Monday, 26 October 2015

It's all about community, Part II

There was a contagious buzz in the air. We had just shared a prayer of confession with one another and now we're invited to share a sign of peace. As the centre aisle filled with people shaking hands, hugging, and greeting each other, there was a sense that this weekly moment defines this community. There was a true sense of shalom as people from many nations and tongues expressed a hope for true peace and reconciliation. This was my experience of Church of All Nations, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in metro Minneapolis. They are living out what we aspire to be as The United Church of Canada. We talk about becoming an intercultural church. They are living intercultural church. Planted by a local Korean Presbyterian congregation, the flags that hang from the sanctuary ceiling captures the diversity that has organically evolved here. The staff, mostly volunteer, are a United Nations of roles and backgrounds. But they all have one purpose - being a community shaped for outreach.

As we shared over a cup of coffee in their "Corner Cafe", Jin, the pastor, expressed how their life together was not an end in itself but was to help them do the work of Jesus in the world. They describe themselves as a low anxiety, high risk community. It's about creating a space where people can be their authentic selves, sharing who they are so that together they can risk confronting the legacy of empire in our relationships and world. As I listened to Jin, I was reminded that we don't form a community of faith as an end in itself but gather to help one another grow as disciples, called out into the community to show compassion, share love, work for reconciliation and peace. We worship together reflecting together the rule of G-d we long for. We study together, applying the way of Jesus in our day to day. We confess our faults, acknowledging our own contributions to hurt and oppression in the world. It's all about community - shaped for outreach in the world.

This is the core of The Meeting House huddles and home churches. To help people become more Christ like, so that they can live his transforming mission in the world. This is the core of the covenant made by members of the Jeremiah Community. To be a presence of love and grace in their neighbourhoods. This is what the supportive services of Tree of Life are about. To witness to the power of authentic community. As Heather shared with me, that kind of community hits too close to home for some. There are very few white families who stick it out in this intercultural community. Sticking it out means getting your hands dirty. It means not just talking about poverty but helping someone who is poor. It means confronting your own racism when you feel uncomfortable with your children's playmates. Which means most white families wander back to churches that look more like them.

At Church of All Nations, there's a greater desire to stick it out. Initially majority Korean, for the longest time there was no majority racial group. Recently the congregation has become 52% white. As I ponder the stickability here and not at Tree of Life, I suspect it has a lot to do with Jin's leadership. "I think white people carry a great burden," he says to me. "White people are constantly told that the imperial culture they helped create is the best in the world. They need to justify a system that's killing us. That's really difficult to do." And so they have healing services 4 or 5 times a year. The services aren't about the burden of empire, but I'm sure they help those burdened because of it. They create a space for a compassionate response as we all confront the system together. This kind of compassion is critical if we are going to do the critical engagement we need to do. This is why.

As part of my sabbatical, I've taken advantage of AirBnB, an online service of people who are willing to rent out rooms in their homes for generally reasonable rates. For the most part it's gone well but in Minneapolis what I'd been dreading happened. I pulled up to a house overrun with weeds. There was a random toilet and sink in the front room and a scary bathroom in the basement. The room I was staying in was at the top of a very steep flight of stairs with no door. As I went to bed, I questioned why I was staying there. "Because it's cheap and I'm in the Twin Cities for a week," I reminded myself. When I got up, I mentally crossed off a day in my mental calendar. With Solomon's Porch closed until Sunday, I had two days to kill. I stayed away from the house as long as I could, going from coffee shop to coffee shop for warmth and WiFi. I sat down in the local McDonald's noting I was the lone white person in a predominantly Black and Latino crowd. That was It got me thinking about race relations, the reality of a racialized underclass on both sides of the border, and the privilege I have as a white male. When I finally saw Doug he offered me a place to stay. I said yes right away but as I drove away from my host's home I felt guilty. I was in a position of privilege, able to find more comfortable digs. Others in that neighbourhood had no such luck.

And that's the rub of it. In that moment I came face to face with the paralysis that can grip us when we want to confront the injustices of our world. It was a form of social paralysis that made it so difficult for more privileged families in South Bend to keep going to Tree of Life. It's a mental paralysis that keeps so many of us from learning about inadequate housing, indemic poverty and other indigenous issues. It's an emotional paralysis that kept me beating myself up for most of the evening. It's a spiritual paralysis that holds us from confronting the core issues of our world.

And so Church of All Nations includes healing services as part of their ministry, responding with compassion to all of their members, each in their own way carrying the burden of an unjust, imperial system. They understand that we need supportive community if we are going to do the hard work of living the Way of Jesus. We need micro-community if we are going to live into the macro-community otherwise known as the kingdom of G-d.

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