Tag Archives: build

How do we build the new community we need?

During our daytrip last week, I ran into a member from my former, now-dismantled, church. The church was fairly large, so it’s not unusual to connect with someone. But it has become all-too-usual to feel some real loss when I do.

A leaf falling apart

We had a lovely community, not long ago. I needed it then and I need it now. But community is hard to build if you’ve lost it. And it is even harder to rebuild once someone wrecks it. A lot us us have a lot of building to do.

I still don’t understand what life is like post-pandemic, but I know it changed. We’re more distant. And I really do not understand what is happening with U.S. politics, no matter how much I read and think about it. We’re strangely at one another’s throats. We need to get it together, as in face-to-face.

The lack of community can be jarring.

For instance, I decided to post part of Heather Cox Richardson’s column on Facebook last week. The portion I posted was mainly quotes by Donald Trump taken from an interview I found enlightening and disturbing.

My childhood neighbor and elementary school classmate commented:

Man what are you smokin’? If you believe all that clap-trap you need help.

I told my wife about this and she said, “He wrote that to his friend?” I tried to make an excuse for him, but it did not really work.

I replied to him — which I rarely do. I usually just take down self-incriminating things I think people will regret later (or I think they should regret). I said:

The “claptrap” in the excerpt were mainly quotes from Trump. I’ll leave your reply up, since we’re childhood friends (just looked at your class photo from [our elementary school]), but you did not really respond to what I posted.

I did not want to sound too defensive. But I was offended. I had not posted any commentary, just quotes, since I don’t always hear what Trump says and I thought others should just hear what he said. I’ve cast a lot of shade on Trump since 2015, but I wasn’t doing it this time. My friend replied:

Take it down, that’s what liberals always do but I guarantee you the country would be better off with Trump at the helm because the US will die a horrible death if Biden’s re-elected.

You might have examples of this kind of anti-community in your life, too.

How did we get so fragmented?

Researchers have a lot to say about our fragmentation. I’ve said a bit, too. But apart from why it is happening, we have to endure how it is happening.

  • Churches feel distant. Many of them died or were hobbled during the pandemic.
  • A lot of families are split up, even when they are together. 1.2 million people have died, so far, and are still dying from Covid. That means millions of people are still mourning. Six million children have or had long Covid; all the rest are also recovering from shock and from the loss of schooling. Mental health deteriorated so much in the past five years, it finally became a public topic. There are many reasons dissociation is a “thing.”
  • All things public have been suspected of being dangerous or false for 4 years. Many people still won’t go inside a restaurant, get vaccines, or believe a government official.
  • People think virtual groups and ideological corrals are community. They may provide like-minded connections, but they don’t build a society where free interchange and growth happens.

I can see why people who have been pastors, like me, die in the saddle. They want to be deeply embedded in a community. I decided to get out of the saddle, but I sure miss living and serving among people with whom I have built connections.

A person called me last week to see if we could get together and talk about what happened to the church and to me on the way out. They said, “I heard you got thrown out.” That is not completely true, the leadership just changed the agreement that allowed for me to stay a member of the body, but not lead. Instead, they sent me their policy saying I needed to be gone for a year and then they could discuss my return. I was already not employed by them, but I did not cause them a problem by maintaining my ties. They were well on the way to church suicide, anyway. The phone call last week, years later, was another reminder of what has been lost.

We need to build new community

My present little church I’m joining is still talking about getting back to what they were before the pandemic. I don’t think that is going to happen, but I can see why they long for it. I’m still lamenting the community I have lost, too.

But my experiences this week have encouraged me to change. I have four convictions I think the Spirit has inspired for me to follow.

1) Accept the community you have.  When I was praying this morning, I again decided not to be arelational. I may not have the community I lost. But I have the one I have and I should live in it.

2) Build something on the foundation presently given, not on the past. I spent years living in something I loved. You probably felt deeply about the last twenty years, too, one way or another. Regardless, the patterns you made are familiar to you and you would hate to change them. I can relate. It is hard to think of changing and building at my age, but what else do humans do? And if you follow Jesus, there is no time you have followed enough. He’s moving.

3) Don’t give up on the unity of the Spirit. The history of the church is consistent. In all the bad times, good people get together and create new and sometimes radical responses to their lack of community (one of my favorite examples). I know most of the encampments now on college campuses are not built in the name of Jesus. But those people are having experiences of community they will never forget – I’ve danced a bit on the quad myself! New community can spring up.

