Moved Mountains

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

How do our expectations affect community?

Nathan commented on my post on the Jesus All About Life campaign and some of his comments got me thinking.

What does it take to create genuine community? All the things that come to mind are really the same things I am looking for in community. In line with this I have tried really hard to make the things that I value about community the things reflected in our attempt at community building; belonging; acceptance; love; respect for diversity; willingness to serve one another.

Ultimately though, one thing I know, is that I ultimately find my identity in Jesus Christ and therefore my sense of belonging, acceptance, love etc. also rests in him. Because of this I can (imperfectly) be accepting of others failings and shortcomings. I can give others a second, and third, and fourth (and so on) chance. I can participate in reconciliation, can advocate and mediate and to the best of my ability, be there for others when they need me.

But - unfortunately - even when I am involved in all these things, to the very best of my ability, I am going to fall short. I cannot be in all places at once. I can not be everything to everyone in the way needed to make a perfect example of genuine community a reality.

I will let people down. I will not love unconditionally all the time. There will be times when I am too tired, or too busy or too involved with other things to be there for the people who need me. I have a family which comes first meaning others will miss out on my time because of the time I need to spend with them. I have limited finances (even more limited now that my work with Mission Australia has finished) so I won't be able to endlessly help out with other peoples finances or buy lunch or a coffee for everyone that drops by to see me. You might get me on a bad day and I might snap at you. I might use the wrong words when trying to deal with an issue that crops up and I might offend you.

And if those people that drift in and out of our community, are not led to a relationship with Christ, and do not ultimately find their belonging and acceptance in him, then they and others will be continually let down by me.

This, I think, is why so many others attempts at community building either fail, or fail to be more. We expect a lot of the individuals that comprise the community. And when they let us down it's natural to think the ethos behind the community has failed. I've lost count of the people who have told me they have given up on God because of bad experiences with the church.

Perhaps if we can do a better job helping people find their identity in Christ, rather than in a denomination or congregation or particular style of worship, or in our models of leadership, we will find a community that is closer to that represented by our ultimate example of community - the Holy Trinity - and that more closely resembles the kingdom Jesus so regularly taught about while he was here on earth. A community that is able to recognise the limitations of its human members but nonetheless able to thrive because it is squarely built upon the way of Christ and finds its identity in him.

12 comments:

Faithfulnathan said...

Hey Andrew, very interesting.

Acceptance seems to be a major theme in your idea of community, even the acceptance of God.

This may seem like a silly question, but what do you think would have to change in order for your present community to align with your ideal community?

Nathan

The Creature said...

Hi Nathan,

Yep, I think acceptance is very important in community - broad acceptance even more important.

When we put God into the picture I think that it is the recognition that God does accept us, that he is "for" us that can have a powerful affect on a persons life. Particularly if they haven't been able to find that same kind of acceptance anywhere else (and let's face it, I honestly haven't come across too many people who have found it anywhere).

I guess that was the point of my post. That no matter how hard we try to provide the "ideal" form of community we are always going to fall short of other people's expectations. We are, at times, going to let people down. That's why I think it is crucial that in any faith community the focus must be Christ. Too many become focused on humans or human structures and when these inevitably fail, faith is damaged, relationships are damaged, people are damaged and a mess is created.

If my identity is in Christ, I can accept "your" (speaking proverbially) failings as a person or as my friend because my identity is not formed out of any critical expectations of you. If you let me down I will forgive you and give you another go and my identity won't be damaged! Can you see where I am coming from?

In answering your question about "ideal community", I really don't think ideals, in terms of community, can ever be achieved. There is so much that we need to continually change, and seek forgiveness for, and grow towards that it is a life-long process.

My ideal community is the Trinity (which is why we have the celtic-Christian Triquetra as our logo), so I don't know that we will ever be truly aligned to this ideal community - at least not until Christ returns.

Faithfulnathan said...

Thanks for your reply Andrew.

So are you saying that, since God is the only one who can always be trusted, we need not expect people to have integrity, and we should be content with this?

I can see how having an identity which is formed by the opinion of God is very beneficial for both personal and communal sustenance, but I cannot see how an awareness of the presence a perfect and sovereign being could encourage someone to expect less of others; if anything, I am personally encouraged to strive even more for both personal and communal perfection, since God is on our side to help us in our weaknesses.

On the subject of expectancy, I recall what John the Baptist once said: "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8). If I'm not mistaken, John expected people to have integrity - even moral integrity (Luke 3:11-14), and this was what repentance was all about, that people should turn away from wicked ways and embrace the integral ways of God. In fact, after John came Jesus, preaching and saying the same thing as John, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 3:2, 4:17). Jesus , later, tells his disciples to "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt 5:48) and "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" (Matt 6:33), indicating his expectations of them.

Now throughout their ministry, both John and Jesus taught on certain issues that their community needed to change in order to have God's will in earth; and surely this was what they wanted, since Jesus taught his disciples to pray: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:10). So do you believe people should, and are able, to embrace these teachings today, for the integrity of both individuals and community? (I refer to issues such as selfishness, greed, extortion, violence, anger, degradation, hypocrisy, condemnation, lust, pride, irresponsibility, unforgiveness, and foolishness)

Certainly a realisation and awareness of personal failure is very important, but I am convinced that it should serve as a stepping stone for a humble growth, to which maturity is not only achievable, but is expected and normal.

