It's definitely a telling commentary on my life that the first chapter of Total Church, "Why Gospel?" was less exciting to me than the following chapter, "Why Community?".  I think the former is in my head only, where the latter is in my head and heart.

I do like the one section that talked about needless division over "word-centered" and "Spirit-centered" churches and the polarization over whether the sermon or the "ministry time" is more important.  And also people who reject "intellectualism" or "emotionalism". I guess there are two ways to not be extreme in either: one, to be "moderate" and neither think or feel "too much" and end up with a religion that is neither relational nor thought provoking.  I'd like to think that I fit into another category, where the heart and mind is part of a whole Christ-following person.

"It is tempting to stress the need for balance as if what we need is a bit of word and a bit of the Spirit or a bit of intellectualism and a bit of emotion.   But this is unhelpful.  The truth is that in the Bible word and Spirit always go together."

"When Jesus promises to send the Spirit, he says the Spirit 'will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you... when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.' ... It is the Spirit who makes Christ's words known to us, applying them to our lives and making them live.   They are not dead words, ancient history, a static set of instructions, or an encyclopedia of belief.  Through the Spirit they are the living, life-giving words of God."

The authors quote a friend who "struggled as a Brit fitting into American culture", because she would meet people who would say, "let's do lunch", but never scheduled anything.  "[It] was just an idiomatic way of saying farewell".  I learned sometime during college to always say what I mean.  Practically what that meant was that I didn't say I would pray for someone when they brought up something, and I don't ask people how they are doing as much as I used to.  I can't remember the movie, but there is a movie set in the future where instead of saying, "hello", people say, "hello-how-are-you-good-thanks-nice-weather-yes-i-agree", and I think it shows a truth of how people treat each other when meeting each other - they aren't actually listening, and don't actually care how people are doing.  For a while in college, a friend and I tried to actually answer people when they asked how we were doing, and prepared an answer (because otherwise, people have already walked past you if you stop to think how you are actually doing) and we discovered that people would often not even hear what we said.  Mom had a friend who used to answer telemarketers when they would ask how she was doing, "well, actually, this week has been really rough, I just found out that my husband is having an affair, my dog died and my son hasn't gone to school in a month."  She would get varying responses, but some telemarketers actually said, "good, I was wondering if you would be interested in buying ...."

Once I realized the truth about whether I actually cared about people's responses, it made me much more aware of how I was living, and then people learned that when I asked how they were doing, or said I would pray for them, etc. that I actually meant it.  (I have another sermon about saying you will pray for someone versus praying immediately, but that's for another day).

Back to the book...

"The New Testament word for community is koinonia, often translated by the now anemic word 'fellowship.'"

"The prevailing view of life today is that of an individual standing on his or her own, heroically juggling various responsibilities -- family, friendships, career, leisure, chores, decisions, and money.  We could also add social responsibilities like political activities, campaigning organizations, community groups, and school associations.  From time to time the pressures overwhelm us, and we drop one or more of the balls.  All too often church becomes one of the balls."

Heather said that when I was in the Dominican Republic, she was in "survival mode", and praying constantly just to make it through the next hour.  (She has often wondered how single moms manage).  But, she realized how really, we ought to be in "survival mode" all of the time, completely dependent on God and not trusting in ourselves to make it through the next day.

"In our experience, people are often enthusiastic about community until in impinges on their decision-making. For all their rhetoric, they still expect to make decisions by themselves for themselves.  We assume we are masters of our own lives."

The authors live in a community house called, "The Crowded House", and have had various experiences in a real community (I say "real", because I think people often think they live in a "community", but they have accepted the "anemic" definition instead of any real definition of community).

I like the close to the "Why Community?" chapter:

"If you are warm to this vision of Christian community, then start where you are.  Sell the vision by modeling the vision.  Don't become a pain to your existing congregation, telling them everything are doing is wrong [or forcibly breaking down the walls they hide behind, like I tend to do].  Become a blessing by offering hospitality, showing practical care, dropping in on people.  Create around you a group of Christians who will share their lives and encourage one another in the faith."

I can get so impatient with people and how long it takes people to get "comfortable" and willing to take a brick or two out of their wall.  I think the only people I know who talk/think about community the way I do bring a whole lot of other beliefs to the table and a lower priority of the bible than I think can be true. 

Is there anyone out there who believes that God is best glorified and the gospel effectively shared is through relationships and intentional community as we seek God's kingdom and to follow the steps He gives us, and believe that when God said things in scripture He actually meant them instead of trying to explain away scriptures so they don't mean anything?

