Tag Archives: Christian community

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).

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?

The doors of the church are open

“The doors of the church are open.”  This reminder needs to scroll below news reports of border walls constructed to protect against the “alien invasion” of our neighbor.  Because there are no illegal human beings, no one smuggled from the mind of God to earth and  our humanity requires no paperwork.  Because “the earth is the Lord’s”—not America’s (Psalm 24.1).

“The doors of the church are open.”  This is the invitation that Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and others must be given when the hurricane leaves and “the storms of life keep raging,” when there is no clean water or electricity weeks after and the current president gives himself a ten out of ten on recovery efforts.  But, this is not a beauty pageant and incompetence is not attractive.

“The doors of the church are open.”  This is the good news that needs to break in, that needs to interrupt our regularly scheduled animosities and divisions, our prejudices that parade as nationalistic pride, our competing expressions of patriotism.

“The doors of the church are open”—not for business but to be a blessing.  Because the Church does not offer paid programming, weekly infomercials for the kingdom of heaven: “Get your manna today!”  Because despite our proclamations, God is not privately owned by one culture, country or continent.  The kingdom of God is not for sale or on a ballot, for that matter.

“The doors of the church are open.”  But, is anyone home?  Who is answering for the church in North America?  This is the question being asked of many persons who stand outside of its doors.  Seeking a buffer from the social ills of our society, a counter- narrative and alternative community, who will answer their appeal?

While the world seems to be collapsing in on itself and every day we pick up pieces of a fallen sky, “the doors of the church are open.”  And people don’t need to run into another wall or be told how good we are or what we are proud of or offered the latest God gimmick.  They want to know if anyone is home, if God is home.  Can you be of service?  Amen.

 

Segregated Sundays: Questioning Community

Image result for community“Community life is martyrdom by fire: it means the daily sacrifice of all of our strength and all our rights, all the claims we commonly make on life and assume to be justified.  In the symbol of fire, the individual logs burn away so that, united, its glowing flames send out warmth and light and again in to the land.”

| Eberhard Arnold

“One reason why Christ’s followers did not remain organically bound together, as at Pentecost, is that they wanted to draw into too many foreign elements.  The members wanted to convert the whole world before they themselves were fully converted.”

| Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

Some say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  But,  I would beg to differ when it comes to Internet searches of the word community.  I was shown stock photos, clip art and logos.  According to Google, community is staged, simple or a symbol used to identify an organization.  I’ve given the entire collection nine words.

Sure, there were pictures of persons holding hands across cultures.  Cue a rendition of “Kumbuya” and in cases of social injustice, “We shall overcome.”  We know what community, that is togetherness, should look like and the songs most appropriate for such a commitment.  We know where we should stand but only after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated.  We tell ourselves that we would have marched with Dr. King.  We tell others that our parents did.  Both are lies.

But, this is not totally our fault because we have had too few examples, models of inclusive community that do not seek to overpower and take, compare, critique, challenge and then change persons not made in our image.  So often, we cross cultures only to bring them to our side.  The life of Jesus and the church that followed after is talked about as the good ol’ days while we pray, “Your kingdom come.”  The power of Pentecost is bottled up and sold by televangelists, sold for five monthly installments of $19.99 plus shipping and handling. The countercultural and prophetic witness of the early church that shared all things in common is reduced to a fellowship hour of cookies and coffee (cf. Acts 2.44; 4.32).

Though we have Christ’s message and example, we still find it difficult to repeat after him and to follow in his footsteps on a daily basis.  Instead, we have reduced discipleship to one hour increments on Sunday mornings.  We take up our cross and leave it stuck between the pages of our hymnal or pew Bible.  We come to church to do Christian things and then leave to return to “the real world.”

And the church is not a Christian hideout.  It is not a place where we go to be a Christian.  Because Christianity is not practiced in a building– but in our bodies.  Our faith must be embodied, expressed and experienced by others.

Somehow discipleship is viewed as disconnected from reality and our daily life.  The warning has been heeded as we can be “so heavenly- minded that we are no earthly good.”  But, could the warning be reversed now?  There seems to be no need to take the sermon home with us.  Surely, there will be no follow up call to ensure that we followed through and there’s no official homework assignments after Sunday School.

But, what do we do with Jesus after church?  Because we can’t just leave him in the sanctuary.  What is he supposed to do all week inside the building?  No, he should go home with us.  He doesn’t require much and needs no sold out crowd.  He’ll show up for two or three people (Matthew 18.20).  He is content to spend time with us around the dinner table.

I mean, what kind of Christians would we be if we didn’t invite Jesus over for dinner or better still, ask him to move in with us and to share in our lives?  How do we separate our lives from our love for him?  He’s family.  And so are the people that we share a pew with.  How do we go home after church on Sunday and have no desire to see them during the week?  How do Christians have church friends?  We don’t.  We are a church family.

How do we say that we love God while secretly hating and consciously hiding from the persons who don’t share our cultural heritage after Sunday morning worship (cf. First John 4.20)?  Because it is not enough to sit next to each other for an hour.  Instead, we will need more time if we are to share in life eternal.  So, I want to see some photos of us sharing a meal together, walking our dogs or exercising together, celebrating new life and mourning the death of loved ones together, shopping and planning family vacations together.

Because what kind of community is being practiced in segregated churches?  And how would we describe these images to God?  Google does not have great pictures of community and sadly, neither does the Church.

 

Bodywork

In 1939, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.  Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual and not a psychic reality.  In this, it differs absolutely from all other communities.”

Reduced to coffee hour, often our fellowship takes place only in this hall.  Community, Ruth Haley Barton writes, is “the most ‘overpromised and underdelivered’ aspect of the church today.” We grab a quick bite to eat and offer a quick, “Hello” before rushing off.  We prioritize meetings over meeting people.  Never looking up from our plates, our important papers, our phones, our eyes never meet.  We remain more connected to our appetites, agendas and Apps.  Connection without community is the reality of many– not just in our world but sadly, in our churches.

Many of us are pew participants, members of a building—not the body of Christ.  Because we cannot be a body on Sunday mornings alone.  Our communion does not stop at the table.  We can’t be the body of Christ and have “church friends.”  No, we are related now, siblings of Christ’s cross.  The Christian life is not fidelity to a day of the week but the day of the Lord.

Community is easier preached than practiced.  But, Bonhoeffer reminds us that it is not a promise that we should make and truer still, it is not a promise that we can keep.  We cannot hold ourselves together.  Only the hands of Christ are able.  That’s how Christ’s body works.  Amen.