“People enter community in order to grow in inner freedom, then to give it to others; to radiate it, to offer good news to others.” Jean Vanier, Founder of L’Arche
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I’m stepping away from the New Exodus book I’m writing to focus a series of blogs on relationship, on community, on the kind of people God calls us to be in order to become the kind of people the world needs.
It’s tough to say what came first – the chicken or the egg. Relationship or mission? Can we engage in God’s mission without community? Can we be a community without a mission?
It’s not a matter of priority. For those who champion relationship, manifesting in authentic and vulnerable community, there is plenty of biblical fodder for you. But there is also plenty of fodder for those who say that God’s heart is for mission, for the world, for kingdom. It’s a false dilemma.
What we have is a God who existed forever and ever in Trinitarian relationship. God has existed eternally in relationship, in what the early church called periochoresis, a kind of divine dance of Love. But this divine dance continually consummated in divine self-giving. In other words, relationship always culminated in self-sacrifice. And self-sacrifice always fostered intimacy, vulnerability, union.
In the beginning, God created humanity in relationship. It is not good for man to be alone. And so God marked male and female with His image. But, before God could take another breath, humans were tasked with a purpose, with work, with cultural cultivation and image multiplication. Relationship and Mission were created, hand in hand. It was not good for either one to be alone.
I’ve participated in communities which have emphasized each. I’ve been in a therapeutic community with men and women who share vulnerably. I have been floored by the courage of these people – the honesty that transcends openness and moves into vulnerability, into dependence. I’ve also been in a missional community with men and women who give self-sacrificially. I have been floored by the sacrifice of these people – the active and intentional life of service for the sake of others. I have also been among both of these communities when they have mocked the other.
Consider these caricatures:
“Those therapeutic folks don’t get mission. They navel-gaze. They cry and whine and never get the big Kingdom picture of what God is up to.”
“Those missional folks are all about doing and never about being or feeling. They act, probably out of guilt, and never enjoy intimacy with God or others.”
Seeing this, I’m reminded again that when God is at work, both relationship and mission are happening. Simultaneously. Seamlessly.
In this series, I am going to focus on relationship. But I do this without wanting to minimize or de-prioritize mission. I believe that God created us for a eucharistic life, a pattern of being taken, blessed, broken, and given. I believe that Jesus invited us into a life of blessing characterized in the Beatitudes, which open with an invitation to brokenness, lament, hunger and thirst, but which quickly transitions into mercy, peacemaking, and self-sacrifice, even in persecution. And Greek scholars will tell you that St. Paul will rarely divorce indicative and imperative, being and doing. It’s a marriage made in Eden. Relationship and mission.
But I live in an urban culture where men and women live active lives, busy lives, doing lives. And my desire is to cast a vision for something more, a divine union between being and doing, between intimacy and activity, between relationship and mission. In the past weeks, I’ve been reminded that San Francisco is perhaps the most post-Christian city in the United States, and that intimacy and relationship is exchanged often for busyness, for efficiency, for sexual gratification, for social action, for a life lived for the approval we all so desperately long for but rarely find in a paycheck or a sexual experience.
For the mission of God to thrive in a city like San Francisco, a community must know what it means to dance like the Trinity, in love and intimacy and vulnerability and self-sacrifice. Perhaps you experience the same condition where you are. If so, let’s journey together, and explore the invitation to community, to intimacy, to relationship…the kinds of things which ultimately fuel mission.
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