The post I’m now writing is one I’m actually having to re-write, as I had gotten well into it previously when Internet Explorer had some sort of error that required it to close, causing me to lose everything. I’m a little sick about it at the moment, as I was getting into what I was writing and was glad for the process. This has happened to me on more than one occasion in my years of blogging (so I am now actually writing in Word so that I can cut-and-paste what I write into MSN Spaces after I’m done); so I guess that in this, as with so many other things, I am slow to learn.
So then, let me try (again) to paint a picture for you of the setting in which I am doing this long-needed writing, for if “context is(n’t) everything,” it certainly matters. I write in my office at home, with a lukewarm cup o’ joe nearby. I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt, enjoying the warmth of my home on a moderately cold Ohio evening. I’ve got Yahoo! Music tuned to the New Age channel, and I find the reflective music to be conducive to the writing process. I can hear the heater humming along, and it echoes in Samuel’s baby monitor too. Occasionally I hear Samuel stirring or making sleep sounds, and when I do, it calms my spirit. I’m a bit tired, though glad that life is “normal” enough for me right now to do even this little bit of writing. Still, my fatigue nearly got me into a major accident earlier today when toward the end of my long commute from the south part of Canton, where I work, all the way up to Hudson, where Samuel is in daycare, I dozed off and crossed the center line on Highway 303, startling awake just in time to swerve back over and avoid a head-on collision. Needless to say, I was a bit more awake after that.
So here I sit, glad to be writing, glad to be alive and in one piece, glad for the sounds of my (presently well!) son upstairs, and glad for much, much more. For me, then, the question (as always) becomes: what am I to do with all these gifts? What is all this goodness for, and dare I ask- what am I for?
Of course, my answer to that question has been fairly consistent over the past while: I am for love. God created me in love and for love, and such love is my beginning, middle, and end (purpose). Still, love doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it is something one does, which means that I am for (right) relationships- with God, with those around me, and with the world. It is only when I live in that love- when I inhabit those right relationships- that I fully know the joy of doing that for which I was made. So as I have said for some time now, in reaction to the mislearned lessons of the Christianity of my youth, it may be that I do no better in my life as a Christ-follower than to plumb the depths of God’s love for me, but I know that this love is experienced fully only in the community that God’s love keeps building, and so I yearn to be a part of it.
Speaking of community, and love, and right relationships, there is some news on this front (pausing for a language “aside:” it occurs to me that this phrase is most likely a war metaphor, something which- spiritual warfare notwithstanding- the latent pacifist in me recoils against). Not too long before Kirsten and I began the process of deciding to “take a break” from Sanctuary (which has since disbanded as an active church plant, and which I will finish writing about, I promise!), I discovered a new friend, Jared (and his wife, Tina). Actually, Tim Hill, Sanctuary’s pastor, found Jared through the Emergent website, as both of them had indicated there an interest in starting an Emergent Cohort in NE Ohio. So Tim and Jared got together and began plans for launching that, and once they had the Akron-Canton Emergent Cohort blog up, I found the link to Jared’s blog, and began exploring it. I was intrigued enough by what I read there to email him and invite he and Tina up from Canton (where they live and are part of a house church) for dinner. They came, and the next weekend they invited us down for dinner, and we went, and so to borrow the immortal phrase, thus began the start of (what is turning out to be) a beautiful friendship. Jared and I seem to be pretty similar in a lot of ways, including in our thought process and faith journey to this point, which means that we have much to talk about. We like the same T.V. shows (Battlestar Galactica, Lost, etc.) and seem to be fairly equally energized by intentional relationship building. We both value serving the poor and recognize the relationship between the American way of life and world poverty, not to mention the relationship between loving/serving the “least of these” and following Jesus. In all of this, and much more, I take heart- and thank God, for I have been hoping for this kind of friendship for a good, long while.
As if Jared and Tina weren’t somehow “enough,” they come, of course, with their own existing relationships- many of them who are also a part of the Canton House Church- and so we have gotten connected with these folks to boot. Particularly in Jared’s good friend, Tony, I have found another fairly like-minded fellow, and on the one occasion so far when Tony, Jared, and I have been able to get into a lengthy conversation, it has been wild, deep, far-ranging, and fun. Needless to say, I look forward to many more. So I’ve been down to their house church on a number of occasions so far, and Kirsten and I are seriously considering making this our church “home” for the foreseeable future. As I wrote to Jared after visiting the house church for the first time:
I wanted to let you know how pleased Kirsten, Samuel, and I are to have been able to worship with you today. The love that is present in your group was evident in the warmth that was extended to us, and we are grateful. Please accept our gratitude…to you and Tina, and to the rest of the gang.
