Monday, 1 December 2014

The Church must own their choice and so must we

Jesus calls each one he meets into a personal, intimate relationship with him and with those who are with him. He is also telling them to count the cost, to make a choice. If we choose one thing, it means refusing the other. If we choose to follow Jesus, we experience the gift of  love and communion, but at the same time we must say "no" to the ways of the world and accept loss which will imply grieving and pain; we must own our choice and have counted the cost.

More and more the people of God become aware that God is not just a creator of everything that is made, a powerful Lord who is telling us to obey or to be punished but rather a community that invites us to experience them. Being Church means being called into community with God and with others who are called and walking the same path. And there we encounter new challenges; we encounter disciples who quarrel among themselves, wondering who is the greatest among them. Community is a wonderful experience, a wonderful place where we experience new life. But it is also an experience with pain because it is there that we encounter truth and experience growth -- it is among us that our pride, fear and our brokenness is revealed. Community is not an abstract idea, an ideal; it is us. Only in community we are able to love people just as we are with our wounds, fears, and our need for space and growth. Community involves giving each other a safe space where we can grow together. It is giving each other trust, encouraging one another while challenging each other. We give value and dignity to one another by the way of dying to oneself  so that the other may live, and grow.

There is a myth about community just as there is a myth about marriage, telling us; "they lived happy ever after." The reality of marriage is that both, the man and the woman are called to sacrifice their egoes as well as their individualistic dreams by the commitment to be one body. Community also means death to ones ego. It is accepting the cost of dying to "me first" and competions in order to discover a new form of values and a new freedom. But that also means that community, just like marriage, is a place of pain because it is a place of loss, a place of conflict, and a place of death to self, just as it is a place of new life. True community is the one place where all the darkness, anger, fear, jealousie and competition is exposed and reconciled. 

But community is also a place of conflict for another reason. In community we experience the conflict between competing values, between togetherness and individualism, between interdependence and independence. It is painful to lose one's independence and to come into togetherness and not just proximity. We have proximity with the world,, and we need to, but we have togetherness with one another. Loss of perceived freedom is painful particulalry in a world where independence is held up as something to die for, which cultivates the feeling "I don't need anyone else" as ultimate freedom. 
Sapna Chand is the sole owner and copyright holder of this image
I have had the occasion to visit quite a number of senior homes in Canada. It can be very painful to go into certain care facilities, to see men and women crying out for love, roaming around with nothing to do, shaking their heads, talking to themselves, living in a world of dreams and of psychosis. Some places smell of urine others of disinfectant.  If you had the privilege of getting a glimpse into some of these places, a glimpse into the lives of those who live there, you will have seen unbearable pain. It is difficult to be present there for long and yet there is where I found Christ sitting beside one of the least of my brothers and sisters.

Many people in our modern society are living in unbearable situation, with unbearable pain. I don't know how many homeless people live in Winnipeg, but there are many hundreds if not thousands. Every night during the winter months they line up in order to be admitted for the night at one of the shelters. The next morning, after a cup of coffee, they are back onto the street. Then they roam all day with nothing to do until the evening. The reasons for their situation is as complex as humanity itself, but there is much anger, depression and intense pain inside many. When the pain becomes too much, then people tend to slip away into a world of dreams. Reality is just too painful, without hope. 

Our church communities are also places of pain because they are formed with people who have been through a great deal of pain themselves. They had experienced the deep fear that nobody can really love them, that nobody really wants them, because they were "dirty,"  "evil." "not good enough." Church means family, accepting people just where they are in their journey. We may not necessary like some of their choices, or personality traits, but we love them nonetheless with all their limits and pain, but also with the capacity to see God's image inside of all that pain just as we love ourselves. 

But this communion of unity is not uniformity or fusion. Both lead to confusion. In a relationship you are you and I am I; I have my identity and you have yours. I must be myself and you must be yourself while we are called to grow together into the likeness of Christ more and more. But this is not possessiveness but belonging. A belonging where we listen to one another and helping each other to become more. And it is only in our togetherness that we make sense, but this does not come easy to us. 

When I was in the German army, I was taught to give orders to others. That came quite naturally to me. Since childhood I had been taught to climb the ladder, to seek recognition and therefore promotions, to compete, to be the best, to win prizes. This is what society is teaching us. When you have been taught from early age to compete, to be first and then suddenly you hear Jesus calling you down the success ladder and to share your life with those who are last, who are poor and marginalized, our real struggle breaks out within us while we are counting the cost.  It is a conflict of allowing others space to grow rather than lording over them, here we stand back in order to help them to excersice their gifts. It is a conflict of caring only for oneself and caring for people.

Over the years I have experienced both forces within me, one pulling me to go up the ladder and then the voice of Christ teaching and healing me. He taught me that behind the need to win, to be recognized there are my own fears and anguish. The fear of being devalued and pushed aside, the fear of being vulnerable or opening up my heart to love; their is the pain, betrayal, and brokenness of my own past. And in this voice I discovered who I really had become and to realize that I may not want to admit all the garbage inside me. And then the same as today I have to decide whether I just continue to pretend to be ok and through myself into hyperactivities, involving myself into a myriad of programs and projects where I simply can cover up all the garbage. Proving to the world and others just how good I was. 

Just as God is in communion within himself and is inviting us through the death of Jesus to join into the eternal dance of love we too have to die to the powers of egoism and self-will in ourselves in order to join into that dance of deeper unity.

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