by Jeff Skeens
Renewal takes a tribe, or in modern day terms, a community. Now this is another a loaded word! The first question that comes to mind when I hear the word community is, “What in the world do you mean when you say ‘community’?” Everyone has a different idea of what it is, and for every idea of what community is, there are hundreds of different ways that each idea could be lived out.
So I am not going to give my opinion of what community is supposed to look like; that task is impossible because of all the various contexts and cultures that exist. What I hope to do though, is to paint a mental ethos of community and lay a foundation of some of the earmarks of healthy communities
Jean Vanier, a Catholic philosopher turned theologian, in 1964 founded a community called L’Archein France. L’Arche communities are intentional places of living where those with intellectual disabilities are able to have a safe place to live and share life with others who have intellectual disabilities as well as those who do not.
A core ethos of L’Arche communities is for each community to display the “reality that persons with intellectual disabilities possess inherent qualities of welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship.” They desire to explicitly display “the dignity of every human being by building inclusive communities of faith and friendship where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.” (see http://www.larcheusa.org/)
So as to not reinvent the wheel, I want to use the inherent qualities of L’Arche values as a means to lay a foundation or a framework for healthy communities, which I believe is a vital element of church renewal.
Welcome: an instance or manner of greeting someone with pleasure and approval.
Greeting someone with love and warmth is an acquired gift, especially when we’re greeting someone who is radically different than we are, and possibly offensive in the way they live. Community takes a welcoming spirit, or maybe as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, a spirit of hospitality. I was a Young Life leader for over a decade, and I have been associated with Young Life at an intimate level since 1994.
Young Life leaders (at least in my area in Phoenix) are some of the best “welcomers” I know. The spirit that Young Life exudes to kids in jr. and sr. high is one that is opposite of our everyday culture. Mainstream culture (Christian and non-Christian) typically says, “You can belong to our group once you behave a certain way and believe what we believe.” Young Life flips that cultural script and says, “You belong with us regardless of your behavior and beliefs.” This is risky business, but I believe it’s the right kind of business to be about.
For community to work and be healthy, it must start with a welcoming spirit that says, “You belong here, even though there are big differences between us.” Belonging precedes behavior and belief. This world view is at the heart of community.
Wonderment: a state of awed admiration or respect.
In the Christian, Judaic, and Sufi Islam world views, all humans have inherent value and worth because of the belief that we are all created in God’s image, which was later coined in it’s Latin form as the “Imago Dei.” If this doctrine were to be properly understood and fully believed, self-righteousness, biases, judgements, and racism would eventually fade away, and we will begin celebrating the beauty of our differences, rather than fighting about them.
Being thrilled about the gifts we bring to one another and respecting and valuing the differences of ourselves and other people is an essential element of healthy community. It is easy for us to be in a state of judgement and criticalness of each other, but to begin to be awed and amazed at the uniqueness and diversity of humanity is a part of every thriving community.
Wonderment ought to follow welcoming, yet this is a virtue that is mostly only attained after the church is caught up into the heavenly dimensions of the eucharistic life, which is the regaining of the mystery and the divine nature of the Lord’s table, and learning to see all of life as a liturgy of worship to God.
Spirituality: matters concerning the human soul (heart, mind).
To respect and admire someone and not care about the deeper parts of their heart and mind (the soul), are to not fully love and respect someone. As much as we can talk about being a community of welcoming and wonderment, we must not neglect being a community who cares for souls. With that said, welcoming people and finding wonder in our diversity is not an invitation to turn a blind eye to unhealthy living and destructive behavior. Much abuse is birthed inside the middle of tight knit communities, as the desire of a euphoric community becomes more important than individual human dignity.
In caring for the spirituality of a person and a community, we will be able to explore the deep parts of our hearts and minds and be changed in the midst of a welcoming community of wonder. It is in this context where behaviors are not coerced to get in proper formation, but challenged to promote peace and welfare for the individual and the whole. Caring for someone’s healing (body and soul) begins to be a natural corrective part of healthy communities, which will be able to offer space to those who need it. This type of community will respect boundaries, honors bodies and souls, and have self-respect and sincerity towards others.