Of course Kirsten and I were talking on the way home about our impressions, etc., and I was reminded of your warning that the house church probably wouldn’t embody everything that we are looking for in a faith community, and I’m sure that you’re right. Of course I have lots of questions already, and I know that other questions/issues would surface if we were to join you in your journey as a community, particularly regarding theology, ecclesiology, the issues of authority (and I would say, legitimacy) that you’ve been raising on your blog, etc.
Still, if pressed, I would probably say that my primary (failed) objective in my (former) leadership of Sanctuary’s lone microcommunity was to instill in those folks a notion of what it means as Christ-followers to have a life together. Had I spoken up today, I might have answered Tony’s question (why Christianity?) in a couple of ways. As I am wont to do, I would have echoed Peter’s words in John’s gospel, after many turned away from Jesus because of his teaching that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. In response Jesus asked the twelve: "Do you also wish to go away?", and Peter answered "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." I think this sentiment is also reflected in Martin Luther’s (alleged) concluding statement to the Diet of Worms, in which he espoused his convictions about the essentials of the faith and the degree to which the Roman Catholic Church had gotten away from them. After being asked if he would recant his statements, Luther said, "Here I stand. I can do no other." It is this sense of inexorability about following Jesus that best describes my faith journey these days. Like you, I have been captivated by the gospel and am compelled to keep trying to live my life in response to it.
For me, much of this response has to do with seeking to spend my days plumbing the depths of God’s love for me, and I know that I do this no better than when I am immersed in that great cloud of witnesses that Jesus calls me into. You and I both know that the life of faith is a life spent together with those who are also "on the way." In other words, if I am to truly and effectively follow Jesus I need you, and Tony, and Tim and Christy, and any others who will truly partner with me along the way. I think this "life together" is a radical and amazing and truly counter-cultural thing, and I have found few who are willing to fully live it out, perhaps for the lack of committed partners who will join with them and really struggle together to figure out how to do so. I guess that’s ultimately what I hope for from the faith community that I finally commit to. To put it in romantic terms, I’m tired of dating, and I want to get married (again). I’m not sure how far I can take this analogy, but playing with it just a bit…I know of course that I’m the bride in this picture with Jesus as my groom…but aside from gender issues I would make for a sorry bride indeed if I am all there is to it. The bride of Christ, of course, is the Church, and WE are it- all of us. We have only to start acting/living like it. Whatever the faults of your house church may be, as an outsider with only today to go on, I at least see some signs of actually "living like it" in your community, and again, I am grateful. Because your community is full of people like me, I know there are problems (but given my previous congregational experience)..chances are, I’ve "been there/done that." Also, continuing with my analogy, I must be honest and say that in my desire for commitment I come to it as a divorcee. I’ve lived in community, as you know, and failed, but that failure has not soured me to the notion of it. It has only served to deepen my zeal for again meeting Jesus in those who will join me in casting aside all that hinders us from joining Him in the Way….of the cross. Beyond that cross, I believe and am helped in my unbelief regarding the truth that resurrection awaits, and I yearn for that too.
I think that much of what Tim and Christy are trying to get the Sanctuary gang to do is to create an environment (by setting up the worship space at their Discovery Gatherings twice a month, and- in more intimate fashion- through the hoped for community that the Micro-community is meant to facilitate) in which truly deep, loving, family-like relationships can occur. That sense of family that I think Tim and Christy are striving for is exactly the kind of sense that I got today among your house church, but you all pulled it off without all the fuss/pretense of "creating a (public) sacred space," etc. …(So), I remain convinced that if …we want folks to experience Jesus (rather than "access" church), then inviting them not " to church" but rather into the life that we- the Church- are having together through the simple sharing of a meal, and worship, and learning together as a family…well, in my humble opinion…that’s "what it’s all about."
I guess the notion that I’ve been talking around so far, without actually getting to, has to do with belonging. Quite likely for the first time since moving here, I actually feel as if I belong, and in decidedly delicious fashion, this bring me full circle back to the beginning of this post; for once again, context matters- and the most important context as far as I’m concerned is one’s relational context. For the first time in a fairly long while (excluding, of course, my relationships with my wife and son) I am immersed in growing relationships that matter to me, that are deeply important not just for my sake but for the sake of the world, for the sake of building God’s kingdom. I’m excited to keep learning what I’m for- in this relational context- and what these good relationships are for. I trust that if Jesus is our leader he likely has something revolutionary in mind, and I think these folks are turning out to be the kind of partners that one can live a revolution with!