Tag Archives: Christian community building

Lovers or Liars?

I recently completed my final report for the Louisville Institute.  These generous partners in ministry awarded me a grant to study the sociopolitical construct of race, Clarence Jordan’s Koinonia Farm and why persons fear Christian community.  I visited Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia.  It was Clarence’s “demonstration plot.”  He would create his own world, challenging segregationist laws in the 1940s.  The community was intentional, sharing in a fair wage and a common purse.

The farm was bombed.  The business was boycotted.  The members of Koinonia Farm were ex-communicated from their church.  Because they loved their neighbor, their African American neighbor at a time when it was not socially or politically advantageous to do so. Clarence is my kind of Christian.

So, I set out to learn as much as I could in the year and a half I had allotted.  I registered for conferences, signed up for workshops, ate fellowship meals, had tough conversations.  I asked hard questions of myself and those around me.  I dug deep and nearly scraped the bottom of my soul.

I conducted interviews and read a small library of books about the sociopolitical construct of race, intentional community, the life, work and witness of Clarence Jordan on Koinonia Farm, multi- cultural/ cross- cultural ministry, forgiveness and reconciliation.  I took copious notes, wrote extensively, preached the message of community faithfully.  I even redecorated my office in D.C. to reflect the work that had reshaped my life.  It was all about community- building.

I was being transformed, emphasis on the I.

In the end, the results were not what I expected.  No statistic or story could have prepared me for the narrative that would emerge.  Long story short– Christians are afraid of Christian community.  While there are those who would point to those who are doing it right (“See, we’re not all bad.”), there is a long and troubling history of Christians in North America who do not follow Jesus in the way of love, who refuse to integrate socially with persons of other cultures, who refuse to integrate their faith and life.  As it was during American slavery so it is now.  Bible in one hand and a whip in the other, European Americans are shamelessly able to oppress others while claiming to espouse the liberating words of Jesus Christ.

Call them what you will.  It makes no difference because at least they are white.  And in America, whiteness pays.  It pays to play.

It must be said that those who agree to the conditions of whiteness (that is, the oppression of other cultural groups so that they might have privileged access to wealth, the land and its resources) are a serious impediment to the healing work required for reconciliation in the Church.  You simply cannot build an authentic Christian community where whiteness and its interests are at the center, if socially colored white people do all the leading and none of the following, if they control the resources and determine the ministry emphases, if they influence the votes to ensure that it always goes their way in business meetings.  Because the identity of whiteness is protected at all costs.  Put above the cross of Christ, who persons are as white people and as the model citizens for the world in appearance, behavior and conduct is to be defended.

But it takes the place of Christ’s body and his work.  Or, is it that there are those who think that their body is his?  The work of race is complete in these cases, swapping out Christ’s body for their own, deifying their flesh and nullifying the work of his.

To be sure, this is not a matter of identifying with Christ’s body or doing what he would.  This is proof that America’s created identity of whiteness is wedged in between the cross and the crown for many European Americans.  The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God are at odds but there are those who believe that they are one and the same, that if you have seen a socially colored white person, then you have seen God.  Skin “color” long associated with good and evil and used to determine the heathen/ barbarian/ uncivilized versus the civilized/ cultured, the same is true for the Church in North America.  The social coloring of skin separates the righteous from the unrighteous.  It is not a matter of separating goats and sheep but “white” people and all the other “people of color.”  The Church has a color line.

Christians, who claim to be made in the image of God, live in and through racialized identities. They create segregated sacred spaces, somehow walking in the footsteps of Jesus while avoiding marginalized and oppressed people who are victims of race and its progeny.  The theological disconnect could not be more obvious.

Persons will close ranks and churches will close up shop in a community that is experiencing cultural change before it will integrate.  They will take their Bibles and believe somewhere else.  Christians need for power, all while worshipping an all- powerful God, cannot be underestimated. The impact of colonialism, American slavery and its other versions of domination continue to determine and influence the ways in which we relate to each other.  And even for persons of faith, they cannot get the colonizer out of their head.

