Len, Grace, Sonja’s and Glenn’s responses on my Pagan Christianity (sort of) review prompted this post.
A Little Background
Christmas Eve we attended a large church in the centre of the Centre of the Universe. (Toronto for those less informed. <GRIN> ) It was a beautiful, traditional Christmas Eve service (with the lights perhaps a little too bright). The choir was very good, the carols singable and the joy of the season, palpable. The pastor was warm and engaging and preached a fine homily. He spoke of his own brokenness and of the individual hunger for a Saviour. I didn’t disagree with him but I was struck by the notion that perhaps our hunger is really for community. As the Father, Son and Spirit are in community – and have chosen to be in relationship with us – so we long to be in community.
But how often is what we call church true community
My gracious friend, Darryl Dash (the oft-mentioned Triple D) and I grabbed a bite at Allen’s on the Danforth this week. We talked a bit about community. Darryl leads a church in Toronto’s west end where he sees community happening. My present ecclesial experience is with the gathered dispersed – an intentionally oxymoronic term. I hunger for authentic community in my own city – in my own neighourhood, in fact.
Is it really Pagan – or is it just trying to hide the profound loneliness
Perhaps my response to Viola would have been more charitable had I recognized Frank’s deep desire for real Christ-centered community. That longing I spoke of in my South African friend, Lloyd. This is not a new thought and it’s not particularly profound, but we are wired to be in community. The real ecclesia is a gathering. (The Greek word ekklesia meant a gathering of citizens.) Called-out-people gathered together in relationship with each other and with the Triune God who has called us. And in that gathering is love, joy, peace, acceptance, correction, growth, healing, learning and more growth. Scripture suggests that we are to be mutually submitted to each other, preferring the other and recognizing the different gifting we each bring to the gathered.
It’s now Monday evening as I continue writing this (I began it very early Sunday morning) and the post is now influenced by an edit I finished today (in my hotel room) of a David Fitch presentation at the Cultivate gathering in November. (That will be up at Allelon on Tuesday.)
This post is also influenced by New York. Not just Redeemer on Sunday night, but a conversation I overheard at the restaurant where we had dinner tonight.
A woman, let’s call her Sally, in her late twenties (I would guess) was having an intense conversation with her female friend – we’ll call her Jane. Sally’s conversation was loud (even for New York) so it was hard to miss. The gist of her story was that she’d been there for Jane when Jane had gone through a painful divorce. Sally had been the primary comforter – the one who helped Jane with her boys.
Jane was now in a new relationship – in fact, she was engaged and it seemed that Sally’s friendship was no longer necessary – though Jane quietly protested otherwise. Sally had even moved to Long Island to be closer to Jane and the boys – though she admitted that Jane had never asked her to. And now Sally was waist deep in rejection. It would seem that Jane and the boys (and possibly one other close mutual friend) had been Sally’s primary community.
This was the cry I heard from Sally. Her small community had been destroyed (to her mind and from her perspective) by the new boyfriend – now fiancé. She didn’t know what to do, as she seemed to hope that her emotional harangue would bring relational restoration. (It wasn’t going to happen.)
Again let me say that we are wired for community – and the church is called to be authentic community – not Job’s comforters as Tim Keller preached last night – but people engaged with each other in a wider community centered on and in Christ. What Sally needed was real Christian community (whatever that is – and I wonder whether I’ve even experienced it). Community where there would more than likely still be relational pain – but there would also be a wider circle of friends to walk you through it – to mediate the damage we do to each other.
In this liminal time in the church’s life, perhaps this is what the Spirit is calling us to – deeper, more committed community – with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at it’s center (and at the margins). A community where the other is honored and loved. Where the stranger experiences hospitality and has their hospitality received. (See Luke 10.) The gathered people amongst whom the thirsty drink, the widows are cared for, the prisoners are visited, the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the love of Christ is experienced by all.
Would that it be so.