Perhaps We Pagans are Hungering for Community

kinnon —  January 14, 2008 — 9 Comments

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.

Continued thoughts
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 story
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.)

Authentic Community?
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.

kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

9 responses to Perhaps We Pagans are Hungering for Community

  1. Bill,
    Thanks so much for this. Excellent thoughts. Having lived in Christian community for over twenty years, I would say it’s not easy, but it is real. I think that there is a deep longing for community, but churches are so often graveyards, instead of communities. May the Spirit open us up for new ways of being, seeing and living in community so that the real-ness of Christ shines through to each other and the watching world.

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  2. Bill,
    My struggle today is with the sense that this desire for authentic community is an idealism that cannot really be realized or expressed as church.

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  3. Hi Bill. Probably not expecting to see me on here but I have been on a few times over the past few months. I like what you are doing and I agree with your post. Church communities simply need to learn again what it means to love one another. I know I have failed in that even with you but if we are really going to reach those that do not know Jesus, we better get this right. If you will permit me, I would like to show how we can sometimes learn from the world about honoring one another. When I “retired” as a police chaplain (the first time) I was honored as if I was a seasoned veteran of the service. Some call the police an “old-boys club” but when you are accepted you know everyone is covering your back. I am not sure the Church is always very good at doing that.

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  4. Hi Bill. Probably not expecting to see me on here but I have been on a few times over the past few months. I like what you are doing and I agree with your post. Church communities simply need to learn again what it means to love one another. I know I have failed in that even with you but if we are really going to reach those that do not know Jesus, we better get this right. If you will permit me, I would like to show how we can sometimes learn from the world about honoring one another. When I “retired” as a police chaplain (the first time) I was honored as if I was a seasoned veteran of the service. Some call the police an “old-boys club” but when you are accepted you know everyone is covering your back. I am not sure the Church is always very good at doing that.

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  5. Bill (and Grace),

    It is an important topic, this. And I believe you are right in suspecting that many people have never actually experienced the ideal of authentic community.

    But for those of us who have, it is quite unmistakable. And it is the journey through chaos and liminality into communitas (I am grateful to Alan Hirsch for providing me with this rich language to describe it!) that is what I believe is lacking today.

    Too few of us have had to really struggle together, holding on to each other and God for dear life. Ours is too often a pseudo community of ease and comfort rather than a dynamic communitas of chaos and cHesed.

    When we decide that our desire for “personal space” is less important than our hard-wired need for community, we may see our way to letting the Holy Spirit turn our lives upside down. It can happen, but it must be very intentional. This desire in me to rescue the experience of authentic community from “ideal” to “reality” is foundational to CovenantClusters.

    We hear talk about “cheap grace” … “cheap community” is one result, IMO.

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  6. Part our problem in the church is that we are not allowed to suffer. We treat it as an abstract topic to discuss. The loneliness comes from the impersonal nature of being perfect Christians. We can’t allow people in, yet we need to let the mess out so we can be real. Then community can begin.

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  7. Bill,

    There is another issue that needs to be dealt with, and you’re a living example. So many of our church-goers in this present day are traveling quite a bit for work. How do we help them to get community when they are not around much, and not consistently able to make, say, a small group on Thursday nights? The professional whose job takes them away consistently needs to be in community as well. The church needs to respond to this trend. Since you are on the other side of this equation, what thoughts toward a better paradigm do you have to this? I am doing some hard thinking, since this is the reality in our community.

    Dan

    Dan

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  8. Ed…LOL…”the impersonal nature of being perfect Christians”…how about the delusional nature of pretending to be perfect Christians!

    The most common avenue of liminality available to the church today are availability and vulnerability (HT to our friends at Northumbria)…and both of those will throw you right into the glorious messiness and chaos that lead to community….

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  9. Bill, you’ve touched on the main point of Pagan Christianity? Frank and George are trying to clear away the brush that they believe hinders Christ-centered organic community. Frank’s other books ‘God’s Ultimate Passion’ and ‘the Untold Story of the New Testament Church’ are a strong plea for a restoration of organic community life with Jesus at the center. Pagan Christianity tries to expose those things they feel short-circuit this.

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