippery fish and then we went and ate ikea meatballs and bought organizers and I had more ideas for a piece on truth and public life that I’m working on and now I really need a nap …. Life.

A good life – real and normal and good and called. And death – the ache that remains always. All at the same time.   I’m trying to honor life in what I put out there, what I say, how I say it. I’m trying to let your death be the ground that life comes out of – I’m trying to live out what you always said…

 

“God doesn’t bring anything good out of us, except by love.”

 

My anger, my disappointment, my bitterness – about your death, about losing you and your skin and your eyes, and about so many other things, about so many people and responses and blindnesses – most of all mine—all of that is only answered by love. Ever.

If I read how you taught me to read, if I pay attention the way you taught me to pay attention, if I forgive like you had to teach me through your very being, then all I have left is the answer of love. Not pillows and candles and cutesy mugs love – but forgiving, forbearing, sacrificing, listening, blind corner but believing the best, holding the ache kind of love. I’ve dipped one toe in. I truly have no idea, I know that. And I’m terrified at what embracing THAT kind of love means for the kind of loss I will hold in this body.

 

But. But.

And yet…..I, we, all of us who loved you, we are not alone.

 

Today, one year ago, momma you died. Dad will write to you. C too, I’m sure. The girls made you necklaces yesterday. I can’t stop crying and my head is pounding. Missing you like this is really scary. But I’m living and I’m trying to choose life and trying to raise the living-ness of this bit of world around me. I wish you were here for it, though, I wish you were here.

 

Dear momma, I love you. You made me so much more than you or I could ever even know. Well, maybe you know now. Dad said on Friday that you were so much more than you knew, so much more than the parts of your life.  That’s what you did for so many people. It must be obvious somewhere on that crown of yours….

Oh mom, I want to write more soon but I should go talk to our little e.  She is colouring and jumping on couch cushions and poking the bunny all at once.  But for today, the day you died one year ago, I just need you to know that I just miss you so much.

 

Love, your baby girl,

J

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community – The Vision and the Call

Its been a fair while since I’ve posted on the blog.  Things have come up!  Unexpectedly, I’ve been preaching more.  So much has come up inside of me because of this process but mostly its been an eye-opening to see the astonishing amount of energy and focus that such a thing requires.  And I’ve loved it.

Here are links to two sermons on Ephesians if anyone is interested.

Ephesians: The Vision Imagined

Ephesians: Living a Life Worthy of the Call

 

Dwelling within these Ephesians words, for me, has everything to do with what we do at church.   As we’ve asked questions on the nature of church within my own community, these words held open a door into a transforming way to enter community for me.  If they hold a door open for you as well, bonus!

This little church I’ve found a home in is changing.  As things tend to do.  Leadership changes, name changes, identity changes rock communities and it takes a lot of maturity and letting go and listening to others to weather them.  And it takes a choice to start to see community for what it is and what it is not.  It is a group of humans, trying to live together.  It is not a product for consumers to pay for.  It is imperfect, because humans are imperfect.  It is a visible expression of the presence of Jesus. It is diverse because the WHOLE of  WHO God is is diverse.  It is not a group of friends and people who all think the same (although it can have elements of that within it, of course) but if that is what you are aiming for, you will never grow into something whole.  Something nice maybe–for the people who fit–but not whole.  It is hard work to build cohesion through difference.  Especially in a culture that idolizes ideology and “the latest, best idea!!!” over a recognition of each other’s messy, changing humanity.   It will require a whole lot of listening and a whole lot of putting your own voice aside for awhile to let another’s come through.   That’s painful sometimes.  It takes a lot of time.

Church is an ongoing discovery, ongoing treasure. Growth is not measurable by numbers in church but in the movement towards health and wholeness of its parts.  Health and wholeness of individuals, of relationships, of persons and a mysteriously present God.  And it requires each person to contribute.  When we strip away the bells and whistles, church community, for it to represent the Person of Christ and for it to feed its own sheep, must require each of us contribute.  Leadership does not sustain community – it stewards it, but if there is someone waiting for community to be given to them, they will not experience it.  Community always is sustained from an inner movement from in to out, not something from outside shaping in.  We have bought a lie that we go to church to be given to.  We go to church because we ARE.  We ARE, by God capturing our hearts, a person who lives out a piece of God’s body in this world.  We go to church to bring who we are.  BEING is the essential truth of church as BEING is the essential truth about a God who says things like “I AM.”

And there will be times for rest, receiving and times for action and contributing.  Like in a family there are times when members of that family are to be cared for, provided for, fed – but they do not exist to be fed by others and others don’t exist to feed them.  They all exist to BE and to contribute their BEING.   There are times for self care, and boundaries are necessary to any body.  But the goal is always the WHOLE BEING, not the triumph of one part at the expense of the others.

There will not be church where there are programs for consuming and customers for appeasing.  It might bring numbers, and I’d even say that it WILL bring numbers, but it will not bring church.  It will not bloom into the living presence of the living Christ.

Community has way more to do with HOW than with WHAT.  HOW do we do life together as opposed to WHAT we stand for as a group is what will bring transformation to groups, transformation that might actually stand up for something in the end, something like a whole humanity.

And not every community is the end for every person.  There are times to move on, times to stay.  Usually depending on where one is in their own cycle of healing and maturing, which is good and necessary and unavoidable.

Community is at once way smaller than we thought, way more ordinary than we thought and also way huger than we can imagine with a truth to it that will blow our minds with its pervasiveness, its comprehensiveness, its wholeness and witness to the work of God in the reconciling of this earth.    It is at once all that even while it is simply eating together and constantly adding more chairs to the table.

 

This little church.  A gift in the laundry pile of real life.  A bunch of normal people with normal issues that are at once life-altering and tedious.  There is nothing magical about a church community.  But in so much as there is an intersection of our deepest, transcendent, best hopes with real, dirty, actual life, there is a power.  A power that comes as a gift into that intentional space.  A power given to us to know love and keep after it even when it defies measuring.   A treasure in jars of clay indeed.  We’ve been sitting with words around community in this summer season and will continue to do so.

If you want to join in examining, contemplating, sitting with community, you are so welcome.  I will post quotes on community for reflection over the summer, ideas and experiences that challenge me and make me move.  And hopefully you have a real live place and real live people that you can put these words into action within.    And if you are looking, you are always, ALWAYS welcome on The Road.