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Monday, April 16, 2012

Being the We Even When We're Apart, Part 1.

I have been experimenting lately with the notion that if the church is the existentially missional gathering, discipling, and sending of Jesus-followers into all the world, and if the biblical idea of Kingdom community/fellowship is communitas, then it carries with it an intense "we-ness" as I wrote in my April 3rd blog post:   This relational paradigm implies the unfamiliar idea that if we're embodying Kingdom communitas together, I am with you as you go about being missional in your spheres of Kingdom influence, and vice-versa. As I wrote: "I have your back and you have mine." We're doing this together, it's just that you're taking the lead in that part of our joint mission. We are sharing the work rather than you live your life with Jesus and I live mine -- alone together.

I've begun to broach this notion that Jesus has gathered us together around a particular Kingdom mission; we are members of the same cause and team. Each of us plays an integral role, and though we might be apart much of the time, we're actually contributing to what each of us is doing to further the Kingdom on our watch -- I'm with you and you're with me; it matters to us all what each is doing and we know about it. It takes a minute for folks to wrap their heads around the idea, because it is so unfamiliar, or seems to be a platitude with little reality

As I mentioned in the Being The We blog as well, most of us live our Christian lives as discreet individuals who go to church together, attend all sorts of Christian gatherings, and communal activities, including fellowship groups and short-term missions trips, but the idea that we've been called to intense and intimate Kingdom missional teamwork is sadly foreign. We don't know how to and are not even sure its possible or desirable.

Recently, I told a young Intervarsity Staff Worker who is also an imagineurian that what she does on campus in furthering the Kingdom of Christ is what imagine/Northampton is doing with and through her. She's got the lead there, but we're with her, and not just symbolically. We want to help her "pull out the stops" and realize all God wants to do on her watch. She's a part us and we're a part of her. She carries our united hearts, and we hers. It's the relational DNA of missional church.

She's one example of how imagine as a communitas of missional Christ-followers is called to own what each of us is doing on our jobs, in our neighborhoods, with our non-Christian friends and colleagues. Wherever one of us goes during the week, we are all there.

Life together in this way assumes a much more missionally intimate and dynamic way of relating than what passes for community in most churches. Our shared mission defines and deepens our relating. Togetherness is not just about friendships and mutual support, as fulfilling as that can be. The deepest spiritual meaning we can experience after grasping the Magnificent God of the entire Creation just happens to be deeply fond of you and me, is found in the wild notion he's gone and summoned each of us to further his Kingdom on our watch. I go. You go. We all go together even when apart.

So how about begin experimenting with this missional relating by asking folks you spend time with two questions:

1. How can I pray for the Kingdom mission God has given you?

2. What do you need from me today, this week, etc.?

Unless the folks you hang around are hip to what you're actually assuming  in these two questions, you may have to explain the concept of communitas to them. What a great opportunity either way!

May God ignite Kingdom communitas and mission through your questions and example.

In Part 2, I'll explain the spiritual and relational dynamic necessary for transforming normal Christian fellowship.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Celebrating Our First and Last Easter at 70 Main Street.

It was a crazy week leading up to yesterday.

We'd just finished our first off-site worship gathering since moving to our Main Street space. We've been feeling our first real growing pains and decided to get a mid-sized banquet space at the Hotel Northampton just up King Street from us. The Palm Sunday/Easter services tend to be when folks visit a new place, or go to church for their traditional Christmas and Easter ritual. We knew we'd be in trouble if we used the imagine space; it's not cool to turn away people.

So the Monday after Palm Sunday, Dave, Tricia and I (mostly Dave), began searching for another space.  We were given the impression we could also use the hotel facility for Easter, but that turned out to be untrue. Time was short, so we felt like we had to scramble amidst all the other ministry a week brings .We called about and visited a few spaces which had potential to work. All were no-goes. We tried until Friday. It appeared God wanted us to stay put.

Tuesday night, Jim, Tricia, and I settled on a structure of fitting readings and songs, plus a short reflection in the middle.We wanted different and fresh.

During the week, the imagineWORSHIP Team rehearsed twice and had 6 songs ready for Easter. We spent some time with jazz diva Diane Reeves' amazing renditions of Morning Has Broken to use as an opening song. Eslie ended up singing it acappella, and did a great job. It set a spiritual tone. Michelle brought in and sang a strong lead on Robert Lowrey's 1876 Nothing But the Blood of Jesus hymn. We turned it into an uptempo Bo Diddley kind of groove with djembe, guitar and bass. We also did Michael Kelly Blanchard's BeYe Glad with just voice and snare drum. We finished with Alive, What the Lord Has Done For Me, and Revelation Song. People sang!! Some smiled.

During the week, Karin went to work and found material to read from Madeline L'Engle's "The Ram: Caught in the Bush," Luci Shaw's "To Know Him Risen," and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia where Aslan has risen and is playing joyously with the kids, but also summoning them to the Kingdom  work ahead. Tricia composed and read a reflection on the idea of Jesus as the Gardener of our souls. Karin also read from John 20. There was food for the heart and mind in what was read and reflected. Karin and Tricia in their own styles drew us in to listen and contemplate.

