Month: July 2015

Christian Community Is A Christian Thing

Years ago, at a time when I still had many acquaintances but few real friends, I had one very, very dear friend. She did her best to comfort me when I discovered my parents were, in fact, dead. She helped me understand the responsibility my therapist had towards me and I towards him. And, to celebrate my birthday, she even made frozen dinner (it was better she not attempt real cookery) and gave me the kind of toy I was never allowed to play with when I was a child. Once, she even saved my life.

But she wasn’t a friend I could keep and I knew it. Whenever I was discouraged about finding my family, worried about work, or indecisive about whether I should go to an audition, she’d offer to “do a reading” for me. I understood that she was offering me the best she had. And perhaps God had given her gifts of prophesy. But she saw the gifts she might have as hers to control. She believed she should peer into the future so that she and others might have an easier time traversing life.

Whenever she offered to “do a reading” for me, I’d demur. I didn’t want to hurt my friend but I knew divination to be, at the very least, an attempt to circumnavigate the limitations God has placed on us. He has given us this moment and asks us to trust Him. He has not given us permission to map the suffering and good things in the future and then plot an optimal course through. As time passed, I became more and more uncomfortable with my friend’s activities. Though she was wonderful, our ability to be in community was hindered because we walked very different paths. We couldn’t accompany one another because we didn’t share a common goal. Ultimately, I ended our friendship.

Christian community is a Christian thing because of the common goal we share: Christians are striving to follow and become like Christ and to get to heaven. We regularly fall and are oft times reduced to crawling yet as we travel together, one of the most important things we do is encourage one another. Just as CPT Sarah Cudd’s received support to cross the finish line and earn her EFMB in the video below, Christians support each other as we follow Christ. In fact, no matter how much we disagree, we can’t be Christians without each other. We are indispensable to one another.

Years ago, when my life felt like one overwhelming disappointment, I needed people who would remind me that God loved me and that I could trust Him even if my dreams of finding my family never came true. Invitations to peer into the future were a temptation that made living in the moment more excruciating. When all I longed to do was read the last page of the book and make sure it held the happy ending I envisioned, I needed to be reminded that God was calling me to crawl and trust. No matter how wonderful my friend was she couldn’t help me do that because paging ahead in the midst of suspense is the exact opposite of trust.

As long as non-Christians aren’t hindering our faith, they certainly ought to be our friends. We ought to invite non-Christians to participate in most community activities. And we must do so without an agenda. We must not invite people because we plan to convert them. Through loving friendship, we show Christ to those who don’t know Him. When friends ask questions, we must be honest and trust God will use us as He sees fit in their conversions.

Still, there will be times when following Christ will require relinquishing friendships with some non-Christians, often because of our own weakness. We are not to be unequally yoked and that can include friendships too. When following Christ takes us away from some relationships, we need to remember that He will bring us together in Christian community, in His Church. He will prepare us to present His Gospel to a world that is not starving for knowledge of what tomorrow may bring but for His love today.

Christian Community – Not Just A Catholic Thing

And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.'” (Luke 5:18-20)

Jan luyken's paralytic lowered by frinedsWere I limited to one depiction of Christian community, I’d choose the healing of the paralytic in the fifth chapter of Luke. Jesus sees not just the faith of the paralytic but their faith, the faith of the paralytic’s friends. They work to gain their friend’s healing. When the way is blocked they create a path. Mere building materials can’t interfere with their love. These friends are filled with solid faith which the paralytic needs to reach the One who has the power to heal.

I have not always experienced Christian community in the Catholic Church. Obviously, I believe Catholicism is true or I wouldn’t be Catholic. But Catholicism is as filled with selfish individuals as any other place where humans gather. (Too often, I’m one of them.) It’s so easy to become involved in the forms and forget the people. It’s so easy to write a cheque each week and contribute to parish charities but never get to know the other people in the pew. It’s so easy to be concerned with myself to the exclusion of others. The “Sign of Peace” during Mass can be the only expression of Christian community many Catholics experience.

Fortunately, some Catholics take Christian community seriously. They reach out to others, befriend them, and don’t give up until they have helped their friends reach the One who heals. And fortunately many Christians do the same in many, many churches throughout the world. Their arms are open, ready to embrace others. They carry each others’ burdens — carry each other, when necessary. They don’t give up even when the way is blocked.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

This is how the community of believers in Jesus Christ love one another, by daring to get our hands dirty in each others’ lives, by sacrificing for one another. When we are as concerned with our neighbour who sits next to us in church as we are with our own lives, we live the great commission to love one another. That is Christian community. It’s not an either/or proposition — the people and concerns in our lives matter. It’s a both/and experience, making space in our hearts and lives for one more person. Sometimes the tiles we must peel away are not on another person’s roof but in our attitudes and hearts. But because we are heirs through hope of Jesus Christ, every Christian has the ability to peel away those tiles with help from our friends and through the healing power of Christ, and love as Christ loves us.

