Thursday, June 06, 2013

Keeping the Faith ... In Community

Each day this week I have taken time to post something on Facebook that describes the highlight of that day as a way of marking my first week on sabbatical. I've posted about a massive housecleaning that resulted in a generous pile of stuff left at Goodwill. I've shared a photo of Great Falls National Park taken during a journey with a friend yesterday. Today's highlight is undoubtedly time spent with a group of women who have come to be gifts from God in my life.

Brought together by a grant through Austin Presbyterian Seminary, this group has gathered monthly for more than a year now. We've played with clay, hiked through the forest, sat by a pool, discussed what Sandberg's book "Lean In" means for each of us, learned from a great preaching professor, and shared laughter, sorrow, hopes, dreams, food and cocktails in our time together.

When I posted the image above after Annual Conference last week (missing our friend, Ginger), one person shared it on Twitter saying "these are the woman who help me keep my faith."

Rachel could not have described the gift of this group any better.

Each additional step through discipleship convinces me that the journey is not meant to be a solo flight. I'm not sure any of us are capable of keeping the faith - whether it is faith in God or faith in the church or even faith in ourselves - on our own.

We need each other.

We are called to be together - to reveal Jesus to one another when Jesus is seemingly absent, to pray when we have lost the ability to pray, to name our gifts when we have convinced ourselves we have none, to have faith when faith is hard to find, to cheer us on when everyone else is trying to cheer us out, to be present when what we want to do is walk away. In the words of my former colleague, Greg Jones, we need holy friends who are willing to point out the sins we have grown to love, name the gifts we are afraid to claim and help us dream dreams we would never dream on our own. My group of clergywomen remind me often of why everyone needs the church - and especially a church where authenticity is embodied and spaces for vulnerability abound.

Not long ago a seminary student made an appointment to see me. We had barely sat down with our cups of coffee before tears started to flow. It had been a difficult academic year. The voices that propelled him up the East Coast to the Nation's Capital were not as audible in May as they were in August. The call of God that once seemed so clear was more like muddy water. Seminary was no longer a gift but more of a burden. When I asked him about his church - about the community in which he had gotten involved in this first year of formation, I was told there really had not been much time for that. "I've visited a few places but don't really have a place to call home."

I left that conversation with a deep amount of sadness at this person's inability to see their pure beauty and remarkable gifts. I also left knowing that if they had just come to our church - if they had just allowed themselves to be received by our community and opened themselves to serve Jesus in our midst - that they would be in a different place. I believe we would have kept naming his gifts.

We all need community - real community.

Even more recently I shared time with a dear friend who is between two church communities. One community is closer to home. The other is more of a drive but comes with a sense of greater familiarity. This friend is an amazing person of faith - someone who has regularly brought Jesus to me. But he's not sure about Jesus now. He prays - but he's not sure who he's praying to when he offers different words of gratitude or petition. The conversation was enough to convince me again that we all need a church - a real place where we can come with our real selves and engage Jesus in real ways. We cannot keep the faith alone.

Jesus was capable of anything. He healed the sick, turned water into wine, cleansed the leper, told the paralytic to get up and walk, and changed tax collectors into devoted followers who gave away their wealth. He had so many powers and was constantly applying these powers in real, tangible ways. And still, Jesus needed community. He called a group of twelve disciples to follow him and made the one who was constantly making ridiculous comments or failing to get with the program "the rock" - the one upon whom he built his church. Even Jesus needed community - an imperfect community of travelers who would journey with him to hard, rewarding, exciting and challenging places.

Are you struggling to keep the faith? Why not allow a community to keep it for you - to hold for you what you've been unable to hold on your own.

Are you struggling to know who you are - not what your business card says about you but who you really are? Why not allow a faith community to name your gifts for you - those gifts that enable others to see God at work in the world?

I'm so grateful for these women in my life who help me keep my faith - in Jesus, in others, and even in the United Methodist Church - while seeing God actively at work in the world around us.

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