And there was great food for the stomach...always an inviting feature at imagineWorship.

On Saturday, Tricia and Kait set to adorning our space with festoons of brightly-colored, gauzy material with streamers attached. On Sunday, Tricia launched multicolored, helium-filled balloons (with Scriptures attached to the strings), to hug and bobble the ceiling. The mood created was festive and playful - just what we wanted.

So yesterday, as we'd hoped, we had a number of guests, and the place filled to capacity. Our little room for worship was packed like sardines, right up to the band. The energy was bright and right for celebrating. We had some lovely surprises, including 4 imagineurians, who for various reasons had been away, but were able to be with us - for two, it was like a renewal. Folks invited friends there for their first time, and they all appeared to enter into worship with us. What a pleasure to see it. Another pleasure was finding that someone was there who, as an act of beginning to heal, came to our Easter.

As some of you know, we don't see Sunday morning church as the zenith of our missional task. The day has an important role to play in gathering us all together to celebrate God, to hear from him in the Scriptures, and to sing to him in solidarity with all the gathered around the world. This, our first Easter Worship was alive, and life-giving; simple, but real. We worshipped.

I don't suspect we'll be worshiping at the Main Street space for much longer. But I know Resurrection life is practiced here. Yesterday confirmed it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Being The We.

I had a conversation recently with an imagineurian and good friend, Jon G.Hill. We were talking about teamwork and group process. My friend has a singular and refreshing wit (it comes from his intelligence). As we were ending our conversation, he said something like "It's be the we, man." His bon mot was dead-on.

Here's why.

In my previous post I wrote a bit about the essentiality of communitas for getting at the heart of what it means to share the Kingdom mission of living the Gospel for people who can't or won't see Jesus. I quoted Michael Frost in Exiles: "It involves movement and it describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of people actually engaging in a mission outside itself."

To "be the we" reflects a communal depth and vitality flowing from an unabashedly shared sense of "we're up to our necks in this together," and "I got your back, period." I find as Americans we're often so unreflectively immersed in the ethos of individual freedoms, pursuits and identity that even our church life can appear as an exercise in being alone together. We're born and bred individual consumers and volunteers. We share worship services, bible studies, mission's trips, outreach events, volunteer projects, small groups, etc. We do share some substantial life together as friends; we serve, give and sometimes go spiritually deep, especially women. But when you and I say, _______________ (insert the name of your church) is my church, do we mean "it's where I go and feel most comfortable," or do we mean: "God called me to share with these folks His Kingdom mission adventure of a lifetime. I would die for my compadres, and they for me. What I have is theirs and vice versa. We've walked through the valleys of fire together. Nothing could separate me from them, nor them from me.

I know for a fact from conversations I've had with people, especially those in their 20's, that the longing for such a community resonates largely unmet. They want to live for something magnificent than themselves . . . with others; something heroic and noble; something hard to do, but so worth it. Sadly,  they've not  really seen "be the we" lived out in their church experience. The closest some of them get is in college as part of Christian Fellowship or parachurch ministry.  Once away from those spiritual environs, they feel a sadness and frustration about not finding missional community lived out in the local church, even a little cynicism. We in the church can talk a good game and still live a shamefully tepid discipleship - being spectators and religious consumers. Comfort zones thrive in American Christianity.

Being alone or in affinity cliques together, misses the point of the Church in the world. Jesus has unequivocally summoned us to accomplish something courageous in our neck of the woods. That's why we're here together. "Being the we" is each one of us following hard after Jesus, but together; not alone. All of us covered, supported, encouraged, given rest, then gently lifted back to our feet when we need it, and loved as we work to change the world toward the Kingdom reign of God. No one is left behind. No one is kept silent. We don't shoot our wounded, shun our "difficult" ones, or send the sinner packing. The broken are welcomed, embraced,  healed, trained, strengthened, and invited into the fray beside all of us when they have their sea legs. We all share inestimable worth, and a wondrous destiny.

I've observed being the we missionally takes one person saying: "Is this all there is . . . really?" He or she starts asking, "What if we could...?" or "How come we can't...?" questions, and keeps asking until someone responds, "Well, why not? I'll go with you." You start to pray together, asking the Lord for the mission.You persist. Then, you go and experiment following his leading; all the while talking to others about what you're seeing Jesus do in your life, and the lives you're beginning to rub up against. It can be infectious when you all reach the missional tipping point in the community where the Holy Spirit is changing hearts and freeing the captives because you love, and serve, and have learned how to tell your personal redemption story. If you keep it up, there will be all manner of challenges and struggles, but somewhere along the way, "being the we" became your way of life, and turning back turns unthinkable.

"Be the we" where you are. Try it. Others are waiting for you to begin.