John said, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (First John 4.20).  In my estimation, there are only two choices, only two kinds of people.  Love is the deciding factor.  Because you cannot love God and not love everyone that God has created.  It is a package deal.  Take it or leave it.

So, Christians, if there is hatred in your heart for your brother or sister, the one you won’t speak to, who you dodge at the grocery store, whose food you don’t like though you’ve never tasted it, whose clothes you wouldn’t be caught dead in, then you are not a lover but a big, old liar.  John is pretty clear that there are no little white ones.  There is no question about it.

Books for lovers of community

“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”

| First Corinthians 10.24, ESV

Put down your phone and pick up a book. Yes, I am a purist who still believes in turning actual pages.  I’m showing my age in this digital world.

I know that they are bulky but evangelism, outreach, hospitality, neighboring (Yes, it’s word.), community- building is even heavier lifting. If we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, then we must, of course, begin with ourselves.  The journey of love starts with us.  If we are to reach out, we must first reach within ourselves.

I am on a mission to build beloved community, to cultivate and inspire those who want to build this kind of fellowship and practice this far- reaching faith.  Together, we seek to inspire those who don’t just want to have community days but live in beloved community all the days of their life.  But every change comes with not only a to- do list but a reading list.  Here are a few that should help us along the way.

Douglas Avilesbernal, Welcoming Community: Diversity That Works, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2016).

Ruth Haley Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, Everyone Belongs to Christ: Discovering the Hidden Christ, (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2015).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1954).

Henry G. Brinton, The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2012).

Jini Kilgore Cockroft, From Classism to Community: A Challenge for the Church, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2016).

Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community: Romans 12 and How to Be the Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992).

Curtis Paul DeYoung, Coming Together: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1995).

Mike Graves, Table Talk: Rethinking Communion and Community, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017.

Wayne Gordon & John M. Perkins, Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

Craig C. Hill, Servant of All: Status, Ambition, and the Way of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016).

David Anderson Hooker, The Little Book of Transformative Community Conferencing, (New York, NY: Good Books, 2016).

David Janzen, The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus, (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013).

Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice, Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008).

Grace Ji- Sun Kim & Jann Aldredge- Clanton, Editors, Intercultural Ministry: Hope for a Changing World, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2017).

Martin Luther King, Jr., Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1968,1986).

Gary L. McIntosh & Alan McMahan, Being the Church in a Multi- Ethnic Community: why it matters and how it works, (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012).

Brenda Salter McNeil, A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008).

Charles E. Moore, Editor, Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2016).

Toni Morrison, The Origin of Others, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).

Richard P. Olson, Side by Side: Being Christian in a Multifaith World, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2018).

John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2017).

Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999).

Christine D. Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain us, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012).

Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring: Building Relationships Right Outside Your Door, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012).

Rick Rusaw & Brian Mavis, The Neighboring Church: getting better at what Jesus said matters most, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016).

James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010).

Kenneth L. Smith & Ira G. Zepp Jr., Search for the Beloved Community: The Thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1998

Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, (New York, NY: An Image Book, 1999).

Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice, (New York, NY: Good Books, 2015).

We can’t leave the ministry of reconciliation

reconciliation

It is so tempting to close ourselves off after deep wounding, after failed attempts to come together as people of faith.  We might ask ourselves, “Why isn’t this working out?”  Still, we must believe that God is at work, that while we want to throw our hands up in despair, God’s hands are still in.  All in.

God has not pulled away.  God still believes that we can be reconciled, that we can pull off this fellowship.  Two feet in.  When we walk by faith, we don’t take any steps back.

Because our faith is not in us but in Christ and his bloody hands are still extended.  We don’t have the option of withdrawing as his cross is an open invitation and an ongoing reception.  It’s not over until Jesus gets a hold of the one that left all ninety- nine of us (Matthew 18.12).  Jesus is the gate so we must remain open… like the Lord’s Table (John 10.7, 9).

This is why the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion is so important.  Every month or each week, we are called to come back to the table– but not back to the drawing board.  All is not lost.  Still, “It is written…”

No matter what the newspapers print and despite all of our reporting on separations, splits, divisions and disagreements, there is still a report from the Lord.  Lean forward and listen out for it.  It won’t get as much attention.  God’s voice is still and small.  Still, we are called to “be still and know that God is God” (Psalm 46.10).

