I find myself asking “How could one of the biggest introverts in the world become so entangled in the idea and practice of ‘community’?” I always thought I would make a great hermit. Just give me some books and leave me in a cave to read and think, and I would be quite content.
My first foray into community was with our Up Town Church which describes itself (at its best) as “An honest accepting community of broken people…” It was in this community that I found: a home, in which to belong, a hot house, in which to grow, and a people to love and serve.
Lately I have been called to Community Chaplaincy with a ministry of helping people reintegrate or integrate into the wider community. I have found the idea of integration into the wider community difficult but have instead reached the conclusion that it is to only in a specific, rather than generic community, that we can be integrated. ‘Community’ then remains very much my theme.
Last September we launched a new Street Hope Community in Saint John. We gather often to hang out around God’s word and seek to grow in love and service. This has been a particularly messy and gratifying exercise. We are discovering that growth does not often come in straight lines but it does come.
A while ago my friend Kris and I were chatting and he was sharing his experiences with ‘Restorative Justice’. I was fascinated to hear about what had been an academic concept for me but was a practical reality for him, from both sides of the issue (victim and victimizer). Out of that discussion and several subsequent ones came the idea that we should do some work on this topic. As is usual with me, I quickly became quite passionate on the subject and though we did not yet know what “working on the topic’ looked like, I launched out. I spoke at Stone Church on Sunday inviting folks to get on board (on what I was not sure). Yesterday we visited an eclectic group of Christians who are interested in promoting peace and want to do practical things toward that end. We shared our passion and through that conversation and our debriefs afterwards it became clearer that we wanted to foster was not a committee or agency but a community. My working title for this is “Restoring Community” like many of my ideas this is a double entendre. We would like to gather together with people who want to form a community where we can be restored and reconciled and we want to foster a community that is an actively restoring community.
Scripture tells us we have been given a ministry of reconciliation. If the Church (God’s people) do not exercise this ministry then who will? The justice system can only punish. Our community is reeling from the effects of victimization and there is no one else to tend the wounds. We believe that it will take a Restoring Community to meet this challenge.
Jesus prescribed a methodology we hope to adopt “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world.” We will begin at home with the plan of building and being a Restoring Community. Kris and I will do some work on this over the summer and we will start the formative work in the fall. Please join us in praying for this effort and stay tuned I expect you will hear more in the near future!
We were discussing how counter-intuitive (my word) God’s ways often are. Least is great. Down is up. “Just like Schweitzer and Who” said a friend, and then in answer to my stunned expression continued “You know, a pair o’ docs (paradox).”
One striking paradox I have been considering lately is the concept of moving forward by falling down. This has been a horrible season of falls for people we love and serve. We have seen several folks who had been clean and sober for months have ‘a slip’. It is painful to witness the havoc these falls bring with them. Lives seem so damaged and relationships become strained and we cry and we cry out. But even as we weep and as we complain to God we can do so with a hope that is not dependent on circumstances.
Many will know that a few years ago I had a horrendous fall. I literally fell and shattered my jaw and did great damage to my teeth and face. At one point I was near death. This fall was for me though a fall forward. I mark the time of my physical brokenness to a time of great healing and spiritual progress. I was a long time recovering from that fall and I have permanent physical reminders but I look back with gratitude at what God has done in me through this fall. I went through months of dental surgery and experience hearing loss and feeling on one side of my chin and lip and I am eternally grateful to the God of paradox, the God in whom I can fall forward!
Would the Psalmist have been able to pen his words of inspiration had he not known the depths of the forgiveness of God following his fall?
Would Paul be able to pen the words “nothing can separate us from the love of God” had he not fallen on that Damascus Road?
There is real hope in God. There is hope that we can fall forward. There is hope that my friends who have made some bad choices can fall forward. That the community which now suffers can be mended and even strengthened through this ordeal.
Linda and I have been reading Joshua lately. He famously says to the people “Choose for yourselves, if you will, a god from this present world, but as for me and mine we will chose the LORD.”
We are choosing to hang on to God in the midst of this season of falls. We do so because in Him we can most certainly ‘fall forward’.
In Texas, I’m told, they have an expression, “All hat and no cattle.” This phrase describes someone who wants to look like the ‘real thing’ but on closer inspection are not what they seem. In one of our times together this week we had a discussion on just this thing.
Jesus is on his way to the temple for a radical encounter with the religious system of that day when he happens upon a fig tree that is “all leaf and no fruit”. He curses the tree and, we find later, it withers up from the roots. In this parabolic act Jesus demonstrates the connection of fruit and root. While this is true with fig trees it is true of Israel, which the prophets have represented as a fig tree for years. Jesus is about to “take the axe to the root” of the nations religious system. He enters the temple where we all know he over turns the tables of the money changers but he also puts a stop to the whole sacrificial system when he halts the carrying of merchandise through the courts. This is as radical as it gets. His act addresses the fruitlessness of that religious system by addressing the roots!
