Thankful Recipients

I decided to begin this post as it began for me, with an uncomfortable quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the small book,  Life Together.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.

Isn’t visioning productive?

I’ll begin with something simple (that’s really not). I have a vision of being welcoming here, in my house. So I just rearranged the living room furniture. It looks and feels like it would be an encouraging place to sit and have conversations, however, usually I’m sitting in here alone, like now, pondering. So my vision isn’t exactly realized, yet?

I long for community—in my work-life, in my neighborhood, where I go to church.  I miss the people in my former church– an incredible community of people who aren’t much alike really, yet the conversations and care are ones that thrive in that differentness and common lives of faith.  Yet, I also have vivid memories of the first months I went there; sitting in the back so I could leave right after worship, terrified of going to the “fellowship” happy hour afterward. I do imagine the kind of community I want but that doesn’t quite match what seems real. I also imagine how I think people should be and act in that community.

Bonhoeffer continues to make more sense of my initial troubledness:

 The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, than an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Lately, I seem to be considering more acutely (I don’t want to say judging even if that is true) others whom I perceive as believing or being a certain way – from a distance—some aren’t people I really even know. I act the same way though with people I’m closest to – my next-door neighbors, colleagues on my hallway at work, my family members who live their lives outside my everyday view. Even if they were here, I complicitly make assumptions about how we all should or could live in the world.

My kingdom or Thy kingdom?

When I bring my own ideas of what my life should be and try to realize that vision, I eventually become disillusioned with others and myself. While this quote from Buechner might seem a bit contradictory to Bonhoeffer, on the contrary, he clarifies the distinction between our own vision and what is God’s.

 If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we should know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to use that is greater than our own strength.

The Clown in the Belfry  and Listening to Your Life

 If only…we would know that the Kingdom of God, that community we seek, is already here. Because God has already laid the foundation for community, our common life together, Bonhoeffer contends,

We enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.

 If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary… everything…is so far from what we expected…

 We live as thankful recipients and our community grows when we dare to be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us.


Wide Awake

Yesterday, the day after the election, many people I encountered were full of emotion and wondering for a myriad of reasons. At lunch, a colleague wondered aloud how she could live through what seemed like a dream.  A student in class was lamenting that she’d just lost two friends over the events of the past day. On my drive to work, I listened to a lady say that this morning she was “wide awake” to difficult realities in the world and her own response. Being “wide awake” is a good way to describe the intentional ways we love, especially those who are most challenging to us.

Alive with synchronicity, I read these words from Buechner’s book Listening to Your Life  on this day.

Matthew the tax collector and Thomas the doubter. Peter the Rock and Judas the traitor. Mary Magdalene and Lazarus’s sister Martha. And the popcorn-eating old woman. And the fat man in the pick-up. They are all our family, and you and I are their family and each other’s family, because that is what Jesus has called us as the Church to be. Our happiness is all mixed up with each other’s happiness and our peace with each other’s peace. Our own happiness, our own peace, can never be complete until we find some way of sharing it with people who the way things are now have no happiness and know no peace. Jesus calls us to show this truth forth, live this truth forth. Be the light of the world, he says. Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly. Be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be. That is what Jesus tells his Church, tells us, to be and do. Love each other. Heal the sick, he says. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Cast out demons. That is what loving each other means. If the Church is doing things like that, then it is being what Jesus told it to be. If it is not doing things like that – no matter how many other good and useful things it may be doing instead—then it is not being what Jesus told it to be. It is as simple as that.

In his  book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says that the world needs people with the patience and the passion to make the pilgrimage toward our authentic vocation, cultivating God’s truth, not only for our own sake but also as a social and political act.