Healthy communities labor towards minds being renewed, which leads to destructive habits and thoughts being challenged in love, and proper accountability that seeks the welfare of individual bodies and souls, as well as the corporate body. This might be the hardest value to embody in community, but we must labor towards this end, as spiritual realities always affect material realities.
As one is continually drawn into the presence of God on earth, it is clear to see that there is a spirit at work in this world other than the Spirit of God. It is a dark spirit that seeks to destroy body and soul (individually and communally). It hates diversity and destroys all creativity in community. It is a perverted spirit that seeks to twist and distort love, and it only has the the power to usurp, not to build up. This must be recognized in the spirit realm and addressed in community as the spirituality of individuals and the community is shaped.
Friendship: a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people.
There are many forms of friendship that we could talk about, but at the most basic level, I take friendship to be a place where relationships are rooted, meaning, they do not run away after conflict and disappointments ensue. In our culture, where cars can take us far away from our neighborhoods and friendships, we have lost the sense of being rooted, and “sticking it out” with friends when trials come has not been a popular communal value among many believers.
In the local church context, it is easy with the advent of cars to find a new church community when friends and leaders stop giving us what we want, or stop serving our needs, seen only through the lens of what’s best for me. Friendship inside neighborhoods and communities seem to be difficult as well, since walking to stores and appointments isn’t part of our everyday culture. We get into our hollow metal shells and drive past neighbors daily, and most of our friends live a cars drive away.
A lack of rootedness in a particular place has made many friendships a shallow, social media type friendship that can cut you off if you offend, rather than a friendship that stays when things blow up. Friendship in healthy communities ought to include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, selflessness, mutual submission, compassion, confrontation, and the ability to royally “blow it” without losing the friendship. Friendships give, receive, and protect.
A lack of friendship may just kill community. When we love the idea of community more than we love people and desire true friendship, community will not thrive. Many seek community because of the good feeling they have in the beginning and the comforts than can be experienced. But for those who love the idea of community more than people, they will quickly run from community when the aura or people within the community stop offering what was desired. Love people more than your idea of community.
I believe church renewal depends on healthy expressions of communities in particular places and neighborhoods. I believe church renewal is dependent on new forms of community rising up being called “the church”. I believe church renewal will birth many forms of organic communities that embody the L’Arche values of community, that break bread together, regularly meet and gather and care for each other’s bodies and souls, and are a place of intimacy within the eucharistic life.
This is how fabrics of care can be created inside blighted hoods or disconnected suburbs, as neighbors form communities to band together to care for one another and for the needs of the under-served. Renewal happens holistically and organically, and until people know that there is a community to belong to, programs and organizations will not be able to have a sustainable impact.
I believe many Christ followers today are experiencing a “disorienting” call to step out of their current church expression and into something much more authentic and mysterious. And within this disorienting call, many of us struggle because we know of no other way to “do” or “be” church besides the modern, institutional approach. In addition, new believers are not embracing the formal way of “doing” church because in many ways it conflicts with their values, and they too are being called into something much more authentic and mysterious. I believe that new expressions of these types of ancient communities will lead the way in church renewal in the 21st century, as families, homes, businesses, and cities of those desiring to regain the life of the kingdom are transformed, and organic expressions of church communities become more of a norm.
I’m thankful for communities such as L’Arche, and leaders such as Jean Vanier, who have humbly and lovingly stepped out of the norm and allowed new forms of community to critique our old forms, and energize us to regain a new/old and prophetic way to live together.
by Ryan Thurman
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants
Remember those leading you, who spoke the word of God to you, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
It takes no special talent to look around and point out things that are numbing and depressing. But becoming keenly and consistently aware of what’s good, true, and beautiful requires we be intentional: we must open our eyes, minds, and hearts, and keep them open.
One way to do this is to recognize and reflect on the people who have marked our lives. I have been thinking about this lately and want to write around this theme. It is a way for me to follow God’s instruction to be a 'remembering' people, who remember God’s work of grace throughout history and in our own lives. This is also a way for me to publicly honor those God has placed in my life.
We live in a time where it is hard to maintain healthy relationships in our lives, from our own family, to our friends. We have been disappointed often by those closest to us and we are aware that we too have failed those we love most. But here is the mystery; although we are weak and frail God chooses to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God to others.
