My wife and I are moving to St. Louis at the end of the year. Not a decision we came to lightly. In fact not a decision we came to at all–more of a word of direction we have decided to follow. God has told us that our time here, our time in this community is done.
It’s still something of a shock to me, every time I tell someone or write about it. But what about stability? What about loyalty, commitment, solidarity, and rootedness? Those are the things I focused on so much when we were starting the community. I didn’t want to be a flash in the pan. I didn’t want to let people down. I didn’t want our neighbors to feel abandoned once again by someone else. I didn’t want to hurt anybody.
At the beginning of this year, all of us in the community chose a single word that we felt God was wanting to give us for the year. It’s really been wonderful to see how each word chosen has continued to come up for everyone and speak into hard situations and changes that have happened in our community this year. God is good.
My word for the year is obedience. For the first six months I learned things about obedience. How it is something shared with the father, not a following of orders. How obedience is a surrender to love, and that those who love obey. And how it derives from the latin word that means, “listen.” But never did I imagine that the word would be of such importance because I would need to obey to the point of leaving my community.
And in a way, that’s just the point of it. I was so focused on being committed, on being loyal to the community, that I had, in practice at least, put these values above listening to God. For this is not “my” community. This is God’s community. This is not my life. It is God’s. Do I still hold those values of stability and loyalty? of course. Does that make it hard to understand why God is uprooting us once again? yes. But ultimately it is all about our life with God. Our loyalty and our stability is in God. Community can be a lot of things for us and for others, but it must not take that place in the center of all we do and are.
Maybe one of the hardest things about all this is that I can’t seem to find how to express all that is in my heart. To leave after four years of investing so much of myself in this isn’t at all easy, even if I know that God is in it. To believe that God is doing this not only for my own good, but also for that of the community and that it will be better and stronger without me there is humbling. To have such mixed and deep emotions around it all–I don’t know how to offer them to those who I care about more than they know. I don’t know how to try to tell them that they are not abandoned, that they are not alone, that God is so good, that…and a hundred other things.
And what do I tell myself? I don’t know yet. But underneath all the struggle, below the pain, within the loss, there is peace. Peace in being in the will of the father. In living in obedience as best as I know how. It is scary moving off to somewhere you don’t know anyone, to changing that place you always come back to–home, to somewhere else. It is exciting too though. It is time to write. Space to listen more. A place to figure out what it looks like for me to truly offer life to others, to be fully alive, to keep seeking the land of the living–knowing that his goodness is around me wherever he leads me.
I highly doubt this is the end of community life for us. We are not slipping away into the American illusion (dream). We still hold so many of these values. I hope for future community life. I don’t know what that might look like, or where. But once again it is all about listening to the voice of the Father. He doesn’t always lay it all out for us, and very rarely is it given in advance if he does–for then we don’t need to abide. Our leaving community is not a farewell, it’s a temporary hiatus. At least, I think so. It’s not really up to me though.
Community is just an idea. A practice. A structure. I have wrestled with it for 10 years. I have fought through many disillusions this last year, many of which are on this blog. It is nothing if God is not at the center. And sometimes for God to be our center requires a desert. Sometimes it requires a community. Sometimes it requires emptiness. Sometimes it requires overflow. Whatever it takes. Lord have mercy. Christ be the center. And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
the iphone 5 came out today. i am highly susceptible to gadgets and like apple products myself, but just so happened to read this poem today. hear it not with any self-righteous tone, but rather, perhaps, a bit of perspective:
You talk on your cell phone
and talk and talk
and laugh into your cell phone
never knowing how it was made
and much less how it works
trouble is you don’t know
just as I didn’t
that many people die in the Congo
thousands upon thousand
for that cellphone
they die in the Congo
in its mountains there is coltan
(besides gold and diamonds)
used for cell phone
for the control of the minerals
wage this unending war
5 million dead in 15 years
and they don’t want it to be known
country of immense wealth
with poverty-stricken population
80% of the world’s coltan
reserves are in the Congo
the coltan has lain there for
three thousand million years
Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Sony
buy the coltan
the Pentagon too, the New York
Times corporation too
and they don’t want it to be known
nor do they want the war to stop
so as to carry on grabbing the coltan
children of 7 to 10 years extract the coltan
because their tiny bodies
fit into the tiny holes
for 25 cents a day
and loads of children die
due to the coltan powder
of hammering the rock
that collapses on top of them
The New York Times too
that doesn’t want it to be known
and that’s how it remains unknown
this organized crime
of the multinationals
the Bible identifies
truth and justice
and love and the truth
the importance of the truth then
that will set us free
also the truth about coltan
coltan inside your cell phone
on which you talk and talk
and laugh into your cell phone
Every now and then, or rather often really, a book will come out espousing the secret to living a happy life. Or it might give you the 10 steps to being an effectual individual. Or it may be about the best life you can have for $24.99. Or the philosophical proof of what consists of the good life. Let me save you $24.99. Or the hundreds you would spend on a conference for the best life now. Here’s the one step you need: forgive everyone, including yourself, endlessly.
Normally I’m a little hesitant to oversimplify things, especially the whole of life itself, but I feel pretty good about this one. I think we’re on to something here. I think if you live a life filled with forgiveness and grace, if you forgive those who wrong you (or who you think have wronged you), if you forgive yourself your failures, if you forgive others their shortcomings, if you hold nothing against your neighbor but instead forgive, then you will live a happy life. It’s as simple as that, right?
Does that sound too wishy-washy? Does that discount that you can and should disagree with people at times? No. Does that mean that you ignore justice and let people walk all over you? No. Of course there are complexities here. But the truth still remains: forgive and you will be free.
Of course it’s not as easy as it sounds. People wound us. Sometimes it’s in small ways that build, sometimes it’s in huge ways that go very deep. Sometimes we find ourselves harboring ill feelings at people we don’t even know for whatever reason. The power to forgive is not easily gained. Especially if we hope that forgiveness to be full and true to the depths of our hearts. The human heart is capable of some amazing things, but it is only the full, overflowing grace of Jesus that can fill our hearts and overcome the deepest wounds and the sharpest hurts.
As Nouwen talks about, we learn that we can forgive when we realize that others are not God. They cannot save us. They cannot love us to the depth that we need. They love weakly, even when the love well. Acknowledging our own weakness in how we love is what can give us the power to also forgive ourselves when we hurt others or ourselves. It is God’s unending love in us that allows us to do this. When we know the source of that love we are able to freely give that forgiveness without expecting anything in return, because we have what we need in his love.
In a lot of ways this is pretty basic Christianity stuff. But then why do I so often live differently? Why do I hold my anger against others? Why am I so hard on myself when I make a mistake? When will I truly learn to forgive? Can I forgive myself for living so often without a heart of forgiveness? It would seem that’s the best place to start. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. Luke, have mercy.