August 13th, 2009


doing the work of the church

I've been reading Shaping Sanctuary (Tiffany recommended it during Reconciling lunch at this year's New England Annual Conference), and on page 134 there are two prayers from the Reconciling Congregation Program.

From Luke 9:28-36:
Radiant God, source of light,
as you surrounded Jesus with your glory,
so you come to us in a penetrating brightness.

You catch us off guard and expose our weakness.

We choose the limelight while you call us to explore the shadows
and brighten the darkness.

We seek the spectacular while you bind up the broken in
countless acts of mercy.

We seek to stay on the mountain or in a comfortable pew while
you walk to the valleys of need.

Radiant God,
fill us with light and courage to carry good news into all the
corners of the world and to bring back the joy of your presence.

From Matthew 15:21-28:
O God, you are Hospitality. You are Welcome. You are the Invitation, the Table, the Feast. By your spirit may we learn to receive and offer grace, to share from the sustenance of our lives and not simply the crumbs. Embolden us as we serve as the voice of those who continue to ask the church for justice and bread. In Christ we pray, amen.

My best friend and I have recently been discussing how to embody welcoming, inclusive, accessible church, and reading the second of these prayers in particular I was thinking about the demands that places on us the members who make up the Body of Christ that is the Church. And not only am I lazy, but I also mostly don't like people, so I am doubly disinclined to help do the actual do the work of welcoming people.

The line "to share from the sustenance of our lives and not simply the crumbs" from the second prayer really struck me. My best friend loves her church and wants to give her best to her church. I am, rather less devoted to CWM. It surprises no one, I expect, that I'm much more inclined to critique worship services etc. than I am to put in real work to help fix things. I think it's also tied to my unwillingness to claim group identity labels (like church/denominational membership).

CWM is my church home. Were I to pursue ordained ministry (WHICH I AM NOT DOING -- despite various people telling me I should), I would do it within the context of that community. It's the church I am most glad to return to when I have been out of town. I say it's my home church. But I'm really uncomfortable fundraising, for example -- uncomfortable with telling people this is a wonderful thing they should give their money to.

Though maybe I'm selling myself short.

I show up at Rest and Bread service and help set up chairs and put the inserts in the bulletins and photocopy more bulletins if we're running low. I've helped lead worship in any capacity as asked, and have sometimes volunteered when I know one of the usual leaders will be absent. I've bought firesticks [like this, only different] 'cause the ones in the chapel kept vanishing.

I help set up because I'm there early anyway and it's easy, and everything else is because I Want Things Done Right (well except for helping with the service itself, which is more because I'm capable and comfortable and willing when asked).

I think basically it's that I don't want to do anything that feels like work -- in the sense of not wanting to do anything that doesn't come naturally/easily to me. Which isn't necessarily inherently a bad thing. We're all given different gifts and graces (the Body needs many different parts) and yes we are called to grow, but...

I volunteer to lay read at any church I attend regularly -- because it's something I enjoy doing, and very selfishly it means there are bad lay readers less often.

Providing food for fellowship, for example, is one thing I really don't want to do -- though I'll sometimes help wash dishes at CWM (usually helping dry, because given the setup we have I'm not a huge fan of washing dishes there, even though in general it's a household "chore" I don't mind).

"For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it." (John 12:47)

Jeremy made a post titled "Original Sin or Original Grace?" Excerpt:
Humans wrote the bible and perhaps our memories are a bit biased towards blaming snakes and women.

But this is not just human memory, it is the Old Testament: a testimony of a people's relationship with God. Have you ever read Genesis 3 and focused on what God did? Let's see:
  • God curses the snake (v.14) and the ground (v.17) but doesn't curse the humans. The humans are the ones who messed up, but God curses peripheral things. Humanity is untouched by God's curses and is given a huge portion of God's grace.
  • God closes off the Garden not out of spite or wrath, but out of care that they not be tempted by the other Tree of Life also (v.22). God removed temptation out of care, not removed everlasting life out of spite or wrath.