We also are formed from a very early age by a message, that says we need to be independent and self-sufficient. As Frank Sinatra so famously sang, "I made it my way." But I think this is wrong. The Biblical example is that we are to follow and learn by imitation from those who walk with Jesus in an intimate way. We need these spiritual mothers and fathers who can love us and point us to Jesus and allow us to walk with them as they walk with Jesus.
Father Peter Hocken is one of those people in my life. I have gotten to know him over the past few years as we have been part of the Wittenberg 2017 initiative together. At first I was enamored with him as a gifted teacher, and then this grew into deep respect as I watched him interact with others so genuinely and humbly. This past June while we were in Wittenberg, Germany together we moved into friendship as we had different opportunities to sit together and share a meal. One of the last evenings I was able to spend one on one time with him. We walked through the old town and stopped at a cafe and he bought me a Heineken. As we sat together enjoying our beers I was able to ask him many questions about his life. It was one of those events that are sealed into my memory as a transformative moment. Father Peter, at age 85 continues to pour out his life as an offering and a testimony to the love and power of Jesus.
Who have been the people in your life that have helped shape who you are today?
Who are the people in your life whom God might be leading you to pursue and invest in. And who knows, one day may write about the importance of your investment in their life?
Fr Peter Hocken writes about his teaching ministry
In the mid-1990s the Lord gave me a new understanding of the centrality of the second coming of Jesus in the biblical revelation, that His coming in glory is what everything else is preparing for, along with the place of Israel and the Jewish people in the Father’s plan from before creation. I saw that everything the Holy Spirit is doing is preparing for this wonderful consummation. My earlier teaching had focused on the renewal of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council and on the importance of Christian unity in this renewal. The new light on Israel and the second coming gave a fuller context to that teaching based on a more complete biblical vision. The Lord raises up His Coming in glory and that sheds new light on everything else. Some people have told me I give a “big picture” teaching.
Only in the last three years have I had a website making these teachings of recent years available: www.peterhocken.org
Some of the main areas of this teaching are:
by Ryan Thurman
Yesterday, during the Ash Wednesday service in the Anglican church here in Gozo, we were all surprised, including the priest, to find out that the Catholic Bishop of Gozo had written a letter to us, and sent his secretary to read it on his behalf. In this letter the Bishop shared with us that during this season of Lent he was calling on all the Catholic churches in Gozo to take up a special Lenten offering that would go to the Anglican church to help with the very costly and necessary renovations of St. Paul's Church in Valletta where the Anglican church has been worshipping for 175 years. Can you imagine this? How did this happen when Catholics and Anglicans have such a painful past, each having deeply wronged the other and both historically viewing the other “with suspicion and hostility,”
Why did the Bishop of Gozo make this gesture? Here are a few thoughts:
1) Jesus prayed to the Father that Christians would be one in him and the Father is answering this prayer. (John 17)
2) There is a rising tide of Christians from all traditions whose passion is to offer themselves to see this prayer of Jesus become a growing reality in our day.
3) The Holy Spirit is breaking down barriers and opening up unimaginable possibilities.
4) This Bishop is simply following the example of Pope Francis.
Earlier in the week Pope Francis continued his journey of firsts. He became the first Roman pontiff to set foot in an Anglican parish inside his own Diocese of Rome. He spoke to a crowd of both Catholic and Anglican faithful affirming that things are changing and today Catholics and Anglicans recognize one another as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ, through our common baptism.
He exhorted Christians everywhere to follow the example of Paul, who “did not give up in the face of divisions, but devoted himself to reconciliation.” In Corinth, while helping the communities work through division he encountered deep tensions in their relationship, “these did not have the final word,” Francis said, explaining that the two communities eventually reconciled, and the Christians in Corinth eventually helped Paul in his ministry to the poor and needy.
I believe as Christians from different traditions learn to walk together as brothers and sisters in Christ, building friendships of trust and empowered by the Holy Spirit, follow the example of Jesus by humbly serving one another and serving together those in need the merciful face of Jesus will be made visible in our cities and the world will believe that the Father sent Jesus
I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind--
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are--
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
-John 17:20-23 The Message