Nathan

The Creature said...

Hi Nathan,

Integrity is very important. I think a life that draws identity from Christ is a life that reflects Christ and therefore models integrity.

I certainly didn't mean to make it sound like anything else.

What I was saying, however, is that no matter how hard we strive for perfection, in ourselves we are not going to find it. And I think it is dangerous if we think we will. Perfection exists in God alone.

I will let people down, not because I want to, or because I intend to, but because I am human. Things I say can be misconstrued, I might act or behave in a manner that is not reflective of my identity in Christ. If people are looking to me for a model of perfection, they are going to be horribly let down. I am not perfect. I have weaknesses and I have flaws.

I do agree that the things Jesus taught are very relevant for today, and they would form the basis of any godly community. However with humility and with Christ as the leader and example.

I also agree completely with your last paragraph.

Be careful not to jump to conclusions too quickly mate - speaking from personal experience! ;)

Andrew

Faithfulnathan said...

Hi Andrew,

Its good to know you agree with growth and maturity, and the attainment of such.

Nevertheless, when you write so much of shortcomings and failure it becomes difficult to depict that your focus is on anything else. At times it would seem that you pass integrity off for lowliness, and faith for inability.

I'm not sure what your idea of perfection is, but mine consists of growth and maturity - not mistakelessness. In this light I see God's power at work, even his perfection, as ideals of the highest nature come into fruition. Maybe thats what faith and hope is really about, with love at the helm of it all.

Sincerely,
Nathan

The Creature said...

Hey Nathan,

I guess I'm just trying to be real. So often we aren't. And it's difficult to cover every point and say everything that could be said in a single blog post. I was focussing on one particular aspect of community in this post. The aspect of identity - and even then only briefly.

Of course if any community truly is aiming to derive its identity from Christ all those things you mention will follow on. But in reality everyone is going to be at different places in a journey that will continue on until we reach the next life. I am further along that journey than our newcomers, but there are others who are further along than me.

Are you saying it's possible to reach a place of complete maturity where growth is no longer possible?

I don't believe this is possible nor the way God intended it, at least in this current faze of the journey. If it were, it would seem to me that Christ would then become unnecessary.

The process of growth that I think you are referring to is what I would could the process of discipleship. It is one of our community's core values (if you like). We aim to continually spur each other forward, growing our younger "siblings" and supporting our elders, role modelling a Christ centred life.

But even in all of this, it is my experience, there are ups and downs. People fall over, people make mistakes, people do the wrong thing. In dealing with this though, I want to look to the Master and see how he dealt with such things and deal with them in the same way. Of course he encourages us to seek greatness (in a spiritual sense) - to "go and sin no more", but he also encourages forgiveness and love and to be willing to accept a penitent brother or sister "70 times 7" if it is necessary.

It's a BIG topic. We could spend all week talking about it.

And hey - I just realised who you are - neighbour! You're welcome to get along to one of our social gatherings - the next one is next Sunday at MacCafe (so the kids can play). You might even see a few familiar faces.

Take it easy mate,

Andrew

Faithfulnathan said...

Thanks for the invite Andrew.

I can certainly see your theory of how deriving an identity from Christ might work, but I don't see the reality of it. Call me cynical, but I haven't seen or heard of Jesus discipling anyone for the last 2000 years. I have, however, seen glimpses of God's handy-work revealed in people coming to the know truth about life and how to live, which is to say, Christ-like - though Christ is not the focus. This phenomena tends to happen in dribs and drabs, and to almost all individuals in one way or another. It would be nice though, if people would embrace the truth more often, rather than turning to deception, for whatever reason.

Of course, this doesn't involve the heralded 'truths' of contemporary Christianity, ie Jesus is the son of God, he died for humanity's sin - on the cross, rose again in three days, and he is lord/master. So in this respect, to preach Jesus but not his practical way of life is a redundant discourse.

Moreover, you might agree that preaching does not equal discipleship,... and the knowledge of biblical facts doesn't yield salvation. So any individual and community that embraces such nonsensical paradigms would be likely to proclaim Jesus as savior, but live according to the same folly that ensnares society in general. The doctrine of Christianism seems to have too many concepts that have no direct link with reality, and so it makes it hard to understand life as it really is.

*I know this probably goes against your doctrine, but I hope its making sense to you*



To answer your question, I tend to think of the state of maturity as being like a mature man/woman. Its about being exercised, skilled and competent in living a virtuous life. If a person exhibits outbursts of uncontrolled anger, for example, he/she probably doesn't exemplify maturity in that area of their life. Self-control and meekness might need to be embraced - not that peoples' issues are that clear-cut and simple.

Question:
If Jesus were to come back in the likeness of a typical, modern-day person, and he walked into your church on a Sunday morning, would you recognise him?

Nathan

The Creature said...

