New Home!

Hi friends,

I’m sure you’ve all been wondering what I’ve been up to. Well, the short summary is that Brad and I successfully moved into our new home in Chicago. We LOVE our apartment, our neighbors, living in the city, and living near family (who have recently gotten us out of several binds). Not everything was smooth sailing but the move and settling in has probably gone as well as it could.

I spent last week applying for one job (it was a five-step application) and finally got an offer on Friday! So I am going to be working with an after school program in a neighborhood on the south side with one of the highest rates of poverty and crime in the city. I will have twenty-two kiddos to love on and care for. Don’t worry: I will share more details about our move and my new job in the future.

Most of all, I wanted to point you to my new site: justsimplicity.net. I’m hoping to make this a more focused blog on living simply and promoting social justice, so invite your friends to read. I’m going to be posting there every day – God willing – with practical ways to make the small steps to impacting the world. So check it out! I’d also appreciate any suggestions of things you would like to read about!

I’m hoping to keep up this site too and write about more personal topics here.

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Kingdom-made: Community, Part Three or “How are you doing today?”

Perhaps it is a southern thing, or maybe just an American church thing, but every church I’ve ever been to has a team of “greeters” – people at the church on Sunday mornings with the specific task of saying “hi” to everyone who walks in. Several churches we have gone to have the specific goal of having each person who comes in be greeted three times before they get to their seat.

I’m not going to name names, but Brad and I used to go to a church where people would greet you by asking “How are you?” By the time I said “Good, and you?” they had already turned to greet someone else. So my response turned into “Good, and….oh.” It was as if they didn’t realize they had just asked me a question. In this same church, greeters were always men and only ever shook hands with the men. I don’t know how many times I stuck out my hand to a smiling gentleman only to have him look straight through me as if I weren’t there and then shake Brad’s hand with gusto and move on to the next person. Suffice it to say, we don’t go to that church anymore.

Okay, I’ve got my criticisms out of my system…maybe, we’ll see. What I really want to talk about has to do with this verse:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:16

I think this verse has a lot to do with having real conversations with people. I kind of hesitate to use that word – real – because I heard it a lot in college, as in “We need to be real with people.” Maybe it’s still a useful word, even if slightly overused.

So what does all this have to do with living in community? It would seem that God calls us to share openly with those in our communities both the good and the bad things we are going through. When someone asks us “How are you doing today?” it should be an invitation to a conversation rather than a simple greeting. We need to be open to rejoicing and mourning when other people in our community are in the midst of one or the other. In the past and in some cultures still today, people built deep relationships with the people who lived near them. They watched each other’s kids. They built each other’s houses. They shared tools. They farmed together. They cooked together. They absolutely depended upon each other for survival, and so they were intimately intertwined in each other’s lives.

Personally, I’ve never lived in a community like that, but somehow I miss it. I have this desire deep inside to share life with other people, to talk about things that matter, to smile when I’m happy and cry when I’m sad. I feel like it is a need ingrained in me to be able to drop by a friend’s house without having to make an appoitment a week ahead of time and to have people who feel like they can do that with me. From what I’ve seen and heard from other people, that desire doesn’t just exist in me. I think that these kind of close relationships are a basic human need.

Friends who have been to the middle east describe a wonderful spirit of hospitality. Everyone is invited in for tea. Greetings are just the beginnings of conversations that can last for hours. There is no watching the clock or rushing to the next appointment. You rejoice together. You mourn together.

Obviously the community that Jesus and the New Testament authors described isn’t an easy thing. It isn’t easy to mourn with someone. It isn’t easy to resist the busyness of the world in order to make room for someone who needs a real friend right now. It isn’t easy to let other people know about your worry and pain.

To have community, however, we need to know one another intimately. We need to be able to have those wonderful, joyful conversations and those difficult, painful conversations. I don’t think that God made us to live life alone. We truly, deeply, really need one another.

Kingdom-made: Community, Part Two

Last week I wrote about the community we have with God. This week I have been looking at what scripture has to say regarding our community with others. The New Testament authors filled their letters with direct commands as to how we are to treat “each other.” These are sometimes called the “one another” verses. Many, many, many times, the writers of the New Testament encourage their readers to “love one another.”

“Love one another.” John 13:34, 1 John 3:11, Romans 13:8

“Love one another deeply.” 1 Peter 1:22

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10

“Live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3:8

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12

“Keep on loving each other as brothers.” Hebrews 13:1

Ironically, last Sunday my pastor talked partly about what it means to love like a brother (or sister). Loving one’s siblings isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Suddenly we are thrust into this so-called relationship with another person that we didn’t get to choose. And, to top it all off, we are supposed to love this person. Now, I can’t entirely relate to the concept of having siblings because I’m an only child. However, this could also apply to loving other members of one’s family.

When we say we love somebody, what we are usually talking about is a strong feeling of care and concern for that person. We may also be referring to the fact that we love being around that person and doing things together. But with siblings (or other family members), sometimes we just don’t enjoy that person. Sometimes our brother steals our toy and then blames us for the conflict. Sometimes sisters make rude comments. But at the end of the day, most siblings usually say that they do love each other. And it is a feeling that goes deeper than petty conflicts or arguments.

So, how does this apply to followers of Christ? Obviously, we are called to have deep compassion and concern for other members of our Christian community (and I would assume that to be the global community of Christ-followers). Yet, the relationship between brothers or sisters is not always the rosy, easy, cheery relationship that we expect of church community. I think that most people expect to enter church and be greeted by several people, take a seat, hear a sermon, sing a few songs, and then go home. This is what people expect from the church experience, but I don’t really think this is what anyone wants.

Greeting, smiling, and handshakes are all good things, don’t get me wrong, but is that really love? Is that really loving like siblings? And if it’s not love, how do we foster love in our churches? How do we practically love the 50, 500, or 5,000 people in our church?

Love is such a deep emotion that I’m not sure we can do it practically for a huge group, at least not in the way that we are building deep relationships with all these people. I’ve met some very outgoing people who can make anyone around them feel comfortable and loved within a few minutes. But I don’t think it’s practical to expect everyone to love in an outgoing way. By this I mean, I’m a pretty shy person and the thought of going up to a stranger at church and engaging them in conversation practically terrifies me (for some reason I can do a lot better with teenagers), so my way of showing love to those in my community may look different than the guy who can go up and slap someone on the back and instantly be their best friend. I’m not excusing myself from trying to make people feel welcome in my church, but instead challenging myself to use my gifts and abilities to express love in my own unique way.

I see two things going on here: 1) that we need to be a part of a small community that has deep relationships among its members, and 2) that we need to be actively involved in loving all Jesus-followers, and just people in general for that matter, everywhere regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or theological beliefs. In other parts of this blog I write about showing general concern for people all people everywhere (see Social Frays and Fair Trade). But in this “series,” or whatever you want to call it, I want to focus on what it means to “live in community” with other people who are trying to follow Jesus.

One of the criticisms that non-believers have against the American church is that Christians do not love genuinely. They say they “love” but then the live ungenerous, racist, selfish lives. I think Christians struggle with this too because they look at everyone sitting in the pews around them and yet cannot point to a single person that they would call their “brother” or “sister.” But it’s easy to point fingers and place the blame on “the church” or “Christians” and not do anything about it. What if we instead became deliberate about building our own small communities among other Christians? What would a Christian community look like?

I welcome input from others so feel free to add your own comments. Hopefully, I will continue to explore this topic in the weeks to come.