Heart Of Stone

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.(Ezekiel 36:26)

I wish I could say my heart of stone came solely as a result of what happened to me. Certainly much has happened to me. The constant onslaught of death and abandonment and loss and assault and rape and neglect and isolation and illness were crushing. But I have a fighter’s spirit. I fought back with every talent God gave me. And I fought so well I began to delight in fighting not only to protect myself but sometimes to get back at those who hurt me. I’m not one who seeks simply to take the stick from an attacker. I want to ensure that the attacker will never harm anyone ever again. God has often held me back. Had He not, I would have produced much mayhem.

The vicious onslaught also left me fearing people. There were times when I lied or simply ended contact because I couldn’t be what I thought others expected me to be: because I didn’t have enough money to do all the things someone expected or couldn’t change my faith to please another person or couldn’t continue to expose myself to actions that scandalized me and sent me spinning into flashbacks and phantasms from my past, a past almost none of my friends knew about because I didn’t trust them. Being unable to trust coats the heart with layers of stone.

My pride added additional layers of rock. I knew what I needed and how I needed it. I even set the delivery schedule. Usually, the due date was right now. A dear friend used to tell the attorneys with whom he worked, “You can have it right or you can have it now but you can’t have it right now.” I demanded I be healed right and right now. After all, God can do anything. But He didn’t follow my scripts or my instructions. It baffled me.

heart of stone (1)Fortunately when I was lost God found me and has remained with me. So when I was old enough to hand Him my scripts I was also experienced enough to know that even though God wasn’t following my prescribed plan, I needed to stay with Him. Where else would I go? Chaos is the alternative to God. I knew chaos better than many. I’d lived in the midst of it for eleven years and could not go back. So I continued on but my heart of stone was a heavy ache within my chest.

It felt anger, desire, rage, pride, need, attraction, hunger, pain, and so much more. The dark feelings rumbled around, became fodder for ruminations that piled on more stone. Sometimes happiness touched the edges of my heart but it couldn’t nestle in and make a home. I loved with everything I had but love was always the gift of the moment. It wasn’t the constant I needed because no one really loved me. Most never tried. Those who did never knew me; I could not share my secrets with them. How can there be love without knowledge?

And all the while, God carried me as I kept revising those scripts and waving them before His face. Eventually, He pried the pages from my hands. Ill, frightened, alone, I moved in with a “friend” who told me that if I was really sick I must go because she wouldn’t care for me. Her words triggered my stubbornness and I pushed myself through demanding work while doctors unraveled the illness I suffered. At the same time, I had returned to the Catholic Church and found it different than when I left. People invited me into their lives, invited themselves into mine. Community surrounded me and gently but persistently pulled me in.

One day I awoke in hospital after undergoing major surgery. The smiling face of the woman who had voluntold* my home for a New Year’s Eve party three months before greeted me. Over the next few days, people I barely knew visited. Usually there was no one. And through more treatments and surgeries they continued to come. When I needed to be collected from hospital after an emergency, I was afraid they wouldn’t release me because I had no escort. The woman who voluntold my apartment had told me to call if I needed her. I risked rejection and called. Her bright voice assured me she would be there.

I wanted God to say the black and do the red. He was to just follow my instructions and all would be well. How God must have laughed at me. He knew I could have healing right or I could have it now but I couldn’t have it right now. And I couldn’t have it my way not because God sought to thwart me but because my way wouldn’t work. I needed the gentle sledge hammer of Christian community. It’s been at work on my heart of stone nearly as long as the entire time I spent with the minister and his family. My heart isn’t fully flesh yet and I don’t know when it will be. I do know I can feel it beating at this very moment. Happiness now has an abode in my heart. Others know and love me. I am the luckiest girl in the world because fortunately when I was lost God found me. He never wants me or anyone else to have a heart of stone. His heart was pierced and an ocean of mercy poured out so that our hearts might be made flesh.

* Voluntold is an accurate contraction of volunteer + told

Hope – Five Minute Friday

When everything falls apart,
Your arms hold me together.
When everything falls apart,
You’re the only hope for this heart.
When everything falls apart and my strength is gone,
I find You mighty and strong.
You keep holding on.
You keep holding on. (Fee, Everything Falls)

Beloved,

It’s amazing to me that You kept hope alive in me for so long. You fought despair in me. Part of me wants to ask, ‘How?’ Part of me want to cry. Part of me wants to go down on my knees and simply remain mute in silent joy and gratitude. Retrospect reveals just how desperate I was and how mighty You are.

So many have asked me, ‘Why don’t we see miracles like the ones in the Bible?’ We do. We just don’t know where or how to look for them. We want healing on our terms. Jesus healed the actual wounds and sickness in body and soul; we don’t much want the soul part, not when it requires huge changes. So why should we expect to see miracles when we’ve already decided what healing will look like. Control is just another form of despair: if it’s not healed my way no healing is possible. We refuse to admit that we are desperate for we know not what, that we are pleading with neither words nor understanding and can only say, ‘I hurt.’

hope (1)But hope is reason to hope. I had no reason to expect that things would get worse and worse. In fact, they did. But You kept me hoping, You kept me fighting. You kept some spark alive in me, didn’t allow me to give up. You kept me reaching for the miracle and that very reaching was a continuing miracle. A spiritual director used to tell me that sometimes it’s better to hope than to receive. When hope keeps us alive, keeps us fighting until we are humble enough to be healed, hope is the very best thing there is.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

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