Yesterday was amazing in that four different sources and a sleepless night have reinvigorated community as a core I need to engage differently, more holistically. It started with Blue Like Jazz
. Don Miller was talking about the single life and how he felt he was on the verge of going insane when he lived alone for too long. He had been living a life where he was the center, the main character of a movie, and anything that didn't fit neatly into that picture was suspect or obliterated. He was encouraged to live with other men by his pastor and talked about the process of moving from selfishness to community. It was not easy, perhaps a more formidable enemy than even drugs is the addiction of self. I found his words to be intuitive and describe much of my anxiety. My world is pretty small and I've surrendered much of it to frustration in not being married. So, life is beyond me and my emotion.
The second source was a book from an ultra-liberal Quaker named Parker Palmer. I don't know if he would see himself as ultra-liberal, but it seems to illustrate him somewhat accurately. In his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
, he had a similar revelation as Miller. He became convinced that his world was tiny, that he was living by "oughts" imposed by others in a vacuum, and wanted to know the work he was formed to do. I'm still early in the book, but his idea of community and vocation really clicked. His definition of vocation is great, "...something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling." So, vocation and community become elements of the mystery God wants to include in my life.
The third source was the gnawing sense that in loosing myself I would gain what I'm looking for. All around me are reminders of how my world is based on me. I think it could be considerably worst, but still my thoughts are almost exclusively on me. So I couldn't get to sleep and at one toss, felt compelled to pick up a book by Roxburgh and Romanuk called The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World
. And in the introduction, again God was teaching me:
God is about a big purpose in and for the whole of creation. The church has been called into life to be both the means of this mission and a foretaste of where God is inviting all creation to go. Just as its Lord is a mission-shaped God, so the community of God's people exists, not for themselves but for the sake of the work. Mission is therfore not a program or project some people in the church do from time to time... the church's very nature is to be God's missionary people...
... A missional church is a community of God's people who live into the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God's missionary people living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ.
This summer I had the privilege of attending a conference Alan Roxburgh led in Idaho and have been changed deeply. When you read the above missional understanding, you have to picture a determined, fit, Canadian spitting these words in intentional cadence and throwing in a few expletives because of his great passion. So, the church's work is fundamentally not self preservation, but dying to itself, to the work that mirrors God's passion for the world. Not much room for me to complain about music or format. And a compulsion to engage strongly.
The forth insight actually came earlier that morning, but I didn't catch it fully them. My pastor was talking about not being able to put church on or turn it off when he gets home at night. The phrase that caught me was, "This is who
we are, not just what we do!" So, the realignment of the movie and the main character becomes essential.
None of this was particularly new. As I've gotten older, I find my propensity for selfishness to go up. I find the cycles between realizing that much of my frustration is my perspective and coming to joy to be elongated. With age comes experience in hopelessness that wasn't there before. I always wonder why I keep coming back here. When I'm at the joy side, I can't imagine going back and yet I have. Over and over again. I guess I use marriage as an indication of God's love for me and as the carrot (really mostly stick) that He holds above me to whip me into shape. It seems unattainable, a law of percentages, a game of winners and losers where no one is accountable. But, things shift if that one thing is not the source of identity (or idolatry). Things shift dramatically...