So our discussion led us to question ‘Where are our roots sunk?” We spend a lot of time looking at the fruit or lack of it in our lives, and we are especially good at examining other people’s fruit but if we really want to produce fruit, fruit that will last, then we must tend to our roots.
As we discussed this we decided that the soil we must sink our roots in is the love of God and the Word of God.
“But how do we sink our roots?” came as the natural question. The next passage talks about belief but not just a ‘head’ belief, but as James might put it ‘faith in action’. We sink our roots when we actively love God and act in obedience to his Word. These activities drive our roots into God’s soil and He produces the fruit in our lives.
When I am covetous it is because my root system is sunk into the consumer driven culture of this world. If I want different fruit I must, in partnership with God, take an axe to those roots and concentrate on sinking roots into God’s good soil.
I cannot produce fruit, good or bad, but my rootedness determines the type of fruit produced in my life.
I try to constantly keep in mind that the word radical means ‘back to the root’. I hope to be a radical follower of the Radical Saviour. I’m glad that I have companions on the way like my friends of the Street Hope Community.
(I wrote this a little early because I am headed off to a National Community Chaplains’ Conference at Acadia. I am hoping this will be a time of tending the roots so as to produce good fruits.)
We’ve been on a journey lately. First we were on our way at our Threshold gathering. Then we were on to my mother’s 90th birthday celebration. I came to realize that we have received an enormous amount of hospitality along the way and had a number of adventures. Some adventures were very pleasant occasions and others were less so. We have been lost and on the edge of unknowing. We have been surprised and enlightened. We have met disappointment and joy (and Joy). I began to wonder why I don’t go on journeys more often. They lead me out of my comfort zone into a delightful ad frightening liminal space, literally a threshold. I only enter these spaces if I am journeying.
I am too invested, sometimes, in the status quo. The church is very much ike that. We prefer the familiar in spite of the fact that God is calling us into a future filled with hope. When we do not journey toward that future we avoid all the uncomfortable ‘unknowing’ and lost-ness but we rob ourselves, and those whom we influence, of the surprise and enlightenment. Many of us look forward to our vacation journey. We find refreshing the very thing we work so hard to avoid. In moving out of the status quo and taking a trip (even the word trip suggests the possibility of a fall) we find adventure and in our restless journey we find rest.
I suspect that a restless journey following God into uncomfortable situations may be lead to the place of rest! Jesus calls us to ‘follow’ Him and that certainly calls us to a journey. In doing so He promises we will find rest for our souls. How can I follow Him and eschew the journey? How can I follow Him and cling to the familiar? How I can find comfort in my familiar life and ignore the wild Messiah who offers me the Comforter.
Saints throughout the ages have expressed this Christian life as a journey. People from Anthony to Bunyon call us into this very trip. I wonder at my slowness and I am grateful for His patience! I am glad to have a physical adventure as a sacrament pointing me toward the real adventure, the spiritual adventure of following an untamed Saviour.
. Each year like a migrating bird I long for home. As the date drew nearer for our Threshold National Gathering the longing in me grew. I wanted to get “home” to my family, this odd group of Threshold Evangelists from across the country. This is the group where I find understanding and unconditional support. We laugh and cry and eat and learn together. It is utterly refreshing!
Oddly enough while here at the Gathering I felt a bout of home sickness for my family back in New Brunswick. Linda and I are enjoying our time away but we left our son and daughter-in-law in poor health and we wish we could be with them. Our daughter and son-in-law are sharing in ministry for the first time this week. They are rightly excited about this and we wish we could be there to experience this time. Our Street Hope Community, we know, is missing us and we wish we could be with them. The Pregnancy Centre is holding its Walk For Life and Linda especially wishes she could be there.We are home sick for Saint John!
Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of our first son, Jamie and I felt a terrible homesickness. I long to see him and be with him. As I went through the gamut of those emotions I thought about others who have “gone before’: my dad, Al Knight, Capt. T. (the list goes on and on) and I ached for Heaven!
I realized anew that I am not at home here and that I will be restless until I find my rest in Him. This homesickness is built into each of us. It is part of being made in God’s image that we are made for eternity with Him.While I feel (sometimes very keenly) this homesickness I realize that it is a universal feeling. In light of this thought the idea of “people being lost” makes more sense to me. I have sometimes been uncomfortable with that phrase but now I see its truth . We all long for that home! (I probably still will not use the phrase very often.)
I am glad that there is an end to my journey. In the short-term I will return to Saint John. I will see our kids and share in their joys and sufferings. I will be re-united with my friends of Street Hope and do the same with them. I will see Jamie and Dad and others one day. In the meantime I can imagine and I can hope and anticipate! These activities may be somewhat bitter-sweet but they add savour to my life.
This , admittedly melancholy feeling of homesickness gives me fresh motivation to share the hope that our homesick and weary hearts can find a home through relationship with Jesus. He has gone to prepare a place for us. I hope to see you there!