Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday Afternoon Reflections

Lynné and I (Youssef) are planning Thanksgiving to be a triplex-oriented event. I cannot remember who extended the invitation, the tenants or landlords, but I know that whoever received it embraced it. We will cook turkey together, play Monopoly together, and perhaps the following day observe the shopping madness together. What fascinates me is how communal the idea is. It might not observe some of the traditional boundaries--family first, 'over the river and through the woods'-- but it at the same time institutes something that might not have existed prior. Heart and hearth.

Now, I'm observing a church that may be having growing pains. (I say "may" because I don't know since I'm not a veteran member.) The inspiring talk referred to the command to love thy neighbor, and how "forbearance is not love - although forbearance comes from God's mercy." The struggle in the church comes from the implimentation of the idea that you don't want to simply be spiritual on Sunday. The idea includes such things as "We must remain believers in every aspect of our lives. It is in this way that the light within us draws non-believers to us." Include in that, too, the line "I preach the gospel all day long--and I only sometimes use words."

Here are my thoughts, synthesized from the two events outlined above.
- I can believe we are called to be Christians in all areas of our lives. It would be very difficult to convince me otherwise.

- Christians realize their faith through worship, fellowship, and discipleship with other believers. Even Bonhoffer, who described in "Living Together" the non-essentiality of Christian fellowship, recognized the luxury and the benefits of Christians being a part of a church. The Church, I am asserting, is an essential part of the Christian's life. Not only do we share in Christ's light burden, we are part of Christ's body.

- There is a paradoxical trend happening in my present days. The first half is towards distancing. Reference urban sprawl, reference children leaving their homes at 17 or 16 to live with roommates, reference the unknown impetus behind American children to disassociate themselves from their families as quickly as possible. The second half is towards connectivity. Cellphones, transit systems, the perseverance of the automobile (despite its fuel costs), and the believe in a "smaller world" all contribute towards that sense of connectivity. Now, I believe these two "movements," if I can use that term loosely to describe something without plans, I believe these two movements happen in conjunction. They are related in the same way that a dog-on-a-leash's distance from its grounding peg is related to the tautness of the rope.

- If we are called to be Christians in all areas of our lives, and being a Christian entails being a church-member, then we are called to be churchmembers in all areas of our lives. That sentence sounds a little silly, (and I wrote it hopefully so that I avoid the logical fallacy of "post hoc proctor hoc.") but I'm thinking about all of the things that come with being a churchmember: the doctrinal statements (I kinda have to say that), the most recent Biblical assertions (that is an observation, not an experience of mine), even the Church's identity... "We meet in a house." "We have an excellent worship team." "I sign for our congregation." "Our church is upgrading buildings." "We're orchestrating a ban of Harry Potter books." These are some base examples.

- The commandment of "Love thy neighbor" has not been interpreted to mean exclusively non-believers, last I heard. "Thy neighbor" could be sitting in the pew next to you, not just the guy who lives beside you. Yet we are called to love both of them, showing them the deepest kinds of love: "that which gives its life for his friend."

- I am leading to a point. Just let me get there...

- The paradoxical trend I outlined above has the effect of superficializing and compartmentalizing relationships. Both of those "-izings" are contradictory to the Christian ideas I outlined earlier: That Christian-hood should spread to all areas of one's life and that loving one's neighbor means giving one's life to save one's friend. Let me say that again, but in a different way. Superficializing a relationship is opposed to developing a love for a friend, a friend whom you would die to save. Compartmentalizing your relationships contradicts the Holy Spirit's goal of spreading the yeast of the gospel through one's life.

- Knowing two things about one's velocity (a: that you are heading south, b: that you are wanting to go north) should inspire some form of action, like turning around.

- We can conceive of opposites to the two sides of the paradoxical trend. First, a culture could exist that teaches the necessity of other community members. That culture would believe that one's youth and one's assent and one's age need not be spent in different places. The other opposite is that a culture could exist that believes in face-to-face communication. This culture could believe that men grow together when they participate together... as iron sharpens iron, one might say.

- I've tipped my hand with that last phrase. The cultures I described are one and the same as the Christian culture. Not just the apparent Christian sub-culture we have. I've described the Christian culture that we read about in the letters of Paul and Peter and that we envision when we say we want to go to church.

