10 Feb 2018

Jesus in Community

            Having successfully dug out from last week's snowstorm, I continue to reflect on community.  
            As my colleague Kyle states, " I think we would do well in the church to fully claim the radical, and counter-cultural, notion of common life and common faith."
            So how do we DO that?
            I think we have to live the faith. Truly live it: not just with people we like or from our comfortable pew. But to go out into the world and engage with the difficult realities of today's individualistic society.
            Any group of people can build community in any number of ways: engage all ages, be honest about needs and values, support local initiatives, keep buildings maintained (cared-for external presentation suggests vibrancy inside!), don't be burdened by the past, don't fall into 'good enough' mentalities, and own your presence.
            These are good starting points. In the church, we are called even further, because community is part of our vocation.
            Imagine if we truly engaged the world around us as Jesus would do: because Jesus was radical and counter-cultural. He physically and emotionally touched so many people that had been longing for touch for so long.
            Where culture rejected the diseased, Jesus gave health. Where society abandoned the widows and orphans, Jesus found them homes. The down-on-their-luck, he encouraged. The outcasts he welcomed, the unclean he embraced, the hungry he fed, the untouchable he embraced.
            Jesus did not do this alone: he engaged his followers to this reality. He called for the people - the ordinary, everyday people, like us - to see the opportunity to love: despite the politically correct boundaries and barriers, the promulgation of fear, the absurdly false theology of scarcity, or any other pathetic reason.
            Jesus called his followers, then and now, to seek those who society would refuse to see. To see another's needs, and find ways that those needs might be met - the immediate need, and the underlying cause; then to meet those without question, without judgement, and without criticism.
            To see another's needs, of course, means to see another person: to look beyond ourselves; to see the presence of Christ in everyone we encounter.
            Community means shifting our focus away from ourselves, away from our personal desires, and turning it on to someone we share this time and space with, searching for ways to live our baptismal faith to support and encourage a fellow child of God.
            It's not easy, it's not popular, it's not common: but neither was Jesus. And when we embrace that reality, our relationships flourish and we all benefit.

The Van in the Ditch

The first 6 inches
            This week I continue my reflections on community and individualism. Where I live is experiencing a blizzard, which is dropping more snow than the area is accustomed to. As a result, the roads are not presently examples of 'ideal driving conditions'.
            Last evening, glancing out the window, I noticed a van in the ditch across the street. I could have ignored it, but out I went, bundled up, to start pushing - as did a few others, including one man who was driving past, and one neighbour from the next block who brought his truck and used the hitch was able to pull the stranded van out of said ditch.
            As this was happening, another car had come up the street, and realising he couldn't get past, rolled down his window to shout out a few unkind assessments of the van's driver's abilities and capacities, before dramatically spinning his wheels to reverse down the street.
            The driver of the van had not, obviously, chosen to go into the ditch. He was a stranger to the neighbourhood. I noted the extreme difference in reaction to this man's need for help.
            For those of us willing to push, we got no benefit from it. We just knew that someone needed help, and we did what we could to provide it. We trusted that if we were in the same situation, someone else would help us as well.
            For the vocal commentator, however, his vehement response suggested that this inconvenience was an intentional slight against him and his plans.
Snow pretty!
There's a driveway under there...
            In less extreme examples (one hopes!), in the church we can see similar behaviours and reactions. We all come to God in need; we all come to God with God-given gifts. As community, we are called to reach out to everyone around us, celebrating their gifts and supporting their needs - and to know that we are likewise being celebrated and supported.
            It takes effort and intentionality to put our own needs and preferences aside in order to help someone else - yet that is how we build community. At any given time, someone in our midst, in our pews, may bear a tortured soul or hurting spirit - their emotional van is inadvertently in a ditch. They could benefit from the love of God being extended to them, whether they ask for help or not.
            This is what we are called to do as Christians, as community: to love one another as God has loved us. To reach out the helping hand as we are able. To provide what we can, as what we have has been given to us. I hope we consider, in our own churches and lives, how we might live this Christian community, and overcome the scourge of individualism.


3 Feb 2018

Are we a community or collection of individuals?

A day at the beach, summer 2016
            The folks in my neighbourhood have often described this as a 'dog friendly community'. Which is great, as I have 2 big dogs who like to walk - a lot!
            Lately, however, I've had a bit of a challenge when we walk: an increasing number of neighbours are choosing to keep their dogs off-leash. When that happens it inhibits my opportunity to walk wherever the leash-less dogs are. (Some have charged and chased, in the extreme a neighbour's dog was attacked while in her own yard, etc.) It's a problem: I should not have to stop my walk or change my route out of fear of these loose animals.
            I am not shy about asking the correlated humans to leash their dogs. And, if this truly were a dog-friendly community, the dogs would be immediately restrained.
            Unfortunately, many responses lately has been negative. "Why should I?" and "Oh *dog's name* is fine" have become common replies. It's disheartening, as it shows disrespect and disregard for everyone else. Contravention of by-laws notwithstanding, this shows that some people are only concerned with their own preference, rather than with the safety and order of others in the neighbourhood.
            Put another way: individualism trumps community.
            Obviously, this is not the case with everyone; but it's prevalent enough to recognize a trend. I think it sad that some people think about themselves as the be-all and end-all of any and every circumstance. Yet this mindset seems to be permeating all aspects of society.
            The church is not exempt: if we are not careful, we can end up being a group of folks who are seeking only to be self-satisfied: "The church isn't meeting my needs" is a common criticism. Yet, if we're open and honest in our self-reflection, that's not what the purpose of church is meant to be. Church is not about what we can personally attain; it's about how we can come together and contribute to the world.
            We are called to be "a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects" (as Thomas Berry states in "Evening Thoughts", p. 17). We are intended to be the body of Christ (as Paul writes in 1Cor 12 and Eph 4). As such, we are called to act in ways that will be of benefit to the greater community, to continue to build up the whole body of Christ, not just ourselves. To do this we must maintain and celebrate the ways in which we can be community, looking out for the welfare of others and trusting that they will look out for the welfare of us. We may not always get our own way, but when the community improves, we all improve.

