Monday, October 25, 2010

The Lord's Table

The other day, our "small group" met after a long hiatus from formal meetings during the summer. Many of us have been busy with travel, visiting out-of-state family, children's high school activities, college graduations, exchange student host family meetings. You get the idea.

So, we finally met on a Saturday night and had Pizza together. Usually, we have a more formal study in the living room. But somehow, this day we started our meeting around the kitchen table. We pulled up a few more chairs and began to read the devotional prepared by our small group leader and dear friend. Our devotional was a prayer by Henri Nouwen:
Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love—
unconditional, everlasting love.

As I thought about our gathering around the kitchen table, it occurred to me:
- a lot of love, forgiveness, and grace have kept us together at that table over the last few years
- we are struggling to make it in this economy....
- we have been disappointed with people and circumstances...
- we all want to honor God with our plans and our service and yet....
- our lives are being led in directions we would not have chosen for ourselves....
- we continue to look out for each other (job referrals, car repairs, house-sitting, prayers)...
- we have visited each other in hospitals and emergency rooms...
- we know if we were in trouble and had just one phone call, who we would call...

It was good to sit close around that table, look each other in the eye, and realize how much we love each other. The pizza may not have been "eucharist" in the technical, theological sense, but it was the bread we broke together.

While we are on that thought, why wouldn't the table we gathered around be the Lord's table? How would such a table where believers gather in His name, forgiven, in peace and unconditional acceptance not be the Lord's table? How is it that at times we allow ourselves to succumb to the dualism where we separate new life, forgiveness, and restored fellowship at the Lord's Table from the reality of life shared around any table?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Moving Event

I recently helped my son and his family move from an apartment to a condo in Chicago. I knew that members of his church were going to help, but on the day of the move I was unprepared for what I saw. Here it was, 9 am on a Saturday morning and 20 people showed up! All it took was an announcement at a previous Sunday service.

Passing boxes and pieces of furniture along a human chain, it took only an hour to empty out their 1200 square foot apartment. After driving over to the new address, the human chain was re-formed from the truck into the long hallway, material was unloaded, and passed along to their destined rooms.

I've been intrigued by the idea of Christian community as described in Acts 2:44-46, perhaps even a bit obsessed. I had been trying to figure out why community is so hard to ignite and maintain in the church. To be honest, I had nearly given up hope that such a life is even possible in modern society...until I saw a quarter of the church turn out for a move of one of their members! What is remarkable was that this level of mutual helpfulness is a common occurrence in their congregation. At mile-posts on the road of life, they are there for each other.

Coincidentally, I have been reading the book Peculiar People by Rodney Clapp. It is a book about the church as culture in a post-Christian society. One quote in particular captures the essence of what I have been looking for: "Reclaiming Christianity as culture enables us to move from de-contextualized propositions to....inhabitable truths."

Much of our difficulty as the Church or as individual believers is that the gospel we share is a de-contextualized proposition: "Jesus is the Answer!" we proclaim. "What was the question?" would be the response of many. They might add, "so how does what you proclaim make a difference in your life? You go to work, go home, roll-down the garage door, watch hours of TV, surf the Internet, and live in relative isolation.....just like the rest of us!"

Modern society, culture, and the church (as organization) leaves little space for friendship. Our relationships for the most part derive from utility. We maintain just enough relationship, just enough cordiality to get what we want: a task completed, some help, or a commitment to service. Once the task or service is complete, so is the friendship. If we are not intentional, then we will follow that path by default. Unfortunately that is not the path of true friendship, the friendship Christ offers to us, enables through us, and what ultimately the world will recognize as something different.

If we desire a better life, a life that is truly life, a life of following Christ, what are we to do? Rodney Clapp suggests we begin where we are. In our job, in our neighborhood, in our church. He suggests making space for friendship and relationship. To deliberately slow down in favor of a deeper relationship, even if tasks don't get done quite as fast as we would like. Once we are aware of how the world with its task-oriented, get-as-many-things-done-as-fast-as-possible-at-all-costs attitude poisons us, we are in a position to reclaim true friendship and community.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How are We Different?

If we worry about the future like the rest of the world, have no peace like the rest of the world, if we love our friends and hate our enemies like the rest of the world, then how are we different than the rest of the world?

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Meaning of Life

This Christmas I received a book from my son, "The Gulag Archipeligo" by Solzhenitsyn. He thoughtfully selected the book because of my interest in the great Russian writers. You might be familiar with the term "Gulag" and that it refers to Russian prison camps. The book is aptly titled because it is a detailed account of the entire process of spying, betrayal, interrogation, torture, confession, and imprisonment for millions of Russians.

After reading the first three chapters, I was overwhelmed. A neighbor, an acquaintance, or a friend could make the most incidental comment that could cause you to be arrested. For the most benign comment or no cause at all if a quota had to be met, you could be arrested and sentenced to no less than 10 years hard labor. From the October revolution of 1917 through the post-war years, huge swaths of the population were caught up in a system that not only presumed you had to be guilty of something, but preemptively punished you just in case.

I was astounded at the wholesale destruction of human dignity on such a vast scale. I was so overwhelmed, I had to put the book down for a time. With such pervasive accusation, betrayal, cruelty, fear, and suspicion inflicted on so many people, how could its effects not be felt for generations? Indeed the effects are being felt to the present day. A recent NPR feature titled "Epidemic of Addiction Threatens Russia's Future" describes the widespread alcohol and drug use that plagues Russian society today.

So what can I do? Perhaps not much for Russia. Russia is inaccessible to me both geographically and linguistically. Because of emigration and the internet, people may become accessible to me who otherwise would not be. But I don't have to go to Russia or seek out Russian people. I don't have to look far to find people in pain and people that are addicted. Regardless of where we are in the world, the motivation for addiction is the same: to anesthetize pain and salve lack of purpose.

I cannot arrogantly presume that I know the existential angst that my friends and acquaintances may or may not be feeling. However, I can safely assume that, as much as human beings need food, clothing, and shelter, they need meaning. The fact that I am a Christian does not put me in a superior position; it only means that I have started on a purposeful journey. Viktor Frankl said, "our meaning in life is found as we help others find their meaning in life." That is why the answer is so elusive. We think we can find it by ourselves. It cannot be found on our own, as an individual pursuit, but only as we help others find it!