Tuesday, December 09, 2008

And Coming Up...

5. The view of God in community
6. The Inspiration of Jesus
7. The place of the self in community
8. The Place of the Spirit in Community
9. The hope of community
10. The structure of community
4: the Practices of Community


Alright, another month of silence and pondering, another post to add to my definition of community.

First of all, what exactly does it mean to practice. I go back to my childhood when I think of practice, like baseball practice, or practicing to ride a bike, or practicing to drive a stickshift in a old 1984 Nissan King Cap red turned pink truck. Practice is to engage in an activity in order to improve your skill for a desired goal. The problem with this definition is that it seems a bit self-interested - a goal for the self. It can certainly be this. However, we must combine the word Christian with practice, which then changes the scope of the definition. It may be for the self, but only Tertiary. For in Christian practice one engages in activity in order to better show the face of God to the world For the Sake of God's Name. Secondly one engages in order to better others lives in the world as God desires life to flourish. Finally, one engages for the sake of the self, to improve the relationship between self, God, and others. It is a way to see God in the world.

Now if God acts for the sake of love toward humanity, and we are to act like God, then we, too, are to show love to others, giving life.

So what are the practices?

Obviously this is the core of the Christian practice. Prayer and Scripture are the foundational, traditional modes of revelation and conversation with God. This is a time to search scripture intentionally, not aimlessly, but looking into the texts and developing core questions about history, tradition, original message, and what it means for today. Prayer is a chance to humble oneself in conversation with God in order to praise God for who God is, to struggle with God and life, and to present others before God. Though we can do this individually, it is dangerous to be solely alone in this practice. Therefore, it is necessary that there is a Christian community that these practices are tied to in order to aid in maturity for the self.

This is based on the fact that we have much to learn from each other. No one person's observation on a situation or an object is truly sufficient for understanding. Especially when applied to life situations and decisions. However, Conversation is not debate, or argument, but for collective understanding and maturing. With scripture, the collective voice of the community will help shape how the Gospel is applied and communicated today. Thus, if each member is practicing prayer and time in Scripture, then all are able to communicate. However, part of conversation is the disposition of the people to the conversation: first, one must be concerned enough to study and become knowledgeable about Scripture. Secondly, and most importantly, all involved must set aside their desire to be "Right" and instead come together with the desire to understand differently, to agree, to disagree peacefully, and to ultimately aid each other in maturity. Conversation is an ace of hospitality and love.

This practice is the sharing together of bread and drink in order to celebrate the hope and life of the Resurrected kingdom. It is the sharing together of life with each other who are striving to live out the resurrected Kingdom. Thus, Eucharist should be shared regularly, in all gatherings of God's people. It is a physical reminder of who we are, how we should act, and what we are working toward. It is the prime example of Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

Shared Meals
Hospitality is key to the community. The shared meal is the place where all people come together with the work of their hands, the burdens and joys on their hearts, and the knowledge in their minds. When coming together, one should start with Eucharist, beginning the meal in a way that casts the time together in the life of Christ. It is here where honesty, hospitality, conversation, prayer, and life should be shared. It is here where the basic needs of food and relationships are met. Key to the shared meal is the open table: all are invited, even those who do not understand or are not from the same tradition. They are invited in order that they may become friends.

This should still be tied to the Corporate body of Christians. However, Baptism is a key rite in becoming a Christian. It is the physical act of dying with Christ and Raising with Christ. It is the renunciation of the self as God in order to become like Christ (Phil. 2). All are encouraged to partake of this practice.

This is the physical part of the community. Meet each other's needs. Be of service to each other in order that all of life's basic needs may be met and life may continue forward. Service to each other and those outside the community is the act of love which continually validates and encourages each other toward true life in Christ. It is as simple as mowing a lawn, watching a house, cooking a meal, running an errand, or giving a gift. It is as hard as giving up a room in your house, paying someone else's bill, giving your raw talents in aiding someone, fixing their vehicle, painting their walls, or crying and laughing with others in all the times of life.

This is key to the practices. Pride is the downfall of humanity, for Pride is the ability for one to become one's own God. Humility is the answer to pride. It calls for living moderately, for giving your time to others, for listening, for caring. Humility is understanding that we are not God, we are not the most important creatures on earth, we are not the most important people in our community. It is being able to be rebuked in love and learning from it. It is being able to rebuke others in love without tearing them down. It is truly building each other up. We have nothing to prove, we don't have to fight or struggle to be right. Let the life that we live prove itself if God finds it worthy.

Minor Practices:
- Gardening: this allows a person to work the land and commune with creation, it is the ability to produce fruits in order to eat for one's self or to give away to others. Thus, all are encouraged to grown something in order to share.

- Community involvement: This is a way in which one enters the secular world and finds out it's needs, not to change the world in a militant fashion, but to befriend it in such a way that it is encouraged toward life. This may be public office, PTA, or just Neighborhood block parties.
3: Virtues of Community

So we know that we are after this thing called Authentic community. But what are the virtues of Community?

I have been inspired by many a theologian, and many a thought. I have enjoyed reading the St. Stephen's blog, SNU's theology, Jurgen Moltmann, and many other formative ideas. What is the core of community? Authentic Friendship.

Authentic Friendship: what exactly does it mean to have authentic friendship?

The ability to laugh: This entails a level of comfort in which one can know all the different nuances of another's world so that they know how to interpret the context in a humorous detail. This is also knowing boundaries and offenses, as well as shared views of the world. However, this can be very surface, just being able to pick up on who someone is.