            So from leashing a dog to praying for one another to engaging in justice ministries to *enter your activity here*, let us intentionally be the collective church: a community of Christ-followers, loving and serving God through service to the world.

21 Jan 2018

Proactive and Reactive: Considering Blood Pressure and Faith

By Madhero88 (self-made, sources [1]) [CC BY-SA 3.0
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
            I have low blood pressure. "Freakishly low," as my cardiologist noted. Most of the time, this is not a problem; my high energy and healthy lifestyle is not impacted. However, every once in a while, it dips a tad *too* low, and I end up with dizzy spells. These are minor, and can are easily addressed by a variety of means - some posture stances, more salt, more water, &c. Sometimes, I opt for an electrolyte replenishment tab. Dissolved in water, they immediately increase my sodium and potassium levels, and thus my blood pressure.
             So this week my cardiologist made a suggestion: rather than do this as a reactive measure, why not use them proactively? Take one every morning and see if the number of dizzy spells decreases overall.
            My response: "Why didn't I think of that?"
            It seems quite simple, and helpful, and can only be of long-term benefit. What my body needs will already be in my system; if my body doesn't need it all then it will flush it out. Easy!
            I reflected how the very nature of being proactive, rather than reactive, is integral not only to physical health but also to spiritual health.   When we come together to worship God, and connect with community, and find ways to serve, we are being proactive. We are choosing to give our spiritual selves the nourishment it needs in the good times, so that if/when the challenging times hit, we are in a healthier position to address that reality.
            I have often noted that in times of trouble, people unfamiliar with church may come to the building expecting an instant answer or immediate 'fix'. While it is wonderful to see them turning to God and faith community, it is at times unlikely that the high and unrealistic expectations can be met in such a short timeline. It is a reaction to a circumstance already underway; like an electrolyte tab for an already dropping BP.
            For those who are already engaged - who regularly communicate with God's word through prayer and devotion, who are known and supported within a faith community, who routinely participate in worship - for those, troubled times are just as likely to hit. However, because of the engagement, their faith helps them to mitigate the challenges of this life. It is a proactive preparation for whatever may come: like preventing a too-low BP by taking a daily electrolyte booster.

            Obviously being part of a worshiping community is more than merely as a preventative measure against life's difficulties. However, one of the benefits of that community is the proactive maintenance of a faith that sustains us in good times and in bad. But it is this maintenance that is so important to our health, it is so simple, and so beneficial for the long term, and we can be supported by as much as we need. Along with the other benefits of being part of the family of God, we will be extra supported by the practice of making faith nurture part of our daily reality. Our faith will help us most when it is proactive, not reactive.

13 Jan 2018

...on dogs and angels

            On one of our walks this week, my dogs were not exactly on their best behaviour. They were hyper, and pulling, and ignoring me. As they outweigh me, and it was icy, it meant some precarious semi-skating on my part.
            At the best of times, I am not good on ice. When I've had a long and challenging week (as this week had been), it was a struggle to keep my balance (and patience!).
            And then we saw a neighbour. Well, the dogs lunged (with tails wagging), and I was less than pleased. But I tried to be neutral as I was being tangled in leashes and my neighbour fawned over the pups. It wasn't her fault, after all, that I was cranky.
            We chatted for a moment about the weather, and the dogs kept up their happy adventures. Snow was flung, mittens were licked, legs were rubbed up against.
            And then this neighbour started emptying her heart. She had had a very difficult week, and didn't even realise how much she needed to speak about it until we walked by. We were both a little surprised as she released the emotion; telling me (a virtual stranger) of a number of burdens she had been carrying. And then she thanked me for letting her unload. She said God had clearly brought her exactly what she needed so that she could live the rest of her day without the anger and pain that she had known, and said she was going to pray thanksgiving to God for my appearance.
            It was then that I told her that I am a woman of faith; together we prayed. Standing in the street, cold and icy, (dogs suddenly and unexpectedly calm), we prayed.
            She thanked God for the angel that she had found in me.
            What she doesn't know is that she was a messenger of God's grace to me. I received such a blessing from her in those few minutes. I thank God for sending me an angel in her.
            God's messengers, these angels, are among us. There is good news of forgiveness and grace and community that we can hear. That night, it was unexpected, and I was unprepared. But I'm grateful that I clued in enough (after the fact) to realise what had happened. And, even though it was frustrating at the time, I'm grateful that my dogs were so adamant that the encounter take place (clearly, they were more in tune with the divine than I was!)
            I pray that I'll be able to always realise the messages of grace that are put in my life. God knows, we all need them.