4) Have an inner life that leads to an outer love. If you are more alone than ever, you are probably closer to God than ever, even if you don’t feel it. If we turn into our aloneness and let it do the work of revelation and integration, it will lead us to self-giving love. And that love is the heartbeat of community.

I need to build. I need to care. I need to build with care.

For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder,
and someone else is building on it.
But each one should build with care.
1 Corinthians 3:9-10

The reason we do some things and don’t do other things isn’t always to satisfy some abstract sense of rightness or to avoid the repercussions of being wrong. We do or we don’t because we are building with care.

Let me try to say it again: It is not worthy of us to make decisions based merely on desire or out of our survival instinct. We are building something with God that is greater than trying to stay alive and pass on our genes.

Let me try it another way: It is beneath us, as Jesus-followers to always live off what other people do, we need to do — God needs us to build something next.

I am God’s co-worker

Am I wrong, or is that what is behind what Paul is teaching the Corinthians? He is answering the important questions.

Who am I? I am God’s co-worker. Not because I am a dominated slave who better do  something right or I will get fired (literally), but because I am remade for being redemptive and creative like God.

Who am I? I am God’s field, God’s building. Obviously, I am not an inanimate object, but in the same way one can understand working in the field, or constructing a building, I am tended and strengthened for my purpose by God-the-one-who-cares-for-me. What an honor!

What do I do? Now that grace is at work in me, I also create. I am farmed to farm, built to build. Individuals and congregations are like farms — they either produce fruit or death ensues. They are like temples that are built to house our deepest honor; they are like houses built to provide a safe place in which we thrive and from which we explore.

There are certainly entrepreneurs around.

But they are often repackaging the fruit from someone else’s farm. Doesn’t our whole “economy” work like that these days? U.S. people are best at advertising what other people do. [I am certainly hoping to be proven wrong, here, so let me know]. We often experience this lack of creative initiative in Circle of Hope whenever we talk about building relationships. People have so many reasons why they just don’t have the time and energy to do that.

For instance, we were talking about people in Shalom House starting a cell and someone said, “The housemates might like to be in a cell with someone else so they could talk about the people in Shalom House!” It was like they were protecting them from too much demanding relational work. “Surely you wouldn’t ask someone to build an intentional community for two years and love the people in it every day in the pursuit of making  peace! It might kill them! They would quit over the stress. They would feel unhappy that they had to focus and could not follow their free-range desires leading them ‘wherever!'”

If someone asks you to build a relationship from scratch according to how God might like to build one, surely you won’t be at a loss, will you? If the relationship does not fall into your lap fully-formed and functional, surely you won’t be distress, will you?

There are certainly radicals around.

But they are often just talking about things instead of actually building something that does something. Doesn’t the educational system generally work this way? My whole doctorate might be mainly devoted to re-quoting scholars quoting other scholars rather than learning how to produce the fruit of creativity.

For instance, we loved Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream the other night. I even ate my annual hamburger with lovely people I rarely see, so I was even more pleased. But one of my friends said, “That was nice, but what was it for?” I told them I thought the whole thing was designed to be good communication. There was no illusion that anything but informed and changed minds should result (at least as far as I could tell). That happened. But it was a good question: “Now what? So what?” Circle of Hope often gets stalled out at the talking stage, too. We have the best theology! But what are we going to do? I think God wants to have a building that is built on rock that not only withstands the weather of this evil age, but actually shines an effective, transformative light on it in such a way that people can take the next steps they need to take.

Oh my, that is a lot of work! Talking about it, having the right DVDs for my kids, reading the Bible some times, listening to speeches, etc. is a lot easier than building an alternative  community that demonstrates the love and truth of Jesus in every way it is gifted to do so. We can process information, but can we produce what the info calls for?

Even with all my suspicions that we have lost the know-how, I certainly think we are trying!

But I think we might have more productive farms and stronger buildings in the Spirit if we would admit that we might need some new capabilities when it comes to getting some work done.

Let me say it again: We need to remember who we are as co-builders with God. That identity might inspire some action. Good trees bear good fruit.

One more time: We need to not only be wise in how we build, we need to build the wisdom of God right back into our environment in completely practical ways, like building the alternative called Circle of Hope.

“Each one should build with care,” Paul says. I agree. I need to build. I need to care. I need to build with care.