So we must keep our ears open, our eyes open, our hands open, our hearts open and our mouths open.  We must be ready to give and receive the blessing of belonging, to be reminded that we belong to and with each other, that we were all made for each other.  In the end, it will all, we will all come together.   Being reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, we are right where we need to be (Second Corinthians 5.18).

God’s still pulling it all together, still pulling us all together one heart string at a time.  Give it time because it is all in God’s time anyway.  God’s will be done.  All called and hearing the same command to love and hope and trust, we can’t leave the ministry of reconciliation.

 

Not even close


“The work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross was not only to bring us back into fellowship with God, but also into fellowship with one another.  Indeed, it cannot do one without the other.  If we have not been brought into vital fellowship with our brother, it is proof to that extent we have not been brought into vital fellowship with God.”

| Roy Hession

Daily news is breaking, dashing my soul against stone cold faces.  Hardened heart, I am not moved by the words on the screen.  Another day, another insult.  It means nothing now; there’s nothing to it.  Everybody can do it.  Leaders and followers, there’s no need to bother with truth or integrity or kindness.

Just let it rip!  My heart falls out.  My heart cries out.  Love!  I need a pick me up.

He lies about the caravan, that the threat is approaching us.  Instead, the danger is on the inside of us, closer than we want to admit.  Because it is easier to point the finger than to point out our prejudices, fears and ploys for power.  Bait and switch the subject.  Now, what were we talking about?  What are we talking about Christians when we call people ‘invaders’ of God’s earth?

Because where does God draw the line?  How do we know who’s in and who’s out?  I guess the plan of salvation is mere lip service.  You said it.  You’re saved; now, go away.

Saved but you can’t stay.  Please don’t move next door to me.  No, go back to where you belong though we are all God’s children.  We are family, limb- siblings, fellow members of the body of Christ.

We’re saved not from each other but ourselves.  Praise God!  We are saved but not protected from those people on earth, who don’t talk like us, who speak in other tongues.  And if we can’t say this while professing to be in relationship with God, then we are not even close.

In search of Christian community: What happened to our life together?

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This is not what I had in mind.  When I became a Christian, I though that I joined a family, that we all loved each other.  Have you ever tried to get all the Christians in a room?  I thought we were a body.  But, not just any body– Christ’s.  Far from his truth, we talk as if reconciliation is the hardest part of the Christian life.  I beg to differ.

Death, dying to self, is the most difficult thing we will ever have to do.  Here are the instructions Jesus left for us: “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16.24).  Jesus says that if we are traveling with him, then the only thing we need is the means by which we will die.  “Pick up a cross and let’s get going.”

Because we have some dying to do.  There should be little grave markers along the way.  “Here lies pride.”  “Arrogance, 1970-2018.”  “Jealousy, never satisfied.”

Coming to terms with who we are is the real “come to Jesus meeting.”  Two enter, one leaves.  “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3.30).

Still, there doesn’t seem to be much room for Jesus or his cross.  Sunday services become pageants and the building is another money- making machine.  I can’t wave and smile while being crushed.  Tonight, I am questioning Christian community.  Surely, this is not what Jesus had in mind.  Christ did not die for our divisions.

While each ministry context is different, with its own interests and challenges, our goal as believers is to create authentic community, to emphasize our commonality in Christ. But, we do not create commonality around our cultural traditions, our socially constructed identities and affinity groups.  Instead, we create community around the body of Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.  No Christian community is more or less than this. … Christian community is only this.  We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.”

For Bonhoeffer, membership and belonging are found in Christ.  And there is no Christian community apart from him.  His body is what brings us together.  There are no cultural middle-persons, no priestly barterers that can provide or prevent passage into Christ’s presence.   While multicultural/ intercultural churches are not the norm, it should be expected that persons from all walks of life can and do walk through the doors of the church.  And if they don’t, why not?

I thought that we were a Christian community.  When did we stop going from house to house?  Why don’t we share all things in common?   What happened to our life together?