- More balanced in my life when it comes to what I will call Spiritual Contemplation. Pete Scazzero has helped me with this recently. I am particularly excited to explore ways in which I can build a rhythm of life that incorporates a balance of work, rest, community and contemplation.
- More given to a model of shared life within the community of faith.
- Living into a team model of leadership across the BridgePoint community in order to encourage and stimulate us towards more effective ministry and mission.
- More free within myself, especially in the areas of my emotions by building upon what we have been discovering over the last couple of years
- A better friend to the people in my life by doing all I can to develop more intimate relationships (Intimacy in the sense of "deep mutual knowing for the purpose of expressing care")
- More attentive to things that will help develop me mentally (reading, conversation, blogging/diary) and physically (diet, exercise, rest) as well as spiritually (above)
- Becoming more focused upon the things I feel I do well and through which I can make the greatest contribution. One such area would be that of providing more deliberate Spiritual Direction for those who seek it.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
He identifies four New Testament family values that can help serve us as a roadmap as we seek to navigate the choppy waters of Christian community (please excuse 'my' mixed metaphors!);
(i) We share our stuff with one another - most basic to Christian brotherhood is the sharing of material resources. Such a lesson in simplification is a significant challenge to our individualism and materialism,
(ii) We share our hearts with one another - this is what psychologist refer to as 'affective solidarity'. Are we seeking to develop both emotional health and emotional attachment, the affective sense of closeness and intimacy that the Holy Spirit helps to weave into our lives as we spend time together. Can we be real without fear?
(iii) We stay, embrace the pain, and grow up with one another - he quotes from George Barna's summary of the typical attitudes of Christians in America today towards the 'local church';
(a) 'we' prefer a variety of church experiences, rather than getting the most out of all that a single community has to offer
(b) 'we' think that spiritual enlightenment comes from diligence in a discovery process, rather than from commitment to a faith community and perspective
(c) 'we' view religion as a commodity that we consume, rather than one in which we invest ourselves
(d) 'we' are transient - 15 to 20 percent of all households relocate each year
This reminded me again of what he said on page one of the introduction, 'people who leave do not grow'. This is not to say it is never right to leave, but rather we rarely grow through leaving, but through engaging.
(iv) Family is about more than we, the wife and the kids - in the God whether we are single or married, God wants us to subordinate ourselves to our overarching common bond as brothers and sisters in Jesus' kingdom family. I think that so some extent, the lack of this today can often lead singles to think that they are not fully part of the 'family of God' in our churches.
Many of us grew up with a set of relational priorities that went something like this;
(1st) God - (2nd) Family - (3rd) Church - (4th) Others
jesus and his followers view things quite differently as (1) and (3) cannot really be differentiated against. Loyalty to God was tangibly expressed in loyalty to God's family so our priority list should read something like this;
(1st) God's Family - (2nd) My Family - (3rd) Others
It is not our job to create community - God already exists in community and has invite dus in through His Son. We have been saved to his eternal family and so already are, for better or worse, brothers and sisters in Christ. Now we just need to learn to live into our new identity and reality.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I want to follow on from last week’s blog regarding Joseph Hellerman’s book, ‘When the Church was a Family’. The main point coming from last week was that in the New Testament world the group took priority over the individual. Hellerman goes on to define two further principles;
#2: In the New Testament world a person’s most important group was his blood family
#3: In the New Testament world the closes family bond was not the bond of marriage. It was the bond between siblings (central value being undying loyalty towards one’s blood brothers/sisters and therefore the most treacherous act of disloyalty was the betrayal of one’s brother, not spouse).
He looks at several examples in secular, biblical and Jewish writings, of how these principles were demonstrated. He concludes that such an understanding of ancient family (unlike our own contemporary experience) is of great significance when we think of Jesus’ deliberate use of the family metaphor (brothers and sisters in Christ, worshipping one God as father) for his group of followers. The family of the Church has priority over the individual member such that the individual was “responsible to the church for his or her actions, destiny, career, development and life in general”. This is what gave early Christianity much of its social power.
The words spoken by Jesus in Mark 3:33-35, ‘”Who are my mother and my brothers?” He asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”’ Were utterly scandalous in the cultural context in which Jesus lived, where as the oldest surviving male (presuming the death of Joseph), he was responsible for the defense, provision and leadership of his patrilineal kinship group. Those who followed Jesus were to exercise primary allegiance to a new family – just as Jesus himself had done.
