Lesson 8: Nurturing Community

Nurturing CommunityLet’s resume examining Practical Christianity, that part of the Christian life that does not necessarily involve the supernatural. In my ministry, I found many people came to church or sent their children, not because they wanted to worship, but because they sought a community that would give meaning to their lives– a place where they could discuss who they are, what they believe, and what they are to do.

Before my winter break, I looked at faith offering ways to overcome the evil of this world and the problems in our personal lives. Sometimes this involved praying for God’s help; sometimes just living by teachings, such as returning good for evil, that offer some promise for making the better world we desire.

Now let’s consider a second practical aspect. People come to church seeking a nurturing community. Some see this as the Body of Christ resurrected on earth, but others see this as simply a healthy, decent community of people with whom they want to associate and discuss issues that are truly important.

Part of this nurture is the variety of people who gather. Today, just about the only other opportunity for this is school. Even that is being threatened by our current economic practices. Where else do all generations interact? Where else do people practice rites of passage such as baptism, confirmation, marriage, and funeral? Where else do we ask our youth and new members to promise publicly they will work for peace and justice in all the earth?

Most of us would answer “the family.” It is the one place we can practice unconditional love and voluntary communism. Each contributes according to his or her ability and each is allowed to take according to need.

Perhaps the secret to the good life that Jesus proclaims is finding the courage to extend this beyond the biological family. He calls us to a community in which God is Father and all humans are brothers and sisters. Jesus offers himself as the primary example of the greatest serving the least. Paul proclaims that faith in Christ Jesus enables us to enter this community in which there is neither Greek nor Jew, rich nor poor, male nor female, free nor slave. Acts describes the first community selling their possessions and distributing the proceeds to all as any had need.

Before we can ask anyone to extend this community any further, we shall certainly have to provide a better example of this Servant Church. That means no longer pretending the Church is an institution or organization that preserves old values but rather a community that nurtures new life. It also has little chance of happening until we base this community on the relationship with God given in worship.

Next week I’ll look at how sharing meals is a key to implementing this. For now, what do you think about presenting the Church as extended family in which we are called to find more and more ways to complete the extension beyond ourselves?

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12 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Adam says:

    I am just kinda spitballing (just woke up from a nap when I read the post about nurturing community). The same frustrations have hit me pretty hard here during the primary. When Santorum indirectly questioned Obama’s faith, I just wanted to shout for him to show his own credentials. The Old Testament priorities of claimed Christians just confuses me to no end. I thought we were presented that version of faith, in part, as a history so that, by comparison we may feel liberated through God’s love.

    To me, it’s like referencing old monarchies from before the revolution and demanding we do things that way because it existed in our history (though when you look at campaign finance and wealth distribution, maybe that’s the message they truly mean to subliminally send).

    Several of my conservative, wealthier friends, when frustrated with where tax dollars have been spent, like to throw out the quip “if you feed a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” It frustrates me so much because I ask them when the last time was they tried to teach anyone out of their own socioeconomic class anything. By defunding public education, I have no clue how they expect that education to occur. I also don’t understand how they feel these lessons can be taught quickly from afar.

    The abstract idea that they believe they’re supporting their own cause with this axiom shows the lack of awareness I fear in a community. As I’ve aged, it’s become the only thing I really fear. Even more than death and desperation. It feels like the only thing most of my generation has learned well collectively is how to ridicule and tear down the opposition through argument.

    When I read A Meal With Jesus, the first few chapters gave me some hope. I’m looking forward to finally getting out of my parents house and being able to throw similar types of dinner parties where we can have fun, but also focus on a few issues with friends in this community that I know are intelligent enough to see the potential for growth.