Posted by Jon Daley on March 20, 2010, 10:31 am | Read 8081 times
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My dad always responded to, "How are you?" with "Fantastic!" which was not always accurate, but he was answering the intent, not the literal meaning of the greeting. The "how are you" that doesn't mean what it says used to frustrate me, and I, myself, never say "how are you?" unless I mean it literally, but I'm gradually learning that language-as-it-is-used can be more important than language-as-I-think-it-should-be. I have a ways to go, but I'm getting there.

Another thing I've had to learn the hard way—and, alas, over and over again; apparently I'm a slow learner—is that the issues that I care most passionately about are usually the ones for which I'm least successful as an advocate. It's not exactly that I care too much about the issue, but that I don't care enough about the person with whom I'm talking to speak in language that will reach him. It helps me to remember The Five Love Languages (if he's not hearing "I love you," then I'm not saying it right), or make myself laugh by picturing the Ugly American expecting to be understood by shouting to the person who speaks little English. Sometimes it helps; I know I'm not good at it yet.

You are speaking out of your own pain and frustration—the loneliest place is not solitude, but the feeling that no one understands. But you will never get people to open up, to share, to become vulnerable until they trust you, and they will never trust you if they feel you are judging them, their lives, their priorities, and even their definitions. ("I think people often think they live in a 'community,' but they have accepted the 'anemic' definition instead of any real definition of community.") Forcibly removing people's "bricks" creates wounds, not trust.

"Become a blessing by offering hospitality, showing practical care, dropping in on people." You excel in this!!! If you can be patient with the process—remembering that your timetable is not necessarily God's—and let people feel your love and encouragement more than your negative judgement—in short, if you can be as patient with adults as you are with your children—I believe great things will happen.

Posted by SursumCorda on March 20, 2010, 1:31 pm

Your dad's "Fantastic" reminds me of C.J. Mahaney's "Better than I deserve", which are both unusual answers, and probably get people to think a little.

And it is true that it is easier to speak negatively than to encourage. And yes, I know that forcibly removing bricks doesn't really work. I think the hardest thing about trust is that for many people, it takes a lot of time to build up trust, and if the time we spend together can be measured in X minutes a month/year/etc. then there isn't ever any growth in trust.

A student last week was completely surprised that I asked her about a conversation we had earlier in the week - I value those connections very highly, and it is strange to me that people wouldn't normally remember conversations they've had with people, particularly ones that involve how we live our lives.

I struggle with the "dropping in on people", as most people don't want to be dropped in on, and want to plan for a meeting in the next month or two. One friend pointed out Proverbs 25:17 to me: "Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee." Most people aren't willing to be honest to tell me to leave, and so I hear about it later through the grapevine. So, I try to leave earlier than I would normally do so, but we still end up leaving last unless I try really, really hard to leave early.

I alternate between wondering what I can "do" in any of these areas and thinknig that probably there isn't anything to do, but to seek God and His kingdom first, and let all else fall into place. And to ask God for his Holy Spirit and trust in the verse that he truly is a father who knows how to give good gifts to his children.

Posted by jondaley on March 20, 2010, 2:24 pm

I've written a sort of response on my own blog, where I try to explain why it can take time to build up trust and what role small talk plays in that process. However, it'd feel rude to me to not comment here as well.

I admire your desire to live a godly life as best you can and your insight into things that are amiss in our culture and churches. It's rare for someone who sees a need for deep change not to withdraw from community in frustration, and so it saddens me to read such a poignant expression of your frustration. I therefore hope that you can not only keep the faith, but also keep the hope, and remain a patient agent of change where God has put you. You may be frustrated now, but I think perseverance and a willingness to continue engaging in humble community building despite sluggish progress will reap great reward in the end - both for you and especially for your church community. I hope you can come up with a creative solution for "dropping in on people" that somehow takes their predilection for scheduling into account and yet allows for you to gently nudge them into a more unforced and less regimented community. There is indeed, as you mention, a fine balance about informal visiting of that nature that demands (a) a sufficient basis of friendship and (b) sensitivity to the situation as it presents itself at that moment: one reason why I don't engage in impromptu visiting too often (pretty much failure in (b)). Perhaps it might help to insist on them dropping in on you - no matter if the house is in imperfect condition - and once they get around to doing that once or twice they'll understand better what you mean when you talk about dropping in?

May God continue to bless your desire to serve him!

Oh, and if y'all want to drop in at our apartment some time, you're welcome!

Posted by Stephan on March 23, 2010, 5:15 pm
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