God of Wrath this isn't. This is a God of Grace, who cares for the humans even as they see their actions hurt people (and animals) in ways they didn't expect.

Stories like this one are equal parts explanation of why things are the way they are and testimonies to the actions of God in the history of a people. We often point to human activity in these stories, but why not focus on God's actions? And God's actions are not angry but delicate, not spiteful but graceful, not condemning but articulating how the world will be much more difficult now but all is not cursed and irredeemable.

As we hack Christianity, we go back to the beginning, peel back the layers of tradition and history, and rediscover the God of Grace that has been there all along. Perhaps then it is when we also clothe the naked, when we also help those who toil on the cursed ground, when we also mourn the collateral damage from our sins...perhaps then we are closer to the God of Grace who still wanders in the garden alone.

I then read a post from Andy Bryan of Enter the Rainbow on "Eternal Life" in which he states:
I don’t think eternal life begins when we die, because if it had a beginning, then it wouldn’t be eternal. Eternal not only means “always will be” but also “always has been.” Shane Claiborne wrote about this in “The Irresistible Revolution,” saying that he is convinced “Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live.” Eternal life is an ongoing something that we enter into when we decide to follow Jesus.


And while I don’t know exactly how to express the idea, because all language is metaphor, all of this means that saying “yes” to the life everlasting that Christ offers should therefore impact us in the present. Followers of Christ should live differently, better. In other words, I’m no expert on the “everlasting” part, but I’ll do my best to live the here and now like God wants me to.

Doesn’t it seem like sometimes we spend a lot of energy waiting around for heaven? As Shane Claiborne puts it, “Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way.” I don’t believe that we are supposed to live however we want and then let God sort it all out in the end. I believe we are supposed to live here and now as if the there and then has already come. Why else would be pray for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven?

[...] Jesus came to tell us that God’s reign on earth was among us, not in the far-off future, and certainly not in any earthly authority. And not only that, he came to embody that heavenly reign on earth in his very self. And it was hard work. You might say he worked himself to death.

Have you ever thought about how much in this world would change if Christians really lived the way Jesus says we should? What would it look life if we truly believed that we have been given life everlasting? How would you respond? How would you change?
The idea that we are called to do the hard work of embodying God's Kin(g)dom on Earth isn't new to me -- though a reminder is always good -- but I am particularly intrigued by this idea of everlasting life as being something that has always existed -- "like entering a flowing stream somewhere in the middle" as Andy says. Andy also cites Jeremiah 1:4's “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…
like salt water

categories are HARD

In the GoodReads August newsletter, author Rebecca Wells talks about one's "first love." My immediate thought was to wonder who I would count as my "first love," which then got me thinking about how over time I've become increasingly less invested in holding out for some nigh-perfect "first time" (first kiss, first whatever), in part because life is always so complicated (and in part because I got greedy/impatient, and am to some extent a pushover).

still an IS*J

So, I took the "What's Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type?" facebook quiz.
13. If you were asked to organize entertainment
you would find it quite enjoyable
you would prefer it if other people did it
My response: "Huh?  Oh, they mean arranging for there to be entertainment, not alphabetizing the DVDs."  That tells you all you need to know about my personality type, doesn't it?
22. Are you more interested in
what is real
what is meaningful
Ari suggested one way to parse this bizarre-to-me either/or is in your approach to Scripture, which actually helped me make sense of it a lot.
23. Do you value in yourself more that you are
just and impartial
merciful and forgiving
Ari: "You value more the times you can be merciful and forgiving because it is easy [for you] to be judging."
This was interesting to me because I'd been thinking (given my recent immersion in redacted matters) about how it's easy for me (when I have an emotional investment in an interpersonal situation) to be sympathetic and supportive, and harder for me to step back and form a balanced objective opinion.

End result:
You are quiet, friendly, responsible, and conscientious. You are committed and steady in meeting your obligations. You are thorough, painstaking, and accurate. You are loyal, considerate, notice and remember specifics about people who are important to you, and concerned with how others feel. You strive to create an orderly and harmonious environment at work and at home.