    • lupe says:

      As a non-practising Catholic (not a non-believer) and a Bolivian, I could be considered an outsider to your group. However, I read most everything you post, and it gives me food for thought and reflection, and it bolsters my faith. The Republican presidential campaign, however, has had the opposite effect. The candidates, without exception, seem to use their “faith” as a propaganda tool, and worse, as a weapon against their opponents. I do not detect sincerity in any of them, no true dedication to service. They change with what they perceive as the prevailing wind (Romney especially, in his servile shift to the right), make propaganda use of their children (Santorum), and generally manage to convey hatred rather than love: hatred of others, hatred of differences, deep mistrust of those who are outside their exclusive sphere. Additionally, they seem to worship Mammon, not God. Their love of money, their greed, their refusal to contemplate taxation for the very rich to alleviate the problems of the very poor is unconscionable. I have watched the debates doggedly (often painfully) and have seen no concern for the impoverished middle class, no desire to extend health care to those who most need it, no real programs to create jobs, and not a single reference to the very poor or homeless, no solution for those who lost their homes through the greed of the ultra-rich. I wonder what the real Jesus would say – he who cured the leper, who blessed the poor. Or, perhaps I have it all wrong. Perhaps these candidates believe the poor and the infirm will become rich and healed of all ills by adopting conservatism? Please do not think that by not responding, I am not following what you write, please do not believe that you do not reach me – and perhaps many others. It is just that lately, speaking of faith and Christianity seems to have the wrong luster, it somehow seems to sound opportunistic, the way the candidates do. I can’t wait for the campaign to be over, so we and others can discuss faith without falling into a political pit of horrors. And if I sound angry, dear Fritz, it’s because I am angry, and sad.

      • Scott Noon says:

        Lupe,
        I’m always honored by your participation in this blog. As a woman of considerable faith and intellect, we are blessed to include you. You are certainly no outsider– rather a sister in the faith we share. My wife and I pray for you often, as I know you face many challenges in your work in Bolivia. You are true blessing to many.

        My wife and I are a mixed marriage. She’s a republican; I’m a democrat. So the sparks fly all to often when presidential elections come around. I characterize the differences between the two parties this way– “Republicans believe that the playing field is level. And democrats do not.” Republicans believe that anyone can succeed through hard work. Democrats believe that the social system is inherently unfair, and that not everyone has access to those things that are necessary for success. Republicans believe in small government because intervention is unnecessary on a level playing field. Democrats believe in social safety nets (which then necessitate management and larger government). To Adam’s point, “Teaching someone to fish” assumes that everyone has access to fishing poles and a nearby stream, not mention money for a fishing license. The “teaching” part that the conservatives focus on isn’t the point. It’s having access and resources to begin.

        The political parties in the US are part of a representative government, so you can often learn the most by looking at the demographics of those each party serves. Republicans do not talk about the poor, because they represent very few poor people. Republicans talk about job growth, not because they represent the unemployed, but because they represent the owners of companies who realize that increasing profits and increasing headcount go hand in hand.

        Democrats are not without their faults. They have not been able to balance their social agenda with the realities of an overspent budget. Even when the democrats were in power in the House, they were not able to bridge the divide between moderates and liberals within their ranks.

        Lupe, I share your indignation over the lack of care demonstrated by Republican candidates. My list– I’m angered by their inability to address solutions for the poor, the inability to address the global AIDS crisis that will wipe out entire African countries, the imbalance of taxation between Warren Buffett and his secretary, the necessity for free family planning services and other health care services for the poor and middle class, and the openly hostile bigotry against gay families. One would think that these “Christians” running for office would appear to be more compassionate while trying to demonstrate their uber-Christian faith.

        Clearly, Jesus would be an independent.

