Posts Tagged ‘community’

We do not travel alone

April 23, 2017

 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

Genesis 12:1-5a  NRSV

I have an unfortunate tendency to think the call of Abraham only involved Abraham. Periodically the text reminds me that Sarah traveled with him. Less frequently the text reminds me that Lot  and many others also went with Abraham.  But mostly I focus on Abraham.

For modern Americans to focus solely on Abraham is easy to do. Our typical way of thinking and understanding the world concentrates and celebrates the individual. We love stories about the lone person who perseveres, triumphs, saves, or overcomes. We admire and revere the “One”. Many of us secretly want to be the “One”. Or perhaps, we are waiting for the “One” to save us, protect us, love us.

But if we read Abraham’s story carefully, we discover that Abraham doesn’t travel alone. His call affects others. And others participate in his call. And of course others benefit from his calling.

In the ancient world successes and failures, joys and sorrows were communal events. How an individual’s actions affect their family and community were important considerations. The stories in the Bible remind us that our lives are not our own. Our lives and actions affect the lives of people we know and people we don’t know.

From Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper”, to Moses’ demand  “let my people go”, to the prophets’ insistence that we care for the widow and orphan and stranger, to Jesus’s teaching about caring for the “least of these”- over and over again we are told we must be concerned about the larger community.

That means that my faith cannot be simply or only about my relationship with God. My relationship with God compels me to be concerned about others, in my home, in my city, in my country and around the world.

The way our modern world functions means that my concern is often called “political”. I don’t apologize for that.  It has to be. Reading the Bible seriously means I must take the well being of others seriously and consider their needs before I consider my own. When I vote, I think about which candidate will be best for the poor and excluded, for the food insecure, the sick, the homeless, the children, the aged.  When a millage comes up, I vote for what I think best benefits the entire community, not just me, and not just what keeps my taxes low.  When I march for a just immigration policy, it is not because my immigration status is a risk or is even questioned by anyone. I march because the Gospel compels me to work for a society that care about and for immigrants and refugees.

We are, as children of Abraham, called to be a blessing for others- for all the families of the earth. To be sure, this makes my life more difficult. There are a lot of people I need to think about, people I don’t know, people I will likely never know. As I try to learn and understand all these different people, who live in different places and in different circumstances, I learn wonderful things and terrible things. My heart sings and breaks. So much joy and yet so much suffering. It can be overwhelming. It is overwhelming.

Fortunately, God has created a world where I don’t have to do it all and you don’t either. We help each other. We help people we know and they help us. We help people we don’t know and they help us.  And the Spirit is in the middle of all of it- opening our eyes to see, our ear to hear, our heart to love. Nudging us to a bigger, deeper, richer life.

We do not travel alone, Thanks be to God.


Walking Alone, Together

August 27, 2010
Prayer in Taizé church

Image via Wikipedia

The best thing about community is that we do it with other people. You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you? The worst thing about community is that we do it with other people.  If you have ever spent time with other people, you know this.   

The opposite of being in community is being by yourself. And the best thing about that is that you are by yourself, which is also the worst thing about being by yourself.

The truth is, we need both. Time with others and time alone.

Christians, mostly protestant Christians, tend to forget this. We place such emphasis on an individual relationship with Jesus that we forget the importance of community. When you think about being with God do you think about your religious community also?

Sometimes in small groups, the leader will ask each person to tell of a time they felt close to God. In my experience people mostly talk about experiences alone in nature. It is not common for someone to share an experience in worship.

I wonder why that is? Surely they have felt close to God in worship or other communal settings?  But that is not what we talk about. My hunch is this reflects our cultures bias for individuality and not a little selfishness. The reality is that when one has an experience of God alone, there is no need to accommodate others. It’s easier. We pray what we want to pray, for as long as we want. If we sing we sing what we want. We read the Scripture we like best. We don’t need to be concerned about anyone but us.

Meeting God in community is more difficult. We have to share. Perhaps the most difficult part of the sharing of God is communal prayer. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what is sometimes called the prayer of the people, or the Great Thanksgiving. (You can read it here.)People sometimes complain about it because it is “too long”. If you consider how long it actually takes in a one hour worship service, it’s really not very long at all. I suspect this is another individual control issue. We think it’s not really “my” prayer.  But it is “my” prayer and it is “your” prayer. It is “our” prayer and it is really important for the community to pray together. 

This shared prayer reminds us to pray beyond our personal concerns. I’ll remember to pray for my children as they start school and on a good day, I’ll remember your children too. But without the prompting of communal prayers, I must confess, I might forget to pray for all children those who are starting school and those who have no school to attend, who work in fields and factories.

Many Christians pray the Psalms on a regular basis. The Psalms are very old prayers from our shared community. But how do you pray a psalm of lament  with integrity when your life is fine? As a Benedictine nun once explained to me, you pray it for someone who cannot. That is how the prayers of people work each week in worship.

We pray together as a community because there are some among us who cannot pray. There are some who are afraid. There are some who doubt. There are some who have no strength left to lift up their hearts. Those of us who can pray, pray for them. Then, someday, in that same community they will lift up your heart when you cannot. They will believe when you cannot. They will trust when you cannot. They will pray when you cannot.

That is the power of community. We carry each other. Sometimes in material ways, a dish to the bereaved home, a hospital visit, a card, a hug.  Most importantly we carry each other to God in prayer when one of us cannot.

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