- ... oh, I'm tired of the bullet points. I believed at one point that the bullet points would help people organize my words as they read them. Maybe that's so, but I'm so sick and tired of having to mince my words so that the average reader could pick apart and understand my ideas. No more, I write. Here, at this point, my form has broken down because I am tired. I will nap soon.

We should choose to live near our church and its congregation. If we Christians truly want to attract people's interest in what has changed our lives, then we should try to live our lives together, allowing the open invitation. What I believe we will find by creating a spatial community of believers is that people will be drawn simply by virtue of the "in-crowd" principle. Imagine that snotty group in high school, the cool people, who would not let you in.. but you so badly wanted in. What if that group had been excited about letting you in, showed you the secrets to their happiness and success? The key of deep relationships lies in the Trinity, says John Eldridge in Wild at Heart. The Trinity wanted man to join its perfect harmony, not because something was missing, but because perfect harmony welcomes and desires others to join its peace.

I conclude this unpolished post with my poorly paraphrased bit of Scripture. Jesus came so that we could live a more abundant life.


stephen said...

I'll ruminate on your post (a.k.a. go to bed). Maybe I'm just tired, but your post brought to mind a recent post by my Sunday school teacher at PCPC (I officially became a Presbyterian today, by the way). I'm not sure why, though. Perhaps I'll awaken with some insight as to why it came to mind.

Forrest said...

The call of community...does the longing for such stem from the trends of "Superficializing" and "Compartmentalizing" that are common in our culture.
One good thing the globalazition has brought for me is the realization that the orphans from AIDs in Africa and the millions of others struggling from the effects of man's sin are my neighbors.

Youssef Sleiman said...

Oooh, you bring up a good point, Forrest...
One thing I'd neglected to add to the post was the "spreading oneself too thin" thing... We can send money to the AIDS orphans, but we cannot fix their cars for them. We can donate a toy to a children's hospital, but we cannot give them baked cookies (at least I don't think the hospital staff will let us.)
While donating money and toys is something I believe we all should do (and I have done only so little of it), I wonder if we're neglecting the local friend. How can I donate $100 dollars to my grandmother's charity and not offer to help a buddy buy dinner out?
There are those charitable acts that really require more than 5 minutes from us--and I imagine living closer to those people we are part of would make it easier to do them--and share in the joy of donating more to the people who are further away.

... again, I feel like, instead of elucidating my thoughts, I have belched them out. ... I need to practice writing some more.

Daniel and Natalie said...

If my 2 bits is worth anything... LIVING... In the Spirit, in constant prayer, by faith, with eyes fixed upon our Savior is the only way, I believe, that one may quantilize all of the problems we find with extremism. By extremism I mean swinging one way or the other past the balance that we as Christians are supposed to have. The bible is full of balances but then their is the balance of lukewarmness which is not balance at all but a conscious choice to be indifferent. A result of this is spewing! Disgusting ? Yes! But so is our indifference to our Lord. Their is one way to live and that is not to be cold or hot, legalistic or grace abusing, a balance that comes only from WALKING IN THE SPIRIT, daily, hourly, yes even every second. Can we do this on our own? No, if we did we would never sin. The goal should not, I believe, be to live a sinless life but to live our life fully for Jesus Christ. A result of this type of life is JOY from being a willing tool in the hand of our Savior, used for what we were created for. How could we not be a good witness to the unbelievers around us if this were the case? How could they have any excuse if we honored our Father in this way? (they don't have an excuse anyway Rom 1:20
For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse:
All this said: Focus on living not on doing. With the living the doing will come naturally along with many other blessings. Not that I am great at this, but it's my goal.

One last thing. Identifying with Christ and not necessarily the "church" is what we ought to be doing. Being a christian does not necessitate being a "church member". Maybe I'm just reacting to that because their are so many especially in the united states who see themselves as christians because they belong to a church (likend to being part of an exclusive club) Being a Christian means that you are part of the Body of Christ (worldwide body) not a club with divisions and doctrinal statements. I have to base what I believe upon the Word of God and compare everything I hear with that not just say I believe that because it's what my church believes.
Controversial?... maybe, what do ya'll think?

Daniel and Natalie said...

I should also add that we should be hot in our christian walks, but I used the hot and cold as an example of two extremes. How do we stay Hot while not abusing Grace or living under the bondage of the law?

Youssef Sleiman said...

Dangerous statement: Christian's are supposed to be balanced? Sounds humanistic to me.