      • Adam says:

        The propaganda runs much deeper than this election cycle. Somewhere along the line, Americans began to believe capitalism and democracy to be synonymous. However, the end result of true democracy is a government by the people for the people. The simulated end to absolute capitalism is a monopoly.
        The republican party continues to attack the checks and caps that are to keep capitalism from becoming a vicious monster. They believe a completely unregulated market to be the only way to determine price. It’s become their moral code. Unfortunately it leads to a group of people that Oscar Wilde once said, “know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
        I’ve argued passionately with my friends who are in this line of thinking. They believe a worker’s worth is their output. Even if they’ve spent 30 years at a low-wage company, their worth has not increased. If they want to be rewarded, they simply must earn it through production and upward mobility.
        Loyalty to a company means nothing to a corporation. They care very little for the small communities in which they make their profits, and the owners and VIPs of the company only have to come face to face with their own communities comprised of people from their own socioeconomic class. Their frustration is in others inability to see they can not be satisfied with breaking even. Profit and victory are always the motivation.

        Adam Smith, the father of modern economics and capitalism, would have defended appropriate supply and demand, but even he would likely be disturbed by the logic of those attacking the entire public sector.
        From the Wealth of Nations: “According to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties to attend to. Three duties of great importance indeed, but plain and intelligible to common understandings. First, the duty of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies. Secondly, the duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice; and thirdly, the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions which can never e for the interest of any individual or small number of individuals to erect and maintain because the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.”

        In terms of national defense, our country’s probably over compensated. In terms of the other two, unfortunately the vision of many of our politicians looks to protect their side of their own socioeconomic class. That goes for democrats and republicans.

        James Reston once said that athletics were a perfect form of diplomacy in the United States. The value of competition, hard work and cooperation within a team stood as valuable symbols of the American spirit. Fair play was to be held in the highest regard. In terms of competition, hard work, and even cooperation, athletics still leads by example, though the audience tends to miss the symbolism.
        In terms of fair play, though, we’ve grown to make excuses for our teams and players when they cheat. In other words, win by any means necessary.

        When that becomes the rally cry of a nation, it’s time to pause and reflect. Civility requires moderation.

        I have not given up on democracy but it is vital that we remember capitalism is a tool of democracy; Democracy is not a tool of capitalism. 20 years ago, in James Reston’s memoirs, he wrote: “We are so rich and so strong that we survive our blunders. The systems of fascism, socialism and communism were much worse than our flawed system that we get away with it. In the process we saved democracy, but it is not a self-operating mechanism. I still hold that the people are not infallible and that the only way to preserve democracy is to raise hell about its shortcomings.”

        After going off on a long rant such as this one at a bar or at a gathering with friends, some ask me what they can do. The first thing I tell them is to read more. Gather information for themselves and be ready to seize the moment when passion and logic collide.

      • Adam says:

        Lupe,
        I am a non-practicing Lutheran currently, though I go to the the house that Fritz built once every two months to discuss faith over dinner.
        The disgusting abuse of Christianity over the last decade made me study other paths. Buddhism set me free in ways that I wasn’t able to come to grips with in Christianity without the scientific approach that Buddhism provided.
        The commonality between them is unconditional love. Love is a feeling that can be fleeting, but unconditional love for life and community must be resolute.
        My rage at the social agenda of media’s christian nation tends to temporarily paralyze me from time to time, but I have to remember that they do not control us. It’s important to wake up every day and remember who you are, then make a promise to yourself to be the best version of who you intend to be. We’ll make mistakes, but if we love ourselves the way God loves us, we’ll forgive ourselves and learn from them.
        It’s good to be angry and sad in the moment, but do not let those feelings compound into irrational rage. That is what our enemies want, because its the thing they see in themselves that they fear. They want us to share their dread.
        I do not know you personally, but I have much love for you. Continue to fight the good fight!
        -Adam

      • Don Motaka says:

        Listen, if you have access to whatever media outlet brings you all that sewer-water runoff from the great American gluttony for power, surely you should be able to find a bit of the ol’ Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.

        They put it all in perspective, which is to say they show it up for the risable farce it really is.

        Besides, America doesn’t have a monopoly on such dreck; I certainly don’t take that little shit, Hugo Chavez, seriously for one minute (and I’ve watched segments of his Egomania-TV show), nor the right-wing nutcases in France nor the crackpot mullahs from whatever is the Whack-istan du jour.