Well mate, I guess we are going to disagree on that then. I don't believe it is possible to be "Christlike" if our identity doesn't come from Christ in the first place. The two go together. Of course Christlikeness (is that a word???) can and should be modelled and this modelling is a critical part of the discipleship process - however if the disciple only looks to the modeller as an example - well, we end up back where we started with imperfect human beings.

Sorry you can't make it on Sunday. Would have been good to catch up. I don't think we have spoken in at least 2 years! Maybe another time?

Andrew

Faithfulnathan said...

Andrew,

Well I could be wrong, but I thought Jesus got his identity from his heavenly father, and so to be like Jesus one would have to get his/her identity from Jesus'/their heavenly father also. Its not proclamations of Christ's lordship or greatness that makes a person like Christ, rather, it is the imitation of Christ. I don't believe Christ glorified himself or taught his disciples to glorify him; that would be rather conciepted, and it would be counter-productive to do so. This shouldn't detract form Christ's greatness, but rather glorify him, even as we follow/imitate his footsteps - ie love one another as he loved; and even though we only have fragments of his life and teachings, written in scripture, he certainly is a great example to glorify and follow.

Having said that, I'm probably highlighting my incontent with the popular 'trinity' model and the 'completeness/infalibility of scripture' paradigm. But I hope you don't see it as a big deal when compared to the life and purpose of Christ (i don't).

**Yeh, maybe when I'm back from over east we can talk...

Cheerio,
Nathan

The Creature said...

Hey Mate,

I agree - it certainly isn't proclamations that makes a person Christlike. Indeed, it's the life lived.

No Christ didn't glorify himself (that wouldn't be reflective of the humility he modelled or taught), he taught that God, the Father, is the one who should be glorified. But he also taught that he and the Father were one. Maybe check out John 17, and in particularly vs 21-23.

I'd be interested in hearing about your discontent with the "popular trinity model". This is something I have been giving some thought to lately and have some "issues" of my own! I do think, however, the Trinity represents the perfect example of a reconciled community. That's the picture I get when I read John 17.

I would also be really interested in hearing your thoughts on the completeness/infallibility of scripture. Sounds like you're doing a lot of pondering! :)

Would be good to catch up with you when you get back.

Cheers,

Andrew

Faithfulnathan said...

Hi Andrew,

Some of the discontent I have with the Trinity model is that it denotes that Jesus is God, the Most High God. This then poses the question: How can Jesus be humble if all he ever does is glorify and promote himself; and is he so self-absorbed as to even pray to himself? I realise Jesus spoke of oneness with his heavenly father, being that he was in his father and his father was in him, yet in the same breath he continued by saying: "that they [his disciples] also may be one in us" (John 17:21). On this note I think its safe to say that most Trinitarians would not have any difficulty in believing that Jesus' disciples were not the Most High God, yet would still blindly accept Jesus into this dynasty. Surely this is a contradiction, and there has been a grave misunderstanding here.

Furthermore, as Jesus is heralded as God, even the Most High God, I witness a degradation of mankind's perceived potential. Somehow, the character and discipline that Jesus exemplified is now too lofty and unattainable by mankind, and the only thing we can do in response is 'look to' Jesus who, through atonement, saves us from our predicament, and it is 'ok' for us to continue to live an undisciplined life that denies the very element of real faith! We must not continue to run to quick-fix ways that merely lead to a lack of responsibility for one's own actions, and an acceptance of present circumstances. Inevitably, people are missing out on the holiness and love that every individual, community, and even the universe, thrives on and relentlessly yearns for.

The paradigm of the completeness/infallibility of scripture, of course, is a companion to conceitedness and a lack of faith. It trains a heart to yield and rely on one's own understanding rather than God, and divorces one's personal experience of God. Surely scripture is only a shadowy representation of historical occurrences and conceptualised truths, and cannot speak of the infinite mysteries of life to the heart of the reader on behalf of God, who alone is complete and infallible. The word of God is so far more perfect than scripture that all the wisdom and understanding of all the words of every language in the world could never be its equivalent. God's word is his eternal logic, which the universe and all that is in it derives its fullness. I cannot say the same for scripture.

So then, since Jesus is proclaimed by John as "the word [that] was made flesh" (John 1:14), I suggest that Jesus is NOT God's word (which was in the beginning) but rather an expression of it. Jesus' usage of the term 'one' with his heavenly father and with his disciples is probably an idiom for likeness and agreeableness; as the truth that came from the father first abode in Jesus , and then in Jesus' disciples, of which we can say that truth is whole, agreeable, and one - the spirit of truth. Having said that, I find it hard to separate God's word/logic from the truth, so they would seem to be equivalent. Therefore, in partaking of the one spirit, and exemplifying the one eternal word/logic of the Most High God, Jesus would know his disciples as fellow siblings, even as he had said: "For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother" (Mark 3:35).

What are your thoughts?

The Creature said...

Mate,

It looks like you've been doing a lot of thinking about this stuff.

Can you email me - I think it would be easier to continue this discussion via email. Perhaps, we might post some of it to the blog, if you are agreeable, and see if anyone else chimes in. I just think this blogger comment interface makes hard work of things.

My email is deepsky AT oceanbroadband.net

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Andrew