Table Fellowship: This is barbaric at the least, and putting one's skills of cooking to the test. It is here that one cannot be too proper, lest one sets themselves above the rest. There is a moment of insult if one does not eat what is prepared. Truly, food becomes the place of great conversation. If one is to eat at another's house it is usually more of an affair of conversation than it is of eating. It is also allowing oneself to either serve, or be served, the epitome of Christlike moves. It is obvious in the sacrament of Eucharist, Breaking the body, receiving the blood, which is done at the table. I cannot get away from the fact that the "Appetizer" usually consists of a bread and a dip, a body and a blood. Thus, eating becomes a central sacrament of celebration of the community that lives in the kingdom.

Honesty: This may be the most important of qualities in a community. The ability to be honest in any situation of the way one feels or perceives. This honesty takes the ability for one to be so comfortable that they may be able to take criticism from another in a constructive way. It is also being able to risk the relationship in order to bring about a better end. It is the ability to be blunt, but non-insulting, to critique in order to build up. Here the personal/political agendas must disappear, and personal preference must be set aside, for it isn't for ME that someone should change, or be critiqued, but for THEM, and for the Community. This honesty is the ability to tell someone where they are doing well, and where they don't quite line up with the Gospel. It is the ability to understand the way Christ looks, and the way we should.

Vulnerability: This is the other side of honesty, the receiving of honesty. We must not think ourselves so important that we become callous to honesty and critique, but be vulnerable to it, able to understand the difference between Jesus and ourselves. Vulnerability also contains in it the ability to cry, rant, rave, scream, laugh, crumble, and build up. It is being able to be laid bare in front of the community and hold little shame. Vulnerability is to cry when Jesus cries, to be lifted out of the dirt like the naked Prostitute in John.

Compassion/Justice: These have to go together. Compassion is seeing a need and taking honest and just approaches to solve that need. It can be corrective, it can be benevolent. Justice is judging a situation and acting rightly within it. Compassion is trying to hear, see, and know the cries of the oppressed and acting in justice to take care of them. It isn't just putting a bandage on the problem, but trying to find the root of the problem and solve it as well. Compassion is giving of oneself for another, for the sake of the other. It should have no personal interest, lest it be the effect of happiness and joy shared by the community that one is taken care of. It is sacrificing lifestyle in order that others can have life, places of privilege so that others can have dignity.
This includes tithe. Tithe is to support the community - and honestly, if the community does not have to upkeep building and other expenses, then the community can afford to upkeep each other financially. This is key.

The virtues of Community are the virtues that we see in Christ as he walked and talked. This is following the life of Christ.

If you have more to add, please do...
2: The Pastoral Setup

So, I used to believe in the pastoral structure of a mutual body of pastors working together as one in order to embody community. They were divided into 5 categories:
Education: focus on the discipleship and knowledge of community
Mission: Focus on the external engagement of the community on the surrounding environment
Pastoral Care: Focus on the spiritual/physical/psychological well being of the internal community
Worship: Understanding the way in which a community practices and remembers its heritage in meaningful and creative ways
Administrative: the glue that makes sure that the community runs smoothly between all branches of work.

Is this breakdown absolutely necessary to achieve community?

Here is where I first faulter: Community is simple, it starts with a desire to love as God loves - to just love people and really care about their needs. Therefore, it doesn't necessarily need a structured pastoral body, but just one who is pastorally minded to engage the community correctly.

But, in looking at the definitions above, there is also hope for the structure.
- an intentional pastoral structure serves as a witness to the surrounding community that such a life is possible
- the intentional pastoral life is like the Levites who were the example of What Israel should be, the nomad seeking God's promises for the sake of knowing God.
- The intentional structure should be a sharing and consensus of life in which the pastors live to hold each other in higher regard than the self - thus giving rise to the desire to hold others in high regard.

But do we need a structured staff to do this, or just dedicated people? Please, interject some clarification and prayerful wisdom here.
10 Parts to Christian Community: 1 A definition of Community

In my understanding community is a sharing of life with the people that are around you in such a way that it is beneficial for the whole.

Proximity: community is formed in those areas in which one has a direct effect on the culture. Thus, it is found in the neighborhood, living and knowing the neighbors intimately. It is found in the workplace/schoolyard, those places that we interact with a number of people continually. It is found in the areas by which you can walk by foot, knowing the turns, the houses, the dogs, the cars, all that surrounds your life. Community must be formed and found in proximity to the one who is engaging community. To engage outside of one's "parish" is to engage loosely in the attempt to develop relationships strained by time and distance. Truly, Proximity is an aid in forming community

Neighbor: The classic question is how one defines neighbor. A community is made up of people who are neighbors. These people live next door to, and across the street from other people who are neighbors. Thus, the idea of neighbor are those people who happen to live and interact in the "parish" that is around the person trying to engage the community.

Skill Set: Every community is made of certain talents and personalities. Certainly not all personalities will mesh, but through the development of community and neighborliness the members of a community should begin to address the needs (both physical and psychological) of those people immediately around them. In short the term is "give away that which you are skilled in" Do something for someone without expecting a payback. It's for the sake of community.

Hospitality: truly, this is the key to community. It is the open sharing of life together with those in immediate contact to one's parish. It is the eating of meals together, the sharing of drink on a front porch, and the enjoyment of each other's joys, as well as the mutual sufferings of each other's sorrows. It is the sharing of life together.

So what is the definition of community?
- Community is the place in which one finds themselves available to act in ways that are hospitible to those who are neighbor. This means we live for each other first, securing each other's lives before our own. It's as simple as mowing someone's lawn, fixing someone's breaks, listening to someone's problems, and simply enjoying life together.

The other criteria: there are no outsiders, all belong to the community.