Saturday, November 22, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Communitas: intimacy through adventure

Many of us crave teamwork, adventure and risk in our leadership environment, but most of the time these are sorely missing. We are caught between our need for stability and success in ministry, and the powerful lure to live an edgier form of Christianity, like we imagine Jesus Himself and the apostles lived.

How many times have we bemoaned the lack of commitment we see from church folks? No matter how hard we promote and cajole, it seems like the same folks always make up the core of volunteers. There must be a better way to carry out Christ's mission. What began as an amazing safari turns into a tedious trip to the zoo.

I think I may have found an answer in what Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost call "Communitas". Dictionary.com defines it as "the sense of sharing and intimacy that develops among persons who experience liminality as a group." "Liminality" refers to a place of threshhold, where a group is out of their normal environment and culture and moving into a new phase of experience.

Communitas describes what I felt on the cold and wet soccer field or in the suffocating wrestling room as my fellow athletes struggled together chasing the elusive goal of greatness. It is found in perhaps its most extreme form on the field of battle, when soldiers very lives depend upon their intimate relationships with their comrades.

I have always wondered why I have not found a greater sense of teamwork and closeness in church life, even among peers in our denomination. I have found most relationships to be pretty much surface level, and cooperation to be short-lived. I know I am not alone.

As a fraternity brother in the 1970's the pursuit of communitas in the house was very intentional. In fact, it was the main goal when bringing new members into the house. The hazing and rituals were all about creating a "brotherhood" through liminality. While Christ's methods and goals are very different from those of a secular fraternity, lessons can be drawn from what they are able to achieve.

There have been times when I felt a greater sense of communitas, as opposed to the shallow and paltry sense of "Community" we usually end up with in the church context. Short-term missions trips produce this level of relationship because they place us in a foreign environment with limited resources and uncertain outcomes. Folks feel united, exhilirated and renewed after such an experience, and are generally disappointed when they return to "normal" church.

But I have identified a few other practical ways to promote and create communitas in our churches and lives. Group fasting creates a type of communitas, as do retreats, certain types of small groups, spiritual discipline groups, and intentional missional outreaches. Articulating purpose and vision and plunging into it with others is what these ordeals are all about, and they energize people. There are innumerable ways to do this.

The idea of liminality is crucial because while we go to great lengths to make people comfortable in church, the way to intimacy and greater commitment may lie in calling them, counterintuitively, to a higher level of separation and sacrifice.

I am still researching this idea, but believe that the renewal of our movement and churches may lie in pursuing communitas. Paul had communitas in the churches he planted, and in his planting team. Jesus had it with His disciples, and when given the chance to opt out of it they replied, "Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life." John 6:68

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Honor the king



There is a strange feeling to this day after the election of a new president. It is certainly an historic day. But I don't think we know where we are yet.

I have watched the jubilation of enraptured Obama fans. I wonder if they know why they are so happy. I think they are as happy to have defeated what they consider to be backward thinking, heartless conservatism as they are that their party now holds the reins.

I have read a lot of scary things about our president-elect over the past few months regarding his associations, radical activities and proclivities. If they are all true, and he has chosen to lead us in a similar path, then we are in very deep trouble. I am hoping that they are not true, at least not all of them, and that there is some semblance of Christian and American sensibility in this man. I hope he is true to his call to unite us, but in an age of such divergent visions for America, I don't see that to be realistic, and I am under no delusion that he is some sort of messiah with unearthly powers.

I do not resent his blackness. None of us should. That is irrelevant. I am wary of his leanings, and of the possibility of unchecked power lurching us sharply to the left. That is not in the interest of this country. It will not bring together a divided nation. It will create deep resentment, and set the stage for a battle royale in four more years.

I am having twinges of 1976. I was much younger then, and not as aware of history as I am now. Our nation is unhappy, and we have elected a man who promises better. But like 1976, he is a somewhat untested man, at least at this level. The office crushed Jimmy Carter, and I hope we do not see that repeated.
Our nation is facing monumental difficulties here and abroad. We really do need to work together to make this a better place. The problem has been and remains that we chase competing pictures of what America should look like. There is no common vision, but a nearly evenly divided image of what is good and right and how to get there. Amos 3:3 (MSG) "Do two people walk hand in hand if they aren't going to the same place?"
I will be praying for and honoring Barack Obama. Not because I agree with him or want to see his agenda enacted, but because I want to be obedient to God. Scripture is clear, 1 Peter 2:17 "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king."