Eating Apple Pie

We cerebral, fairly quiet, self-contained types need community and avoid it. We need it socially to a smaller extent than most, but we need it spiritually more than most, because that's where our fissures are- in our willingness to stay in the mosh pit of relationship, to forgive, be forgiven, to learn not to have so many criteria about whom to love and who is allowed to love us. 

Our frayed, unraveled, threadbare humanity is repaired by long, repeated exposure to a community of faith. A Godly faith community is unlike other communities because it is not

  • based on age cohorts like school
  • selective- just show up or don't
  • rigid in its roster- people come and go
  • your family of origin or even of choice
  • a job.

A Godly faith community is

  • mysteriously convenened- no one is quite sure exactly why it works
  • an antidote to individualism
  • dynamic
  • respectful of diverse gifts
  • forgiving of one another's irksomeness
  • traditional- aware of the blessings and burdens of the past
  • able to offer hope.

Self-contained people ("introverts" but I'm not crazy about the term) sometimes want to figure out faith before plunging into a faith community. Read, study, have deep conversations with a few trusted friends... and then go to church and be disappointed in the sermon, the people, the coffee, the music, the parking lot.

Look: You won't find out what a Christian community is until you are part of one. You don't have to join or believe or act right. But you do have to show up, be willing to be disappointed, be willing to say yes when you can, be willing to risk.  If the people are awful or the theology stinks or the worship is not befitting of the Holy One, that's one thing. But try. There's a difference between reading about apple pie and eating apple pie. Taste and see. You won't love your faith community until you show up for it.


Prayer of My Heart: Gimme My Cat Back

Tiny Ting loves foil balls. Her brother Samuel carries on.

Tiny Ting (one of my cats) is missing. Please pray for her safe return.

I ask because the past few weeks, at an intensive course on Spiritual Direction, I learned more about something I preached about recently: being bold and honest in prayer. The classes I took and the people I met (Mennonite, Methodist, Brethren) emphasized an open prayer life. Also during class and spiritual direction, I saw that I felt guilty about praying for my cat to come back; it somehow seemed disloyal to those who suffer enormously and for whom prayer seems to do little or nothing. When there is blood on the floor in Orlando, how can I pray about a cat? Can I cry for her?

Some of the warmest well-wishes for my training came from non-Christian friends. This too teaches the mysterious workings of kindness in healing the world in large and small ways. These kindnesses heal the fissures in our humanity.

The prayer of my heart is this: God, give me my cat back. Now. Amen.

How the World Heals

Vietnam War Memorial by Jim Bowen, used under CC License 2.0

Vietnam War Memorial by Jim Bowen, used under CC License 2.0

Overheard at the haricut place: “I was there. I’m sorry for what we did, and I’m sorry my country abandoned you.”

I get my hair cut by Lan. She and two other Vietnamese women, Danielle and Rose, run the shop. Eleven dollars twenty-five cents for a haircut. Today a tall, strong white guy in his 60’s had Danielle cut his hair while Lan cut mine. The TV was off for once, so I overheard their conversation, or part of it. I didn’t hear Danielle’s response, but they went on to have a conversation about the geography of Vietnam and other places they had been. Lan’s English is so-so, and I wanted a different do this time, so that took some negotiating.

The veteran said, “I was there. I’m sorry for what we did, and I’m sorry my country abandoned you.”

It was all I could do to hold back tears while Lan was working. In the anamnesis (re-membering) of the moral calamity that links the US and Vietnam, the insanity of war, and the occupying Power of negation that lives in our souls, nothing but the dignity of acknowledgement could suffice. In the shared space of acknowledgement, Danielle and the veteran met eye-to-eye.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who founded a program of Buddhist social work during the devastation, says to American soldiers, “You were not the cause of the war. You were the finger on the trigger.” He listens to Vietnamese survivors and their children so they will not be alone in their suffering. When suffering is so massive and so insane, the healing of the world can begin only when survivors, perpetrators, and non-participants bear witness to the damage.

I talked with the veteran in the parking lot and told him that his acknowledgement was utterly decent. I told him about my own family’s lack of innocence: my father took us to Mexico to evade my brother’s being drafted. Dad fought World War II and Korea, and he could not bear the thought of his son doing the things that soldiers do. But that left the dirty work to others, and it disrupted our family irrevocably.

Oddly, feelings of both guilt and superiority typically dominate victims, survivors, perpetrators, and even non-participants. When we acknowledge sin, its effects on us as victims, survivors, and perpetrators (and any combination of these), we are set free from inflated and deflated selves. We start to experience conjoined (not opposing) justice and mercy, which is God’s own response to sin. This is how the world heals.


Time for an All-Purpose Blog

I've decided to start an all-purpose blog for sharing the love.

Today's thought

A Christian (or anyone, I think; I'm not qualified to speak of anyone else's prayer) cannot pray alone, for three reasons.

  1. You are in God's presence.
  2. The saints and the Church are praying with you and for you, always.
  3. Most importantly, prayer is an intra-Trinitarian act.  Jesus prays to the Maker of Heaven and Earth, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Because we are members of Christ, united to him in baptism, our prayers participate in Christ's prayer.

Contemplative prayer and meditation are sometimes accused of being solipsistic, but they actually undermine self-centeredness.  Even if we pray badly, God meets us in prayer and urges us away from obsession with the self.