Jesus wanted his followers to interact with one another like members of a ‘strong-group’, surrogate family characterized by collectivist solidarity and commitment on every front. Such was Jesus’ vision for authentic Christian community and his followers largely “got it” and put it into practice. Their world was never the same. The whole Roman Empire ultimately bowed its knees to the King of kings and Lord of lords, millions were converted and, for better or worse, Christianity became the state religion of the empire. The opposite seems to happening today in the West.
Hellerman identifies in Paul’s writings four aspects in which he applies this family imagery;
(i) Affective Solidarity – the emotional bond Paul experienced amongst the ‘brothers and sisters’ in God’s family
(ii) Family Unity – the interpersonal harmony and absence of discord Paul expected amongst the ‘brothers and sisters’ in God’s family
(iii) Material Solidarity – the sharing of resources that Paul assumed would characterize relationships amongst the ‘brothers and sisters’ in God’s family
(iv) Family Loyalty - the undivided commitment to God’s group that was to mark the value system amongst the ‘brothers and sisters’ in God’s family
The early Christians of the Roman world, when Christianity was still a small persecuted sect, made tremendous demands of their converts, demands that affected the most important areas of their lives. And people came in droves. People did not convert to Christianity solely because of what the early Christians believed, but also because of the way they behaved. It was not so much about an ideology as it was the social solidarity experienced in the early Christian communities. They practiced love of one’s neighbor more effectively than any other group, whether those ‘neighbors’ were inside or outside the community. Tertullian (c. AD 200) said this;
“We call ourselves brothers . . . So, we who are united in mind and soul have no hesitation about sharing what we have. Everything is in common among us – except our wives.”
Next week I want to bring the focus to today to consider our response to Jesus’ vision for authentic Christian community that will inevitably challenge the radical individualism of much of our thinking – both in the church and outside.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Hellerman starts out the book with the statement, 'Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community.' That resonated with me, which was a good start! But the statement also raises several questions (at least for me) primarily because of our skewed worldview when it comes to the issue of community. Nevertheless the idea that it is long-term relationships that provide the crucible for progress in the Christian faith and that people who leave (prematurely) do not grow, certainly struck a chord.
He points out how Paul's driving passion was to establish spiritually vibrant, relationally-healthy communities of believers in strategic urban centers but that today we tend to have a radical over-emphasis upon a 'personal relationship with God', something he saw as more American than biblical. It is rooted in our 'radical individualism' (a term used by social scientists) where we have been socialized to believe that our dreams, goals and personal fulfilment take precedent over any group (such as church or family). This affects the way we view the Christian life and profoundly compromises the solidarity of relational commitments. So we don't grow.
In the New Testament world, the welfare of the group to which we belonged took priority over our individual happiness and relational satisfaction. Whereas today, we tend to just use the various groups and institutions to which we belong to achieve our individual goals in life. He looks at how this works itself out in three different areas of life - vocation (the job we do), spouse (the person we marry/live with) and residence (where we live). Unlike today, people in biblical times simply did not make major life decisions on their own.
Yet for us this seems an inalienable right, a mark of our 'freedom'. But this very freedom takes it's toll in the significant stress and emotional bankruptcy of our culture - Christian or otherwise. Faced with these kind of decisions which were never meant to be taken on our own, we self-destruct under the pressure emotionally and relationally. We then turn to medication and therapy to hold us up. This works itself out in many contexts, but he identifies the situation of many young mothers, who move away from extended family and their inherent support structure, to find themselves trying to raise children seemingly alone - something that used to take a village to do.
We are born for fellowship - something reinforced in one of my readings this morning from John's first letter. "We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." [1 John 1:3-4] Jesus deliberately chose "family" as the defining metaphor for his group of followers because of what he understood the family to mean and because of what was always intended for the family of God.
We will explore the nature of family more next time, but the first principle to be understood, and which strikes us at the very heart of our radical individualism, is that in the New Testament world, the group took priority over the individual.
How does this concept speak to, or perhaps unsettle you? What might this mean for the dynamic of our relationships within our Simple Church communities?