"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Wednesday, August 04, 2004 I'm spending a week on the beach in Southern New Jersey, where it is more difficult to get internet access than when I was in Ghana! But that's actually a good thing, since it allows me to really unplug in ways I haven't for awhile.
But I'm darting into an internet cafe for a bit this morning (and you actually can have a latte in an internet cafe in Cape May ... the "cafe" part is not just an affectation!) to send a few work-related emails, so I figured I'd drop into this as well.
I've been reading the latest issue of Cowley lately, the season publication of The Society of St. John The Evangelist. I love the SSJE brothers and the monastery, not just because of who they are, but because they represent what I believe all Christian community is supposed to be ... community committed to each other and committed to supporting each other in giving their lives to Christ.
One of the problems with monastic life is that it can encourage people to think that that sort of commitment is only for those who decide to become monks or nuns. It's not. At our baptism, we promise to put our whole trust in Christ's grace and love and we also promise to do all in our power to support each other in doing that.
So I believe many, if not most, of the words the brothers speak about their life together should and does apply to our lives together in our communities.
In his letter to the fellowship and friends, the Superior, Curtis Almquist, wrote this about living a vowed life in community:
"Christ's unavoidable call to "lay down our lives" for one another is remarkably unheroic and tedious most days. "Laying down our lives" comes in our offering to do the dishes or walk the dog for a brother who needs some time off, in our forgiving someone again (or being forgiven again) for the same thing, in our making time in our day or space in our heart for someone who needs to be cherished, in responding to the interruption of a sick brother's need, in living with the disappointment that something we value or desire is not equally valued or desired by the community and may never come to be. Some of us know the temptation of thinking that we are "above" doing certain things by virtue of our education, training, gifts or age. The common lie we share as brothers is quite humbling -- from the Latin, humus, which means "earth," i.e., to be grounded. We come to know and be known in the sacrament of the present moment, which is usually quite unspectacular and yet very real."
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to be baptised, what it means to "turn and accept Christ as your savior" and to "put your whole trust in his grace and love." I thought about it a lot in Ghana and I've thought about it a lot here with my family. Where I'm coming to with it is nowhere revolutionary ... accept that it flies in the face of most of American theology ... and that is that once we are baptised we no longer own our lives.
That's what vows are about ... they're about giving up ownership of your life. In baptism, I am saying that I no longer own my life, but that Christ and the Christ's Body, the church does. In my marriage, I am saying that I no longer own my life but that my wife does (and that I own hers). In embracing the ministry of parent, I am saying that I no longer own my life but that my children do.
It's not about a theology of the hive where the needs of the many trump the needs of the one. Individual rights and needs are important. But it's not my job to concentrate on my own individual rights and needs. It is my job to make sure that other's individual rights and needs are defended ... and trust that the community, the Body of Christ, the wife and family to which I am bound do the same for me.
And Curtis is right... it's remarkably unheroic and tedious most days. It's about all the little things. For me, it's about making sure I have done all I can for others before doing for myself ... even if it means that I don't get to watch that baseball game or read a chapter from that book. It means, as I began to learn in Ghana, that the best way to start the day is by going to someone to whom you are bound by vows and say "how can I serve you today."
It is hard ... at least for me it's hard. I could blame some of it on our individualistic culture, and I'm sure I'd be right ... but mostly, I just like doing stuff for myself!
If the church is to be a transformational force in society, I think this is what we have to lift up. We can no longer accomodate the thinking that church is there for our personal benefit ... we are there for each other and God.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."