Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Catching the Wave

I'd like to post an excerpt of an email I got recently from one of our small groups. I believe that they are modeling for us the future of what "church" will look like. There is a (healthy) movement away from program and event driven churches to a more organic approach that starts with genuine community in smaller groups in the church and then spreads by them living out their faith together in the neighborhoods around them. Notice how this group focuses on needs right where they live and how it isn't a one-time thing. They serve in one way and expectantly move on together to another opportunity to serve. Here's the group's testimony:

As you may remember our small group requested help for a fifteen year old young man who is autistic. He has been going to Saddle Up (a horseback riding facility for mentally and physically challenged youngsters just down the road from our house). His family believes that this has helped bring [their son] out in a way that nothing else has. The family is going through financial hardships…[and they] were about to have to withdraw [their son] from the program. On the very day that the mother was calling Saddle Up to take him out of the program, the bookkeeper told her “you are not going to believe this. A church just sent us a check for one full year’s tuition.” The mother told me this while sobbing. . . . This family is deeply touched by our caring and our small group is thrilled with the outcome. Our latest project is to buy new tennis shoes and socks for the needy students at Allan Powell’s school. He gave us the sizes for twelve students which he says are in dire need. We will get new tennis shoes and socks to them this week and we asked him to add others as the need arises. Our small group has always been a great connection, but never as much as when we started knowing the rewards of service.

May we all grow into this vision of the life of faith!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Likeness to Eternity

In the spiritual community to which I belong, we are reflecting on the art of meaningful relationships, and I am struck by some wisdom I’ve come across which advises the opposite of what most of us would consider the Christian way: be slow to make friends. It seems odd, even ungodly perhaps; and yet that is precisely what the spiritual giant, Alred of Rievaulx, claims is best. Alred was a 12th century monk and a contemporary of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. In fact, Bernard was so taken by Alred’s rich and healthy relationships, Bernard asked him to write a book describing the pursuit of such Christ-centered friendships. The result is Alred’s classic work, Spiritual Friendship, in which, among many other treasures of wisdom, he gives this advice: don’t commit to friendship with just anyone. Now, it helps me to realize that he means friendship in a very specific way: not just those with whom we have causal, “friendly” relationships, but those we allow into the closest places in our heart. Once I see that, the wisdom becomes evident. Yes, Christ-followers are called to love everyone, but not to admit just anyone into the inner circle of our lives. We all seem to know this intuitively: he just offers a more thoughtful and intentional rationale:

Since your friend is the companion of your soul, to whose spirit you join and attach yours, and so associate yourself that you wish to become one instead of two, since he is one to whom you entrust yourself as to another self, from whom you hide nothing, from whom you fear nothing, you should, in the first place, surely choose one who is considered fitted for all this. Then he is to be tried, and so finally admitted. For friendship should be stable and manifest a certain likeness to eternity, persevering always in affection. And so we ought not, like children, to change friends by reason of some vagrant whim.

What a helpful vision! First, Alred would have us practice discernment in those we allow in the inner circle of our lives. This is not out of any pretension, but because it is they who most will shape and define who we are, and we them. But, after that, once we’ve committed our lives to another, we refuse to cast off that friendship on a whim, or whenever difficulty arises. What a refreshing picture in a world of superficial connections and disposable relationships! I pray that God would give us the wisdom to live out this vision in such a way that our friendships might become for the world “a likeness to eternity.”