I often wonder what people around me wonder about in regards to my life in this particular Christian community. I wish there could be a lot more conversation about it since it is my whole life. But, I can understand it also seeming to be this foreign thing that I do or have joined and it belongs to me, therefore, not really anything anyone else needs to get too deep into understanding it. But, to begin to understand it, is to begin to understand me, us, my family. And vice versa. Anyway....
Jerry addresses some common understandings and misunderstandings about it. What it is and what it is not.
Jerry writes: “I had men's group later this evening and each person shared quite personally about some personal struggles-health and otherwise. It doesn't always happen that way every time but I shared a little bit of that word about approaching the Lord and each other with an unveiled face. By each member of the community having close relationships with a few other people, each member becomes a part of the entire group that way. No one of us can be intimate and personal with a hundred people and certainly not a thousand, but by opening our lives to a few, the Lord sees that as opening up to Him as well. He also uses that intimacy to glue the whole body together.
The converse is also true (I didn't share this part at men's group). If I attend all the meetings, participate in discussions, listen to teachings etc. etc. but never grow close to a handful of special brothers and sisters in Christ, I will begin to feel like a spectator at all those gatherings. Christian Community is not a club, where we participate as good members with lots of action. Many churches are organized around participation also. People bond around certain projects or missions in a church but are seldom asked to share their whole personal life with others for its own sake. We in People of Praise do that and I think that is the single most way that we are not a church.
Of course we practice no sacraments within the community either. All our members are encouraged to do that according to their own beliefs in their own church. Nonetheless, it has seemed especially hard for some non-sacramental church members to not see us as no different from their own church. They see us as centered around fellowship. Here is where I personally think that a mistake is made. It sort of depends upon your definition of fellowship (No, it's not a boat with guys on it.). To me, we are building personal relationships that are rooted in a covenant together. That covenant makes us family, permanent lifelong and probably generation after generation family of families. This is not a club. This is not getting to know other Christians or other couples for a few years until God calls us to somewhere with a better pastor or better teachings or more life or more whatever. This is my family. Most people, even who reject their family members still acknowledge that they were their bad brother or parent etc. etc. We're all stuck with our families. We don't choose them. That's exactly like covenant community. The guys in your men's group very seldom would be your choice for best friend out at your bowling league or at work or anywhere else. But the Lord is uniting as family all those who have Him first in their lives and His grace and His Holy Spirit is as thick as blood.
We know in the Joe Wind (my dad) family that we love each other and many of us have community relationships and that does not threaten our blood ties but actually makes them stronger. And of course as the larger group of Wind's are extended all over the Twin City area, there are too many of us to try to even start to be real close to each person. Nonetheless, we are a much closer large group because of our common Catholic faith and culture. There is a prevailing sense among our family that we are Catholics who practice our faith and love Jesus. Now on a personal level I think there are some who might call their own faith marginal but deep down they know the cloth they are cut from and who is drawing them upward. Christ always makes a group closer to each other that has Him in it somewhere. God seekers unite. His ultimate kingdom building goal is that all who seek Him will find Him and live together in total unity forever.
So back to Christian community. We come to the Lord and together with each other with "unveiled faces". We're poised to be intimate, to be close. Not, of course with each and every person but with those that the Lord seems to put us in those situations with. We don't slander. We don't gossip and so we seek to provide a family environment where weaker or less talented members can be loved, esteemed and respected because of their sonship of the Heavenly Father, not based on their skill set or "gifts" (that is an oft-misused word to me but that is a topic for another windy night). That brothers and sisters is more than fellowship. That is a state of being, a way of life, a spirituality rooted in charity. It is only out of that BEing can we DO in Christ.
Any Christian (or non-Christian for that matter) can do social action or give alms or do a good job at their work. We can never minimize the millions of ways to follow God's call BUT only members of People of Praise can follow God's call to BE the family of POP and then go do whatever His action call is to us as a member of the family. Who you are then is not just an individual serving Him only as an individual any longer. You are a member of this family serving Him. But, remember this BUT, you are more of a unique individual in His eyes and in the eyes of others because you have come to Him and many others with your face unveiled. You know how to be close to many others, to live with them and for them. By doing so, you are not diminished personally as if the individual is somehow absorbed in the group. In eternity we will be more one with each other and a closer family than we can ever imagine now. Yet each of us will have a whole room in the mansion all to ourselves and we will each have a name that only the Lord and I know (as well as our name that everyone knows). So get used to it. Community will be everywhere and 21st century Americans will finally have to embrace it.
Then we will know as completely as we are known. No longer will we use that old veil to keep our pride and individualism and selfishness protected. The veil will be gone. We can never pitch it away completely (John Vogel has a wonderful sharing/teaching about that) in this life but when we truly open up our hearts to Jesus and His Spirit, it is He that almost drives us to others. Then, however, we often get scared like Hinds Feet on High Places (the book) or like Peter sinking on the water after a few steps. Getting scared, protecting our "selves" causes us to veil that face back up. What an image. It's those with faces unveiled who will be transformed from one degree of glory to another by the Holy Spirit. Who wants to pass that up? Who wants to pass up being truly known by the Lord? Build community and our individual life in Him by opening up to those we love, period.
For a current look at how we view our ecumenical nature and some practical applications of it in our life, check out the recent issue of our magazine Vine and Branches here.