        Seriously, try not to take it too seriously, especially the current wave of American right-wing whackadoddle doo-doo. They are only a tiny fraction of the body politic here and their string is about run out. Once Major League Baseball gets into full swing, we’ll all start to focus on the really important things in our culture and stop agonizing over every episode of “The Little (Ass-hat) Rascals.”

        Oh yeah, and I also highly recommend The Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges – their take on the vagaries of income inequality was way ahead of its time.

  2. myron says:

    Community: Today’s Washington Post in the Meto section has an article that reinforces the idea that people are looking for community: “In small congregations, faithful find comfort in spiritual intimacy.”

    • Scott Noon says:

      Small congregations are interesting. Sociologically, they tend to be collections of a handful of somewhat related family members. If you visit these congregations, you find that most members are related to each other in some distant way. They tend to be less welcoming to visitors who are outside the fold; members hold more power than the pastor; and role of the clergy is to provide chaplaincy to the group– not prophetic leadership that calls them to “Go, therefore, into all the nations.” I wouldn’t characterize this as spiritual intimacy. It’s more about social comfort.

      Interestingly, the model for growth in the mega churches is small group ministry– collections of “family groups” that build to create the larger body. When worship happens on Sunday, it’s considered a meeting of the family groups– but the caring ministry happens in the small groups. Because these small groups are largely a collection of strangers who have opened themselves to one another, I’d consider this more like spiritual intimacy. It’s a willful effort to share oneself in relationship to other Christians– not a simple “maintenance of the clan” activity.

      I’m not arguing that big churches are better than small churches. “Spiritual intimacy” is available in congregations of all sizes. I’m just arguing that the author of the Washington Post article should do better research, and then come up with a better definition of “spiritual” intimacy.

  3. Bob Nordvall says:

    Lupe,

    Living in Italy I see how completely US politics are covered by the media here. I assume this may be true where you are too. So you, by paying attention to what is said in media there and perhaps also over internet, are surely better informed about the Presidential nomination race than are most Americans who tune out a lot of the news here. You comments aqre well informed and incisive. Keep you ideas comng.

  4. Don Motaka says:

    As a close personal friend of the Living God, I can assure you He is TOTALLY bored with all current forms of institutionalized religion and eternally, poignantly longs for someone, anyone to do something ENTIRELY new in His name and for the sake of His son.

    Yet, even in this, the traps and snares of modern society lie in wait: how are we to form any kind of communal experience other than to rely on some kind of bond of common experience, which leads invariably to old ways, old forms. So that even I as I can appreciate the longing for a new way to see God, I can’t help but reach for my old spectacles; in more practical terms, as I reach out to my old church, I find myself (having crested Life’s roller-coaster at 60 and feeling the start of the swooping descent to the Dirt Nap) discomforted by new liturgical phrasing, stumbling thru new hymns, less than impressed with “new” theology (which sounds, sadly, like the same old warmed-over arguing points).

    However, I’ve been so well indoctrinated into the parapsychology of grace that I find myself hoping against hope for some kind of breakthrough. Waiting beside Pip and Miss Haversham for the wedding party to emerge from the cobwebs.

  5. Concordia Hoffmann says:

    This is turning into a political forum, much to my dismay. There is no utopian society, just as there is no perfect family. There are many dysfunctional families, just as there are many countries yet who disdain the poor, and so on….you can list all the things wrong in just about any society, and certainly in many families.

    This taking of sides and bashing others’ viewpoints does lend itself to understanding or reconciliation or God’s will to “Love your enemy.” Whoever said Christianity was easy?

  6. Concordia Hoffmann says:

    Correction: …….does not lend itself….

    It seems to me there are two differences to consider for social justice, hope, love : those in one-to one relationships, small groups, families. Or change to be from larger political or governmental groups, and they would not most likely have all the same Christian values that we are now exploring.

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